Three weeks from yesterday will be the first Tuesday followed by a Monday in the month of November. Yes, it will be Election Day, 2017. It will also be the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in New York state. Being a progressive state even then, New York was three years ahead of the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution giving women across our country to right to vote.
In the city of Oneonta, there are nearly 5,000 citizens who are registered to vote in this coming election. Unfortunately, if recent patterns hold, fewer than one out of four registered voters in our city will exercise their right to vote. There will, I am sure, be many good reasons as to why thousands of our fellow Oneontans fail to vote. I was too busy that day. All politicians are the same — you can’t trust any of them. I haven’t had the time to learn about the candidates. I just don’t like politics.
While the list of reasons not to vote goes on and on, I recently came across 55 very good reasons why each and every one of us need to exercise our most important right and responsibility on Nov. 7, 2017. They are 55 women who were recently interviewed for a book titled "We The Resilient," edited by Sarah Bunin Benor and Tom Fields-Meyer.
These are women who were born before all women in our country had the right to vote. These are women who survived the Great Depression and World War II. These are women who personally endured discrimination, sexual harassment and a lack of equal opportunity. As stated in the book’s introduction, these are women who “in their nine or ten decades of life have learned and grown from personal loss, communal crises, and national challenges. Our hope is that their wisdom, perspective, and grace can help the country.”
Of the 55 American women interviewed, one lives just down the road from us in Margaretville. Harriet Terry Robinson Cohen was born in November 1918. She taught first grade, worked as an agricultural field organizer for Catholic Charities, headed a local hospital auxiliary and served on the Governor’s Community Service Block Grant Advisory Panel (the same block grant that today allows our local Opportunities for Otsego to assist families here in Oneonta and Otsego County).
She recalls anti-Semitic remarks being written on the sidewalk in front of her home and her mother sending money to help families escape Europe during the war. When asked about the importance of her right to vote, she states, “You must be involved, be helpful and make a difference. You can’t be weak. You must fight for your rights.”
If Ms. Cohen and the 54 other women interviewed in "We The Resilient" don’t provide you with sufficient motivation to get you to vote, consider the New York women who fought for this right 100-plus years ago. While there are a few familiar names such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, most are not well-known today.
Cooperstown artist and friend of mine Christine Heller recently used crayon pencil to make portrait drawings of New York state’s suffragists in celebration of the centennial of women’s right to vote here in New York. Her portraits have been shown in locations throughout the state, including at CANO here in Oneonta this past summer. In looking at the drawings, one couldn’t help being struck by the commitment, strength and intensity of these women. Their eyes seemed to look back at the viewer and say, “Don’t forget about us. We gave it our all. We worked for decades so that women could be treated equally and be given the right to vote.”
So, on this Nov. 7, let’s celebrate the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York state by voting. Let’s honor the women such as Harriet Terry Robinson Cohen who can say that women were considered undeserving of voting during their lifetimes. Let’s honor the suffragists who fought for women to vote for nearly 70 years.
And every year, we should honor the abolitionists who fought for black men to gain the right to vote in 1870. And every year we should honor those who fought to create and defend a country governed by and for all the people.
The only true way you can honor their fight is by voting on Nov. 7.
Gary Herzig is the mayor of the city of Oneonta. He can be contacted at email@example.com