Election 2020: An Intergenerational Conversation

Alice Paul was a suffragist who sewed a star on the National Woman’s Party Ratification Flag for every state that ratified the 19th Amendment. The colors are significant: Yellow is for hope, white is for purity, and purple is for loyalty.

In an age where public misinformation and disinformation seems more the norm than the exception, a recent presentation by Catlin Gabel alum Debbie Ehrman Kaye ’73 provided insight on the work she does to ensure all eligible voters are able to cast their vote.

Why does voting matter? Does my vote matter?

Debbie takes her role seriously as president of the League of Women Voters of Portland, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to “empowering voters and defending democracy.” Members include both men and women, and represent all age groups. There is even a special category called “life members” who have actively participated in the organization for more than 50 years.

On Thursday afternoon, October 15, Debbie talked for about 40 minutes to a broad group of students, faculty, staff, parents, and fellow alumni. She covered a brief history about women’s suffrage and addressed various methods of voter suppression. She also discussed several measures on the November 3rd ballot.

Did you know it took 72 years from the historic 1848 Seneca Falls Convention that started the women’s suffrage movement, to the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote?

As Debbie described, those years between 1848 and 1920 were filled with organizing throughout the country. People marched in parades, hung posters and signs both for and against suffrage, printed and distributed pamphlets, wrote newspaper articles and editorials, participated in vigils, and even went on hunger strikes in jail after being arrested for protesting.

The passion of the people of the United States has not changed much, even though the media through which we share information has evolved to include radio, television, the Internet, and of course, social media.

Debbie’s presentation offered a refreshing and hopeful perspective, both for our students (many of whom are not able to vote yet), and for the rest of the audience.

And it’s clear from the almost 80 people who tuned in live and more who’ve watched the replay since, that the progressive education ideal of educating for democracy is alive and well at Catlin Gabel.

Here are a few of the questions our students posed:

  • How is Covid-19 contributing to voter suppression?
  • What is the League of Women Voters doing to ensure that the organization is centering and uplifting Black voices and voices of color?
  • Could you talk about misinformation and disinformation in this election, and how it can be combated?

This virtual event is a terrific reminder of what a Catlin Gabel education is all about— questioning, learning, and courageously pursuing your passions. It’s also a great example of how our community of alumni, faculty, staff, and students supports one another in the quest for knowledge and progress.

Finally, a PSA from Debbie

“Never, ever believe that your vote does not matter. The vote for or against the 19th Amendment came down to one young man in the Tennessee legislature (Harry Burn) who changed his vote after the first ballot to ‘yea.’... It was that close. Your vote matters.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of voting in the United States or the work of the League of Women Voters, spend an hour with Debbie and the students and watch the recording below. To hear Debbie’s responses to our students’ questions, the Q&A section begins at about 41:00.

The Alumni office is working to set up additional presentations about interesting and timely topics. Stay tuned for more details!