This story was originally published by Ms. Magazine.
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to move the Equal Rights Amendment one step closer to becoming part of our Constitution.
Originally introduced in the 1920s and passed through Congress in 1972, the amendment hit a roadblock in the ’80s when an arbitrary timeline in the preamble expired before enough states ratified it. But we never gave up on the dream of equality in the Constitution—and yesterday, after Virginia became the 38th state to support the amendment, the House voted to scrap that timeline and clear the way for the ERA with no delay.
Today especially, I’m reminded that this victory for democracy is long overdue. Because 100 years ago today—on Valentine’s Day, 1920—a group of brave suffragists founded the League of Women Voters.
Our founding took place in a momentous year. Six months later, the 19th Amendment was ratified—a long-fought victory that represented the single largest expansion of the American electorate in our nation’s history. And one century later, we are still working to advance voting rights and defend democracy.
Over the last 100 years, our organization has led the fight for voter protection and expansion in the courts, in the streets, in our government, and at the ballot box. We advocated for the establishment of the United Nations in the 1940s, fostered a groundswell of support for the ERA in the 1970s, established a norm of televised presidential debates in the 1980s, built power for the passage of vital pro-democracy bills at the turn of the century and organized a nationwide redistricting effort for People Powered Fair Maps just last year.
But there is always room for growth and improvement. Organizations like the League have a responsibility to ensure that we are putting equity at the center of our organization and our work, and we haven’t always done enough. We must be more welcoming to women of color, the LGBTQ community, non-binary people, the disability community and people of all backgrounds and identities.
As we move into our second century, we are striving to do better. The League today is more diverse, more inclusive and more equitable than ever before. We know our work is stronger when all voices are heard, so we are building future leaders of this organization to stand up for underrepresented communities.
I can’t think of a better birthday present to the League of Women Voters than seeing the work continue toward a more equal democracy.
As we look to our next 100 years, we aim to continue the fight for voting rights expansion, because democracy cannot be fully realized until all people can participate. We do and will continue to fight modern-day voter suppression in the form of partisan and racial gerrymandering, voter ID laws and polling place closures.
As we celebrate today, we do so with the knowledge that we still have so much to fight for. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act, we have seen rollbacks to early voting, unjust purges of qualified voters on voter rolls and strict voter photo ID laws that make it harder for young people, women, people of color and individuals with low incomes to exercise their right to vote.
Our founders achieved the impossible by getting the 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago, so today we honor their fight by continuing to push our democracy forward so that every voter can play a critical role in shaping our country with a day of action. Across the country, we are hosting more than 350 events in all 50 states celebrating that “Women Power the Vote.”
All over America, and in your very community, Leagues hold power to account in state houses and city halls. They equip voters with the info they need in community centers and libraries. They write letters, design ballot initiatives, organize political action—they build power together on the belief in democracy for all.
If you believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy, we need you. Find your local League today and join us for the next 100 years of empowering voters and defending democracy.