100 years ago today, the 19th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing and protecting a woman’s constitutional right to vote. The 19th Amendment was the result of a decades-long movement of women and men who believed that women deserved a voice in the United States government.
A lesser known fact about women’s suffrage is that the ratification of the 19th Amendment came down to one vote, in the Tennessee House. A state representative by the name of Harry Burns had initially planned to vote against the amendment. But when he received a letter from his college-educated, women’s rights activist mother, Febb Burns, he flipped his vote. That November, 10 million American women--roughly one third of all eligible female voters—headed to the polls for the first time.
The story of Harry and Febb Burns teaches us that every vote counts. Yet today, although all U.S. citizens have the right to vote regardless of their sex, ethnicity, or religion, voter suppression runs rampant, and disproportionally affects people of color. And even when votes are not suppressed, many feel that their vote will not matter.
Jewish tradition argues otherwise. The Talmud teaches: “One may only appoint a leader over a community if he consults with the community and they agree to the appointment.” The people must have a say. If they don’t, the leadership is not valid.
To that end, the J is excited to partner with the nonpartisan Center for Common Ground’s Reclaim Our Vote and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center to organize a group of volunteers dedicated to increasing the voting rate among people of color. Together, we will reach out to our Texan and Southern neighbors of color, offering powerful and uplifting messages about voting as well as providing them with concrete voting tools and information for the upcoming election.
Suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony said: “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. …Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”
If Harry Burns hadn’t flipped his vote 100 years ago, the road to women’s suffrage would have proved even longer and more arduous than it already had been. Help us ensure that everyone’s vote is counted this November.
Email Rabbi Samantha by Sunday, Aug 23 to join our volunteer effort.
Learn more about Voting Rights on Sept 30 with Rabbi David Segal of the RAC, as part of our 12th Annual Rice University Jewish Studies Lecture Series, Beyond Heschel: Racial Justice & Jewish Responsibility in the 21st Century.