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Campaign in the Classroom

The Value of the Vote

by Amy E. Farrell, executive director, Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues; John and Ann Curley Faculty Chair of Liberal Arts; professor of American studies and women's, gender & sexuality studies

Amy Farrell

This semester I'm teaching History of American Feminism. We spend a significant time in class discussing the battle for women's suffrage in the U.S.; the tactics women used to fight for the vote; the coalitions among different groups of women and the disagreements and hypocrisies that challenged the movement. What always strikes the students is how audacious a claim it was at that time for women to seek the vote, how much backlash and anger and contempt they faced, how dangerous it was to speak up for voting rights and how important suffragists felt it was—both as a symbol of citizenship and as a real tool to fight economic injustice, educational and professional discrimination, violence in their homes and on the streets. And, despite the fact that the 15th Amendment granted black men the vote and the 20th Amendment granted all women the vote, many activists had to risk their lives again to win those rights in segregated states that restricted voting for black people. We discuss all this in my class against the backdrop of the election season. It's hard for anyone to express apathy about this, or any election, when they see the kind of risk and energy people in the past had to exert to win these very rights.

This semester I'm also directing the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues. While our main theme this semester is “Food,” we are also running a stream of events on the election. One of our guests will speak about what happens when women run for office. A roundtable of young political scientists and cultural-studies scholars will offer different takes on the election. An expert on cybersecurity and the election and a speaker focusing on populism in Germany and the U.S. and its focus on anti-Muslim rhetoric will also share their views. Throughout, we're sharing information about registering to vote and encouraging everyone to vote on Election Day.