When the pandemic triggered the cancellation of the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance’s major 2020 events, some expected the alliance to pack up its tents and go home. Any such thought quickly vanished into the netherworld as COVID-influenced provisions to expand access to the ballot box proved effective and have since become controversial.
Voting matters are front and center, including here in Vermont. Adroitly, the alliance chose to make voting and voting rights — their history, the struggles to attain this right and exercise it and the vigilance and advocacy necessary to preserve and expand them — the centerpiece of its upcoming event Hard Won, Not Done: Voting Matters on Saturday, Aug. 14, 3-5 p.m. on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier.
The program will coalesce around four themes: immigrant voting, enfranchisement, queer inclusion and municipal voting. The alliance will employ music, a land acknowledgement and dedication, speeches and art to expand our understanding and appreciation of the experiences of marginalized groups in obtaining and exercising their right to vote. The parallel goal for this event is to inspire attendees to value and actively support this right for all.
Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning historian and author, is keynote speaker. In her 2008 book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” Gordon-Reed shed new light on relationships among enslaved persons by tracing three generations of the Hemings family, including the liaison between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.
Gordon-Reed’s talk, “Voting in Texas — 156 Years of Struggle,” will explore Black Texans’ exercise of voting rights after Juneteenth 1865, the denial of those rights during the South’s redemption period and today’s fight to preserve them. Her most recent book, “On Juneteenth,” was published in May.
Mia Schultz, event emcee, will weave together the different components with her own experience as an activist person of color living in Vermont. Schultz works at Rights and Democracy Vermont and is president of the Rutland-area NAACP chapter, one of the largest chapters in New England. She is an educator, organizer and problem solver and regularly advocates for people of color throughout Vermont.
Burlington’s Nicole Nelson, of the American roots band Dwight & Nicole will provide the musical component of the program. Nelson is completing her second term on the Vermont Arts Council, which has deepened her mission of activism through art and creativity. In 2019, she founded a Vermont chapter of the Resistance Revival Chorus in response to persistent police brutality and racial injustices.
The artist-in-residence at Voting Matters is Cynthia Cagle. While at the event, Cagle will continue work on an alliance-commissioned painting focusing on women and voting. Cagle’s paintings explore narratives of Chicana identity. Her employment in the arts arena includes positions at the Middlebury College Museum of Art and University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art.
The program also includes a land acknowledgement and dedication ceremony, high school students reading voting-themed essays and comments speaking to queer inclusion.
All Vermonters are encouraged to attend the free event. Bring your own chair and water, as needed. No vendors will be present. The bad-weather location is the House chamber in the Statehouse.
At 12:30 p.m. at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main St., Montpelier, Gordon-Reed will do a brief reading from “On Juneteenth,” followed by a Q & A session and book-signing. The public is invited to attend.
The Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance was brought together by League of Women Voters of Vermont leadership and is a project of the League’s education fund. As a result, its mission is twofold — to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment and educate and facilitate people’s participation in voting, a fundamental right and responsibility of democracy.
Sandy Dooley is an executive committee member of the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance. She lives in South Burlington.