History, Wildrick

The Right to Vote

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When I was four or five years old, I memorized a cross-stitching of the Pledge of Allegiance my mother had made that hung on a wall at my grandparents house. Once I had the lines committed to memory, I recited it to my grandfather, a retired history teacher. He was the catalyst behind my need and my desire to learn from the past and satiate my burgeoning curiosity for all who came before.

History and politics, it seems, walk together hand-in-hand, especially  in the life of a teacher. So much of what survives within our history textbooks are events that were recorded by the political winners of the time. The two, history and politics, are inextricably linked. And, the old adage, “those who do not know history are destined to repeat it” is one I believe applies aptly to politics as well.

My grandfather was also an active member on the political front. He served as a leader of the teachers union – the Omaha Education Association (OEA). From his obituary

The year he was president-elect of the OEA – 1976-77 – more than 1,200 school employees marched in protest at Joslyn Castle, then the school district’s headquarters. Their complaint: The school board was considering referring its negotiation battle with the OEA to the Nebraska Supreme Court. In the end, the board decided against such a move.

When Wildrick was OEA president the following year, the union negotiated improved compensation for long-term staff members.

Through much of his teaching career, Wildrick was active in the Nebraska State Education Association and the National Education Association.

And in retirement, he ran for a seat on Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, serving from 1987 through 1990.

When I began actively researching the California life of my 3x great grandmother – and my grandfather’s great-grandmother Minnie Igle Wildrick, I was thrilled to discovered her voter registration information from the 1920s in Long Beach.

Women in California fought for and were granted the right to vote in October of 1911, becoming the sixth state to do so after Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Washington. But for women of Nebraska, where Minnie lived until the death of her husband in 1919, women were voiceless (until the passage of the 19th Amendment). In 1920 when Minnie moved to Long Beach, California to live with her sister, she registered to vote. She registered again in 1922, 1924, 1926, and 1928 as she changed from Republican, Did Not State, Republican, Democrat and Republican.

  In writing this post, I’ve imagined myself in Minnie’s place. (Learn more about Minnie here and here.) An immigrant, born in 1852 Germany, she most likely arrived in America sometime in the 1860s with her siblings. She married, moved about the country, had children, buried children. Did she have much say in the choices made? Were her thoughts and opinions valued? Was her marriage one of partnership rather  than one of patriarchy?

It’s difficult to say. Considering Minnie registered to vote when the opportunity to do so arrived, leads me to believe she desired to have her voice heard.

From the 1920 index of registered voters of Long Beach:

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I’m eternally grateful for the tireless and difficult work of all the women who fought for years, in some cases for their entire lives, for the right to have their voices heard. And I feel extremely blessed to live in a time where voting is, or rather, should be, second nature. But, with second nature comes the ability to take the right to vote for granted. Most of us have never known a time when our right was denied. Regrettably, it seems there is a higher voting response to shows like The Voice or Dancing With the Stars than there is turnout at our polls.

However, and, I have friends who can attest to this, I am overcome with outrage at this flippant behavior. We sadly live in a society that cares more about reality television stars and number of Instagram likes per post than we do the state of our education, environment, economy, equality, welfare for of our citizens. This needs to change. And the way we change this is by exercising your right to voice your opinion, your right to vote.

No matter your feelings on this upcoming election, no matter who you choose, whether we agree or disagree on beliefs or issues, don’t just sit blindly by and state: “I’ve always wanted to vote before.” Why has that suddenly changed? There’s nothing stopping you from voicing your opinion. Don’t like the options? Write in a candidate who best represents you. True, they may not win with your vote, but that’s not what voting should be about. Your vote is your voice. Voting grants you the opportunity to elect officials who best represent you, your beliefs, and your desires for the future of our great nation. Voting is literally the definition of a republic, to which we Pledge Our Allegiance.

But our ingrained two-party system has bred the belief that voting doesn’t matter. A vote for one party is canceled by a vote for the other. One side must beat the other. We simply see a face, a representation of a perceived broken political system or of extreme demagogue behavior. Rather than vote based on issues that are important to us, we are bombarded and distracted by media that the representation is more important than the issues at hand.

I ask that you take the time to educate yourself. Throw the idea of belonging to a political party out the window. Register to vote. Decide what issues are important to you. Learn which candidate you align with based on those issues. An easy way to begin is by taking this quiz. It breaks down each major issue, you can learn more about specific issues, and you have the option to answer “yes” or “no” or to go more in-depth with more defined answers. There is a slide option which allows you to change the importance of each issue to you. This quiz can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes and will begin you on a journey of self discovery as well as allow you to show your patriotism for our Republic by using your voice this November.

“…one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 Image Sources:
1920, 1922, 1924, 1926,1928 Voter Registration: Ancestry.com. California, Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.

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