Among the post-election chatter is the fact that Bristol Palin did not turn in her absentee ballot. Could it be she was too distracted by all those dancing feet around her?
However, her misstep did not get by Meghan McCain, the fellow Republican daughter of John McCain, who had selected Bristol's mother Sara for his vice presidential running mate two years ago.
McCain blasted "Bristol the pistol," as her mom likes to call her, for failing to cast her vote this election. On "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," McCain said, "I guess it's only important for Bristol Palin to vote for `Dancing with the Stars.' I think a lot of women worked really hard to give us the right to vote. Anyone that doesn't vote is just ridiculous."
McCain's point is quite timely considering two factors. First, Aug. 26 marked the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Second, Connecticut's close governor's race results--Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz announced that Democrat Dan Malloy defeated GOP candidate Tom Foley by 5,637 votes, indicates the importance of each individual vote.
On Sept. 14, the Secretary of State heralded the day that Connecticut voters ratified the 19th Amendment by announcing that 93 women were running as candidates for the Connecticut General Assembly. This represents a small decrease from the record high number of 102 women candidates who ran for the General Assembly in 2008.
Last year, according to the National Confederation of State Legislatures, 1,788 women or 24.2 percent were serving in state legislatures. This represented less than a 4 percent increase in the past 15 years. Vermont had a total of 67 women in the state legislature, representing 37.2 percent of its total state legislators. Connecticut's representation of women in the legislature ranked seventh highest in the country with 31.6 percent of the legislature female, the highest percentage Connecticut has seen in the state.
In heralding the anniversary of the state's ratification of the 19thAmendment, Bysiewicz encouraged women to "step up and run for office. This election, 14 women were candidates for the state Senate with at least half of them winning their seats and 79 women were candidates for State Representative with approximately 35 victorious.
Last month PCSW's executive director Teresa Younger said, "More voices at the table will strongly influence Connecticut's policy agenda moving forward." She stressed the importance of women running for office "to help move the face of state government closer to one that reflects all Connecticut's population, of which women are 51 percent."
That majority does not go unnoticed for women's rights activists like Diane Lauricella, an environmental consultant, who served three years as president of the Norwalk Chapter of the League of Women Voters through last February. The local league is currently headed by a four-person steering committee until someone takes on the role of president.
Recently Lauricella lamented the LWV's dwindling membership as she stood before a state LWV's travelling exhibit marking the 90th anniversary of women getting the right to vote that had been on display at the Norwalk Public Library in recent weeks. She acknowledges that it has been difficult not only to attract women into the League but also to get women to become active in League activities as well as in seeking political offices.
She notes the irony of the current status of women in the political arena given the fact that it had taken 72 years of activism, political intrigue and even jailing of women, to pave the way for women to vote in America. Among those jailed were a Norwalk mother and daughter, Elsie Mary Hill and Helene Hill Weed, some time between 1917-1919.
"They were feisty broads," said Lauricella of the women who fought for the right to vote. Women met opposition for their cause, including from other women who feared their own social positions would be jeopardized. One woman, Catherine Beecher feared getting the right to vote would force women to assume responsibilities that they would not be qualified to do.
Katherine H. Hepburn, the mother of the late actress Katherine Hepburn, was a strong proponent for the women's right to vote. She was married to Dr. Thomas Hepburn and feared her advocacy would harm his practice, which dealt with birth control and social hygiene. However, he replied, "If you don't stand for the things you believe in, life is no good. If I can't succeed any way, then let's fail."
Strong opposition came from many men known as "The Antis," including politicians and those involved in the liquor industry, who feared Temperance organizations.
"No one should take for granted the struggles that women had to endure to get the right to vote," said Lauricella, who wants to encourage women to join the League, which also invites men to join. She acknowledges that with so many women now working, many women turn to the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary Club to become active in the community.
Competition from other service groups, along with competing for women's free time, has led to the decline in the local League's membership, which Lauricella estimates to be about two dozen.
Lauricella is trying to break the stereotype thinking that the League is just a group of women wearing pearls and sitting around having tea. She noted that in the mid-19th century women were instrumental in the abolitionist movement; yet it took many more years before women achieved equal status with men in terms of voting rights. Today, she believes it is important that the LWV reach out to embrace all segments of the community so that the League represents the diversity it continues to advocate.
In discussing the League's role in the community, Lauricella underscored advocacy as a key component along with LWV's mission to inform the public about major issues and to increase voter registration. During her tenure as president, the local chapter held education forms regarding the Freedom of Information Act.
Lauricella believes the LWV still has a major role to play in the community to make sure that elected officials rule properly.
"It [government] is not as transparent and not always believing that it is the public's right to speak and participate. For example, she is a strong advocate that there be time set aside at every board and commission public meeting and subsequent committee meetings for the public to speak. This is not necessarily the case, she says. She noted that political candidates say many things when they are running for office, but do not necessarily follow through once they are in office. The LWV has a role to play in keeping government officials honest, she says.
With the 90th anniversary milestone celebrated, Lauricella is working to keep the celebration going for a whole year, not only to encourage more people to join the local LWV but also to herald the importance of women getting the right to vote and to encourage more women to take an active role in the community, especially in politics.
Lauricella believes the history leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment should be in school curricula.
"Voting is important. We saw that in the governor's race," she said. Also, the Norwalk LWV is working with the Fairfield County Women's Center and other local organizations to plan a series of events highlighting the role that women play in history. "We want to start the conversation about women's role in society," she said.
For example, on Feb. 4, which happens to be the birthday of Rosa Parks, who became the face for the desegregation of buses in 1955, Lauricella would like to have a Rosa Parks Celebration in conjunction with Black History Month.
On Aug. 26, now known as Women's Equality Day commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment, President Obama cited the inroads women have made including the fact that there now are three women sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, he said, the reality is that women represent less than one-fifth of Congress "and a mere fraction of the chief executives at the helm of our biggest companies. Women hold only 27 percent of jobs in science and engineering, which are critical to an economic growth in the 21st century economy."
Secretary of state Hilary Clinton marked the 90th anniversary noting that "there cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard...unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives...There cannot be true democracy unless all citizens are able to participate fully in the lives of their country."
It is Lauricella's intention that the variety of activities that she and others plan in commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote will encourage women to take more of an active role in their community, and she hopes it at least begins with membership in LWV's Norwalk chapter.
For information, visit http://www.lwvct.org/norwalk.