What it means to vote for the first time on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage

Clara Snoyer voting in Dallas beside her decorated car. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLARA SNOYER/FOGHORN

Clara Snoyer is a sophomore English major.

When I went to vote in person Oct. 13, the first day of early voting in my hometown, Dallas, the surreal experience gave me chills (despite it being a sunny 81 degrees). While standing in a line that wrapped all the way around the church for an hour and a half, the suspenseful wait gave me time to reflect on the magnitude of my ability to vote, and this heightened the excitement and certainty I felt by the time my turn came.

It felt ceremonial: feeding my long white ballot into the voting machine, watching the green number electronically shift from 183 to 184 as my vote was counted, finally picking up my patriotic sticker reading “I Voted in Dallas County” from a basket of hundreds of others that I knew would soon be claimed. As I exited the church, I literally leaped, joyously hollered, and fell back onto the grass in a smile. I had to take in how moving it was.

Many of us were too young to vote in 2016, and the 2020 election has been the first in which we have been able to participate. The way that the cosmic timing ended up falling into place — my first opportunity to vote aligning with a pandemic in one of the most crucial election years, and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage — made my experience that much more meaningful and partially redeemed the stress I’ve felt in this election season. 

Growing up in a rather conservative and gender-traditional family and neighborhood in Dallas, I was never encouraged to be a feminist or liberal, but once I educated myself more, I instantly identified with the power I felt women deserved over their bodies, voices, and minds, and the Democratic Party’s prioritization of equality and justice for all people. The suffragist leaders in Texas made my first voting experience possible at home with their dedicated work, like Jane Y. McCallum, Texas Secretary of State from 1927-1933; Minnie Fisher Cunningham, the first woman from Texas to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1928; and Edith Wilmans, the first woman to serve in the Texas legislature in 1923. I suddenly had reason to be grateful for our pandemic, which forced me back home so I could vote in Texas, where my Democratic vote would matter more. 

As a feminist, it was extremely meaningful to be able to exercise my right to vote for the first time in the year of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, especially under such a sexist and misogynistic president. The women’s suffrage movement was not without its serious flaws, such as prioritizing voting rights for middle and upper class white women at the expense of women of color, who didn’t gain the right to vote for years to come, but I remain incredibly grateful for the ability to vote as a woman, as well as committed to using this right to prioritize an intersectional approach to feminism with issues on the ballot. In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the insightful words of former First Lady Michelle Obama said four years ago to the day on which I voted: “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.”

If you are eligible to vote in this critical election, do so. Make sure to fill out your mail-in ballot completely and correctly so it isn’t discarded, as many have been, or go out and vote in your county (if you are able to do so) before Nov. 3 arrives to avoid large crowds. Women’s strenuous efforts to earn the right to vote in the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, even when recognizing the issues within the suffrage movement, should not be taken for granted, and it is crucial we make our voice heard in a time of such division and social injustice. Voting will be the most important agent of change we can contribute this year because of our pandemic. I was so eager to vote that I had to go the first day I could. I also made sure to wear white to honor suffragists, since white became the color of the movement.

So, as you venture out to make history at your local ballot drop off box or in-person polling location this week, take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of what you are enacting — even if it only feels like picking up a cheap two-inch “I Voted” sticker or dropping an envelope in a bin. The suffragists who came before us are watching from above as we implement what they could only ever dream of as they marched and fought for it, and our intentional participation in this election is more meaningful and powerful than we know. In the words of musician and Vietnam War activist Judy Collins in her song “Dreamers,” “This land was made by dreamers / and children of those dreamers. / We came here for democracy and hope, / now all we have is hope.” It’s time for Gen Z to show up and make a difference. 

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