When the pandemic triggered the cancellation of the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance’s (VSCA) major 2020 events, some expected the VSCA 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 VSCA 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 voting rights — the centerpiece of its Saturday, August 14th event, “Hard Won, Not Done: Voting Matters,” which will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. on the State House lawn in Montpelier.
The program will coalesce around four themes: immigrant voting, enfranchisement, queer inclusion, and municipal voting. The VSCA will employ music, a land acknowledgement and dedication, speeches, poetry, and art to expand our understanding and appreciation, especially, of the experiences of marginalized groups in obtaining and exercising their right to vote. The VSCA’s parallel goal for this event is to inspire attendees to value and actively support this right for all.
Keynoter Annette Gordon-Reed is the author of “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner. This work 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. A lawyer, historian, and Texas native, Gordon-Reed, in her 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.
Mia Schultz, the event’s master of ceremonies, will weave together the event’s components and her own experience as an activist person of color living in Vermont. President of the Rutland-area chapter of the NAACP, one of the largest chapters in New England, Schultz is an educator, organizer, and problem solver and regularly advocates for people of color throughout Vermont.
Burlington’s Nicole Nelson, of “Dwight & Nicole,” will provide the musical component of the program. A Vermont Arts Council board member, in 2019 Nelson founded Vermont’s chapter of the Resistance Revival Chorus in response to persistent police brutality and racial injustices. The Burlington Free Press crowned this Indie musician “The Voice of Vermont.”
The artist-in-residence at “Hard Won, Not Done: Voting Matters” will be Cynthia Cagle. While at the event, Cagle will continue work on a VSCA-commissioned painting focusing on women and voting. Cagle’s work explores narratives of Chicana identity.
The program also includes a Native American’s land acknowledgement and dedication, a storyteller sharing her work, students reading voting-themed personal essays, and an activist speaking about queer inclusion.
“Hard Won, Not Done: Voting Matters” is free and the VSCA encourages all Vermonters to attend. Please bring your own chair and water, as needed. No vendors will be present at this event. The bad-weather location is the House Chamber in the State House.
Also on August 14 at 12:30 p.m., Annette Gordon-Reed will give a brief reading from her new book, “On Juneteenth,” at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, Montpelier. A question-and-answer session and book-signing will follow. The public is invited to attend.
“Hard Won, Not Done: Voting Matters” is made possible by the generosity of our incredible sponsors: Ben & Jerry’s Foundation; Cabot: Our Co-operative of Farm Families Since 1919; Lake Champlain Basin Program/Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership; Main Street Landing; Montpelier Alive; National Life Group; Sheehey Furlong & Behm, PC, Attorneys; the State of Vermont; the University of Vermont Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; the University of Vermont Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program; the Vermont Historical Society; Vermont Humanities; the Vermont Women’s Fund; the contributions of many individuals; the dedication and commitment of this event’s planning committee; and the diligence and perseverance of VSCA members.
The VSCA was brought together by the leadership of the League of Women Voters of Vermont and is a project of the League’s Education Fund. As a result, the VSCA’s mission is twofold — 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 a member of the executive committee of the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance. Dooley lives in South Burlington.