Alice Paul, former Ridgefield resident, suffragist, activist and visionary political leader achieved a lasting impact on American history. An unparalleled political strategist, she is remembered for her successful efforts to pass the 19th Amendment, which secured women the right to vote, and for her authorship of the Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, but not as yet ratified.
In her era, women who raised their voices to power experienced extraordinary social and physical risks. Intimidation including incarceration, forced feeding and isolation were used (unsuccessfully) to ensure her silence. Her “unladylike” behavior — including organizing protests against President Wilson’s inaction on the 19th Amendment — was considered radical, even “militant.” Just like the women who marched on Washington in 2017, Alice Paul’s led thousands of women to march on D.C. just prior to Wilson’s inauguration. They wanted justice, equal rights and the right to vote.
Their voices were heard.
Nearly 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress, the votes of women are linked inextricably to the results of the 2018 midterm elections which dramatically shifted the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican to Democrat, increased the percentage of Democrats serving in Connecticut’s legislature, and elected a Democrat as governor. According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, 60% of women who voted for one of the two major parties voted for Democratic candidates; only 47% of men did. That’s a gender gap of 13 points. The gender gap is particularly acute among college-educated suburban women — like those in Ridgefield — who increased their votes for Democrats by eight points.
When Congress convened on Jan. 3 a record number of 106 women are members of the House of Representatives (out of 435; 91 Democrats, 15 Republicans); 25 women are in the Senate (out of 100; 17 Democrats, eight Republicans). Women’s votes in 2018, and the Democratic majority, had a seminal impact on the election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. The most powerful woman in politics. Third in line (president, vice president, speaker) in our government.
Votes for women, Alice Paul’s passion, have created power for women.
“There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality,” Alice Paul declared regarding the Equal Rights Amendment. This is especially true in matters of governance and politics. Women with political power are not wise-cracking gal Fridays, devoted silent partners or sidekicks to their male counterparts. In 2016, a woman received more votes for president than any man, ever. No need to designate “pink” or “blue” slots on a ballot.
Women raise tough questions (even subpoenas!), propose statutes, start movements, pass or reject budgets and work to understand, then solve, the current and future needs of our communities. They are equal to the challenges. How women use power as a strength is seen in their actions.
Alice Paul worked for equality and justice, achieving part of her vision. It is our honor and responsibility to make her proud.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.