On this day 171 years ago, roughly 300 women and men gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, to declare women every bit the equal of men. It was the first women’s rights convention in American history — and it changed the course of American history.
Theirs was an audacious act, met with doubt, derision, and conflict.
One newspaper deemed the convention “the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity.” Yet 68 women — and 32 men — boldly affixed their signatures to that declaration. Among them was the former slave and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Thanks to the hope and courage of visionary leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, women would go on to earn the right to own property, to vote, and to hold high political office. And in this 2020 election, I am proud to be competing alongside half a dozen formidable women contending to be President of the United States.
But for all our progress, we know that the work set in motion in 1848 remains unfinished today.
We have not yet fully realized the promise of Seneca Falls when decisions about reproductive freedom are dictated by male politicians, or when women are still not paid the same as a man, whether that’s a factory worker or a member of the women’s national soccer team.
That is especially true when women of color — excluded from Seneca Falls — remain disproportionately disadvantaged and discriminated against today.
When I think about what it will take to achieve full equality in our time, I think about the leadership of those 68 women and also the signatures of those 32 men. Because as vital as it is for women in this country to lead the way, it is also important that people from every walk of life stand up for each other.
It’s why those of us whose marriages depend on the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court benefitted not only from the effort of individuals across the LGBT community but of straight allies as well. It’s why, as a man running for president, it is particularly important that this campaign be outspoken about women’s equality.
It’s why I welcome my obligation as a candidate with the privilege of whiteness on my side to speak about systemic racism in this country. That includes putting forward a Douglass Plan to empower the women and men of Black America, named in honor of a Black man who made common cause with the women of America.
The road to true equality will not be easy. But it was an act of hope that led the women of Seneca Falls to declare themselves equal. And filled with that same hope, we will continue along the trail they blazed.
Pete for America
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South Bend, IN 46624