The centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment continued Wednesday as the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area hosted a virtual celebration honoring women’s efforts to further democracy over the past 100 years.
The event titled “Hard Won, Not Done” kicked off with opening remarks from Mayor Ron Nirenberg proclaiming Aug. 26 2020 Women’s Equality Day in San Antonio.
“The League of Women Voters is the epitome of authentic citizen engagement, and your work is crucial,” Nirenberg said. “And since the founding of our nation, women have played a vital role in the formation of the United States of America and have helped make it the great country it is today.”
In addition to Nirenberg, keynote speakers included Madhu Sridhar, Pat Jasso, Erika Prosper Nirenberg, and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto. With a special performance from Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson and artistic director of Arte y Pasión, Tamara Adira.
The event was co-hosted by the group Can We Talk?, a coalition of 65 women’s organizations in Bexar County that also sponsors Women’s History Month programs.
Pat Jasso, coordinator at Can We Talk?, announced that the coalition would be matching up to $3,000 in donations to the league for the night, encouraging a number of the estimated 250 participants in the event to donate to the cause.
“The work that the league does is essential for us to be able to get out and make a difference in elections,” Jasso said.
Keynote speaker Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, who is the assistant dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin, highlighted the strides women are making in political participation and then addressed the policies that keep women from going even further.
“If we’re not paying attention to the policy, we’re ultimately dishonoring the legacy of our suffragettes who fought so hard for us to get the vote,” Soto said. “And now that we have the vote, we need to push a lot harder to make sure that we see the policy results that we need as women to not just survive, but to thrive.”
Soto then entered a moderated discussion with San Antonio first lady and co-chair of the league’s Empowering Voters Project, Erika Prosper Nirenberg. Nirenberg asked Soto about model programs and initiatives Soto has seen in her line of work and how they could be implemented locally.
“I think that we need to figure out what the needs are in our communities and come together and fashion programs that help women and meet them where they are, which is the most important thing,” Soto said.
Soto warned of the policies that aren’t blatantly excluding women, rather are subtly limiting voting for women in various socio-economic communities.
“The states that have most the most restrictive voting systems, and in particular, the ones that don’t have this expansive vote by mail tend to be those that were formerly of the Confederacy,” Soto said.
San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson worked with musical artist Alyson Alonzo and music producer Nick Shan to create and perform a song for the event. Sanderson said the song signified the difficulty of fighting for equal rights, particularly for minority women.
“Because at first, suffrage wasn’t inclusive of minority women, and people like Ida B. Wells [had] to stand up for women’s rights to vote and things of that nature,” she said. “So we’re just trying to make these strides and also climb this mountain. And that’s the imagery that I evoke in the song.”
Her song is available on all music-streaming platforms.
As the event drew to a close, Jenee Margo Gonzales, member of the San Antonio 19th Amendment Centennial Committee announced a $5,000 donation to the league from its virtual fundraiser selling “Vote Like a Girl” T-shirts.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters, which was founded six months before women won the right to vote as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Founding member Carrie Chapman Catt’s lobbying alongside other suffrage leaders drove Tennessee, the final state left to ratify, to officially pass the amendment. Since then, the league has carried the mission of expanding civic engagement for all Americans.
The San Antonio chapter originally anticipated hosting a rally to mark the centennial but pivoted to a virtual celebration, said Madhu Sridhar, president of the local chapter.
With the centennial as a reminder of how far women have come in participating in democracy, Sridhar believes more can be done to improve voter turnout and break voting barriers. She hoped the event will inspire that work.
“I hope those present will feel inspired and choose to honor the suffragists by making a commitment to safeguard our democracy and do what they can to help voters get out and vote,” Sridhar said.