As Jewish mothers, we brag about our kids all the time. My son the doctor, his brother the lawyer, my daughter the scientist who is going to cure cancer. But something happened yesterday that made me the proudest kind of Jewish mom, my kid got her voter registration card.
Long ago in the last century, way back in 1993, President Clinton, started a voter registration effort called Motor Voter. Its goal was to ask people who interact with government agencies like the motor vehicle administration, or social services, a prompt to register to vote.
Motor Voter would prompt you to register to vote when you are getting a new license or changing your address at the DMV so your voter registration is up to date. The United States has a very low voter turnout and voter registration. This is partly due to a number of barriers to voting. The Pew Research Center estimates that 21.4% percent of those adults eligible to vote did not register. Pew found that many of the people who did not register have never been asked to.
Because my daughter just passed her written test to drive a car, she was asked to register to vote. Though she is only 16 years old, she can vote in city elections for our mayor, city council, and local ballot measures.
I am a Jewish mother proud of my accomplished daughter for many things, but when she got her voter registration card in the mail yesterday, something deep within me went into glowing ema mode. I was compelled to break out in a few rousing choruses of “I am woman hear me roar.”
It’s only a week before the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, August 18, 1920, which guaranteed women the right to vote in the United States — when my daughter received her right as a citizen. It is an ordinary moment, but it was hard-fought and won.
She and I debate sometimes about the effectiveness of protest and marching in the streets. She laments that change is not happening fast enough. Maybe she is right but you have to understand that women fought for the right to vote through protest and lobbying for years.
I tell her about Anita Pollitzer, a Jew from North Carolina, who was arrested for picketing at the Whitehouse in 1917 for women’s suffrage during WWI. She was only one year out of Columbia University at the time. She would spend the next three years traveling the states lobbying to pass the 19th amendment. This includes the state of Tennesee, where she would be personally responsible for lobbying Harry Burn in the Tennessee House of Representatives to change his vote at the last minute, after being a staunch, red-rose-wearing opponent to women’s suffrage, to make his state the final state necessary to ratify.
In my lifetime, I have seen monumental changes come about through protest. I started fighting for AIDS awareness in college and would spend the next few years of my life protesting for funding for research. Now 40 years, later we have HIV medication ads on television. When I was younger, adults-only whispered the word “gay,” when talking in public.
I have seen the Whitehouse lit up in pride colors when the United States Supreme Court ruled on the U.S. v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. It was a thousand protests and pride marches, organization, and coming out that preceded those cases. Even 10 years earlier it would have been unimaginable that gay marriage would be accepted in my lifetime.
As a Jewish activist, I have dragged my daughter along to every Washington, D.C. march, protest, and action that I have attended, even when she was pushed in a stroller. She has been in pride parades, queer visibility marches, anti-gun rallies, the D.C. Dyke March, and the Women’s March.
I tell her that political opinions don’t just change — you have to make the case. Sometimes that means lobbying in offices and sometimes it means demonstrating in the streets with signs. But the greatest form of protest you can ever wage is voting.
Many of us are dismayed and rundown by the politics of it all. We are drowned by the tsunami of news overwhelming us on our TV and phones. It is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to let our lesser voices hear only the obstacles and not the possibilities. It is understandable to feel that nothing is possible because we are so divided.
We have to remember that change does not happen overnight; change happens when we act together. Voting is the one thing we do that creates an immediate effect. It is a statement of our values, as determined by the majority of those who show up. Now my daughter has the chance to show up and state her values, following in the footsteps of Anita Pollitzer to cast her vote for the first time this November.
So, have you met my daughter, the voter?
A.J. Campbell is a queer Jewish writer, lyricist and playwright, activist, accused Zionist. She is also the founder of the Quarantine Players theater company and a consumer of drip coffee. She writes about #swastika hate crimes.