On February 21,1920, New Mexico voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. By August of that year the required number of 36 states had likewise ratified the amendment, legislating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” and became the law of the land.
We’re now celebrating the centennial of this most important chapter in women’s history. And even though women have had the right to vote for 100 years it is only within recent years that women’s voices have gained traction to effect real and positive change.
Changes such as One Billion Rising, founded in 2012 by Eve Ensler, to march against violence against women and girls; the 2016 Democratic candidacy of Hillary Clinton for President of the United States; the first Women’s March of 2017; the #metoo movement; the 2018 midterm elections, which saw a record number of women running for political office – and winning; the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate field with its representation of powerful women. Each of these changes would have been unlikely even 20 years ago.
Susan J. Carroll, professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, and Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, authored “How and Why the Gender Gap Matters,” noting that prior to 1980 it was assumed gender didn’t play into voting preferences. Today, she said, it clearly does.
“The gender gap is now viewed as an enduring part of the political landscape, and candidates, parties, and politicians must pay specific attention to women voters if they want to win elections,” she wrote.
The women voters of our tricultural population are in a unique position to use their voices to create a better world for today and for generations to come, and the statistics bear that out. Across the state our percentage of female elected officials exceeds the national average by 38 percent. Even more striking, CAWP statistics show that New Mexico leads the nation in women of color in statewide executive offices, including our current governor, as reported by FiveThirtyEight.com.
At the local level, women’s voter registration in Taos County outnumbers men’s by almost 1500, according to Taos County Clerk Anna Martínez. This indicates a powerful tool that can be used to construct not only the future of our community but of our country as well.
“Women are more than half of our population so if we all voted we could literally change the world,” said Laurie Mitchell Dunn, Board Emeritus member of the Taos Community Foundation and community volunteer. “We went more than half the time since the birth of this country without the right to vote. Now having it – and recognizing that there are women in the world who can’t exercise a similar right – it’s incumbent upon women to seize it. Otherwise, we’ve missed the opportunity to shape the future.”
AnJanette Brush, board chair of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and a primary candidate for the Taos County Commission District 4 seat, agreed. “Women’s voices had traditionally been marginalized but there’s a real empowerment happening now. And the diversity of Taos makes us a barometer of what women across America are feeling,”
“There are so many factors as to why women are stepping up,” Brush continued. “More women are single parents or heads of households due to things like divorce and longer life spans. And more women are in professional and managerial positions, so are able to support themselves.”
“But they also remain the majority of caretakers: as nurses, teachers, day care and social workers. It is what makes women particularly sensitive to the basic issues facing our region and the country, such as equal pay, decent health care, investments in education, the future of the environment, affordable housing and sustainable economic development.”
Brush is an alumni of the 2019 class of Emerge New Mexico, a state branch of the nationwide nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and networks Democratic women who wish to run for public office at the local, state or federal level. Since 2012, Emerge New Mexico has trained almost 300 women; with a strong showing in 2018, 42 Emerge alumnae ran for office in our state, and 37 of them were successfully elected.
“It’s a fantastic training program that empowers women,” Brush said, but noted that, even for those not pursuing a life in public service, it’s the power of women’s votes that is transformative. “If you aren’t registered to vote, please do so. Participate in primaries, which can be more consequential than general elections. This is our power in today’s world.”
Longtime activist Mary Mascareñas of Peñasco applauds candidates such as Brush. “Over the years I’ve seen women getting more involved with a we-can-get-it-done attitude.” But, she said, “I don’t see this as a men versus women issue; I see it as gaining equality. We are all equal.”
Mascareñas, who was named the first female Democratic Taos County chairperson after working to successfully elect former governor Toney Anaya in the 1980s, received the 2018 School Board Member of the Year award from the New Mexico School Board Association. She served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for over 20 years, and has been active in census counting and water rights.
“The issues I hear about the most are equal pay, better health programs, protecting Social Security, education that treats the whole child, and land and water issues,” she said, “and the best way to have a louder voice is to get out and participate in your chosen party. It’s important that women of any age believe they can do anything they want, and that they can make change happen.”
County Clerk Martínez said her office has a pool of registrars that visit the University of New Mexico and other schools to register voters. However, “Getting young women registered is easy. Then they need to be instructed in the power of their vote so they follow through.”
Consider that as you engage with our youth, our friends and make it your gift to the future.
“We’re a nation of all people and all colors,” said Mascareñas. “And we have to be fair and impartial with our votes. We want flowers, not weeds.”
To register to vote or to change your party affiliation, contact the Taos County Clerk at (575) 737-6381 for further information.
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