“I am not a prop but part of a new generation of suffragists”

Madison Kimrey, 13, delivered this powerful speech at the Sept 13 Rally for the Equal Rights Amendment on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  Her compelling message gained added wallop as she got all of us to chime in with the refrain: “Forward together, not one step back!”  An earlier blog included this articulate activist and others who are not props or puppets and demand to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. Madison succeeded!  

“Some of you might have heard of this thing we have back home in North Carolina called Moral Monday. Well, at Moral Monday, there’s a phrase we use a lot. It’s “Forward together, not one step back!”

What’s happening in North Carolina is important because what we’ve got going on down there is an unprecedented attack on women’s suffrage. Women make up 53 percent of our registered electorate back home. Out of all the voters who don’t have the ID required to vote in 2016 either because their photo ID doesn’t match the name on their voter registration card or because they don’t have a photo ID, 63 percent of those are women. 55 percent of the citizens who took advantage of early voting opportunities which have now been cut, including Sunday voting which was eliminated entirely, were women. 34 percent of African American women voters in 2012 used same day voter registration and – you guessed it- they cut that too.

And back home, it’s not like in other states, where if you show up to vote with an ID that doesn’t match your registration you can sign an affidavit like Wendy Davis did in Texas, provide alternate forms of ID, or vote with a provisional ballot. Nope. In North Carolina, you’re just out of luck. A lot of you are probably thinking, “Man, am I glad I don’t live there!” But the reason I’m talking about this today is because if it can happen back home, it can happen to you.

This is why in North Carolina we’re moving forward together and why we as a nation must move forward together, not one step back.

As we’re gathered here today, with the common goal of ensuring our rights cannot be denied or abridged on account of sex, we’re honoring a great legacy that began with the idea that, in the words of Susan B. Anthony, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”  Our fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and the need to preserve and protect our voting rights go hand in hand. And it’s hand in hand that we, together, will make sure that the people who work here, in OUR house, show through deeds, not just words, that they support legal and economic equality for all, the Equal Rights Amendment, and ballot access for all citizens.

It’s hand in hand that we will move forward together, not one step back.

When I stood up against the elimination of the pre-registration program in my state that got over 160,000 teenagers prepared to vote when they turned 18, my Governor called me a prop. It was at Moral Monday in my own hometown that I told him and my fellow citizens that I am not a prop, but part of a new generation of suffragists. Well, my vagina is not a prop either. I refuse to allow my lady parts to be used as an excuse to sell the fear and ignorance that leads to discrimination and policies that are intended to undo the progress made by the women who came before me.

It’s time for my fellow young women to decide what kind of legacy we wish to leave and start now to build the future in which we will lead. Our choice is clear. Will we continue to allow our fellow women to be told they’re out of luck or will we fight for the policies that will expand their choices and opportunities? Will we continue to allow elected representatives to respond to the concerns of women with a plate of cookies and a “god bless you” like Pat McCrory did in NC or will we demand our leaders be accountable to the people they were elected to serve? Will we continue to allow the choices of individual women to be judged or will we stand for the justice that will allow women an affordable education, equal pay, equal protection under the law, economic policies that make it possible for them to support families whether they choose to work or be stay at home moms, and the dignity of being able to make choices about their own health? The choices women will have tomorrow depend on the choices we make today.

A future of opportunity and justice demands that we move forward together, not one step back.

If we expect our representatives to support equality and the protection and expansion of access to the voting booth with their deeds, we must demand it with ours. Less than 30 percent of contributions to candidates are made by women. But if women voters gave just $5, it would be enough to run a female candidate in every House race and give them a budget of a million dollars each.

We can change the fact women only make up 17% of this Congress if we move forward together, not one step back.

We need to support voting reforms that can increase voter turnout such as online registration, same day registration, early and weekend voting, and pre-registration programs for our nation’s young people. And we need to make sure when laws are made to protect the integrity of our elections, the bills themselves are crafted with integrity and provide protections against disenfranchising voters.

The will of the people is equality and we can elect representatives who reflect the will of the people if we move forward together, not one step back.

Most importantly we can raise our voices and engage our fellow citizens. Women have the right to vote today because one lawmaker from Tennessee got a letter from his mother saying “Hurrah and vote for suffrage!” and he decided to vote yes on the 19th Amendment instead of no. The Equal Rights Amendment we fight for today was written by a woman who, as a girl, attended suffrage meetings with her mother in Moorestown, New Jersey. Make that phone call. Send that email. Use social media. Let your representatives and candidates know what you stand for and what you expect of them. Invite somebody to attend a meeting, an event, or volunteer opportunity.

By refusing to be silent and refusing to allow apathy and ambivalence to become ingrained in our society, we will move forward together, not one step back.

Alice Paul said, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” Some of you ladies have been plowing a long time. And it’s because of your work and the burdens that were borne by so many women who came before me that this girl from a small town in North Carolina that nobody’s ever heard of stands here today at our nation’s Capital ready to take up the reigns.

I can see the end of the row. At the end of the row is liberty, justice, and equality for all. And we WILL get there. We will get there by moving forward…forward…forward together, not one step back.”