Elise McCabe Thompson (250423)

One hundred years ago, women in New York State were the first in the nation to be granted legal permission to vote in state elections. Because American citizens are born with inalienable rights, regardless of gender, race, country of origin, political or sexual preference or socio-economic status, it should never have been an issue.

That is the principle upon which America was founded. We all know, however, that in practice, too many Americans have had to fight to claim the rights they were born with.

At the New York City Mission Society, we value kindness, compassion, dignity, respect and excellence. Although we do not discriminate by gender and never have discriminated by gender, a big part of our mission over the past two centuries has been to support single parents, who are overwhelmingly women.

For more than 200 years, we have been eyewitnesses to the hardships that a lack of education, grinding poverty, underemployment and domestic violence engender, for women as well as their children. Today, although we have undeniably seen enormous advancements in women’s rights, we still don’t see women equitably represented in all professions or leadership positions, they do not have equal pay with men doing the same job and they do not have the same opportunities.

But they do, legally and morally, have the right to vote. It is a powerful tool in helping to create an environment in which every individual has an opportunity to thrive.

Don’t sit on the sidelines. The suffragists of the last century risked a lot to secure voting rights for women. In the 21st century women owe it to ourselves and future generations to use our votes wisely and become active in community affairs.

Find out what the people you vote for support. Take the time to meet them at town hall meetings and community board meetings; if you cannot spare the time to attend in person, read what they have to say on their websites and in community news outlets. Will this person, who is asking for my vote, work toward the kind of society I want to live in? Ask questions. Activate your friends and neighbors. More importantly, don’t allow anyone else to limit your horizons. At the Mission Society, we provide opportunities to expand those horizons: we have supportive after school programs, college preparation, adult literacy, science, technology and math skills learning and so much more. Your future is in your hands, whatever gender you identify with.

History has taught us that power is taken, never given. We saw it in the Civil Rights Movement. We saw it in the women’s suffrage movement. We saw it in the Americans for Disability Rights movement. Those were hard-fought and hard-won, but they were, eventually, won.

If you believe, as I do, that women and men deserve economic equality, that there should be as many women in Congress, at City Hall and on boards of directors as there are men, you are going to have to demand it. Our great grandmothers did it. So can we.