Thank you to all who have contributed to the American Ethical Union’s #GivingTuesdayNow campaign! We raised almost $4600 and will be sending checks out to the Coronavirus Care Fund, No Kid Hungry, and the National Revolving Bail Fund. Given the level of economic upheaval we are facing, I do encourage looking into ways to support organizations providing assistance to vulnerable individuals in your area. I believe our safety net, such as it was, has grown even more tattered with recent efforts to curtail food assistance and the reluctance to extend financial assistance to people in need. It’s important to step up our efforts and do what we can to help.
There are other ways to help, too, and a number of us at the AEU are working on ways to support a broad enfranchisement of voters in the coming elections. We think a way to do that is to gain a better understanding of what is necessary to have safe, secure, fair, and accessible elections in this time of coronavirus infection – and then organize to make that understanding of reality in this country. It’s a substantial undertaking to be sure.
Concern about suffrage is not new to us in Ethical Culture communities. Although Felix Adler was not a fan of suffrage, Anna Garlin Spencer, the first woman to be an Ethical Culture Leader, wrote in 1910:
“…women must be given the duty and the responsibility as well as the protection and the power of the ballot in order that there may be established a free, recognized and obvious channel by which the value of women’s contribution to the State may be conserved and effectively applied to social welfare.”
Source: The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 35, Supplement. Significance of the Woman Suffrage Movement (May, 1910)
James Croft, in a 2016 article for the St. Louis Post Dispatch heralded Ethical Society member, Edna Gellhorn, as “a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, a founding member of the National League of Women Voters, and a lead organizer of the Golden Lane demonstration – was a member of the Ethical Society for decades.” He goes on to note that “she was an early supporter of the role of black women in the women’s rights movement at a time when such support was controversial. Under her leadership, the St. Louis League of Women Voters admitted African-American women as members and invited them to serve on the board, despite the resistance of the national movement, and from the 1920s to her death she worked to ensure that the voices of African-American women were not discounted.”
If you are interested in getting a deeper and fuller picture of how women connected with Ethical Culture campaigned for civil rights, I hope you get the opportunity to hear Jone Johnson Lewis’s “Women of Ethical Culture” series, if you haven’t done so already.
There have been many Ethical Society members who have worked to organize for the right to vote over the decades preceding and following the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 – and now it’s time for us to take up that challenge. Ongoing efforts to make it more difficult to register and vote in many parts of the country serve to further disenfranchise an already disempowered portion of voters – the very same people who are in the most precarious social and economic position and most likely to suffer from the effects of the coronavirus infection.
The disenfranchised do not have the power, without the support of others, to bring the reforms to the voting system that are necessary for them to have their votes count. We can do something about that.
Please join the AEU’s Ethical Action Committee chairperson, Carolyn Parker, and me for our Activism at a Distance virtual salon this Tuesday at 8:30 PM Eastern Time. Our theme will be “Saving Our Democracy Through Voting” and will focus on ways and means to have safe, timely, and fair elections (despite the coronavirus) and ways to organize campaigns to make it happen. This session is the first of a series and will include a brief presentation by Bart Worden, who will map out challenges and opportunities for election reforms, followed by group discussion and campaign organizing activities you can use with whatever organizations you connect with. Come out and invite your friends and family to come, too!
Wishing you well as you navigate the week ahead!