Hours before the polls were set to open in New York City, dozens of people gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in the state of New York.
The Empire State was definitely ahead of the curve and helped to established a precedent for the movement: Three years later, the 19th Amendment was ratified, allowing some women across the country to vote. (Women of color were mostly blocked from voting for decades — until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned racial discrimination, securing voting rights for all minorities.)
Through her work at the New York State Women's Suffrage Commission, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to celebrate the women in the suffrage movement, and she encourages people to remember how hard they fought.
"The struggles, the trials, the tribulations that women had to endure for decades before earning the right to vote 100 years ago — that to me should be an inspiration for women today," Hochul told Refinery29 at Monday's event. "I want people to say, 'I have a moral responsibility to honor their legacy, their work, their sacrifices. And I'll do that by making sure I never, ever miss an election.' That's my main message."
To honor that legacy, the commission is organizing several educational events until 2020, including erecting two statues honoring suffragists Rosalie Gardiner Jones and Sojourner Truth. (Jones is also featured on the "I Voted" sticker people will receive at the polls today.)
And as Hochul said, educating New Yorkers about the rich history of the women's suffrage movement could be a way to inspire them to vote. But that's no easy feat: Historically, the state has a shockingly low voter turnout. State Sen. Betty Little told Refinery29 she understands that sometimes it's difficult to take time out of your day to go to the polls, so the commission is trying to create a way for no-excuse absentee and early voting in order to facilitate the process.
"A woman can't always get to the polls on a Tuesday ... We're half the population, but we're not the half of the voting population," Little said. "Our legacy should be to promote women voting."
No-excuse absentee and early voting would provide more access to the ballot box, Hochul added. "Let's find ways to deal with the many barriers [women] may face," she said. Going to the polls on Election Day is crucial, and people should be able to do so without a glitch. And on a day like today, which is an off-year election, folks are choosing everything from mayors to state lawmakers and voting on ballot measures all across the country — and everyone or everything they choose can have a larger, more direct influence on our everyday lives than the decisions slowly made in Congress and the White House.
"Our local elections are as important as the national elections, because they impact our day-to-day lives: From how often your garbage is picked up to who is educating your kids," State Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told Refinery29. "Hopefully after this past November, and the things that have unfolded since then, people are beginning to understand that government really does have an impact in our lives. We can't just be spectators. If we are able to participate, we have the responsibility to do so."
After all, the women before us fought most of their lives to make their voices heard at the polls. Now that we have the right to vote, it's our duty to use it.