New York State is positioning itself to be a frontrunner in cultural heritage tourism that could demonstrate to the nation the type of sustainable economic development that’s possible on the ground. Current shifts toward favorable public opinion about the history of women’s voting rights and upcoming suffrage centennial celebrations suggest that such observances can be meaningful as well as economically advantageous for local communities, regions, states and the nation.
In recent years, the following states celebrated their centennials of women winning the vote prior to 1920: Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Arizona (1912), Kansas and Oregon (1912). Montana and Nevada observed one hundred years of women voting in 2014 with special events, projects and activities. New York’s centennial celebration is scheduled for 2017, with Michigan, Oklahoma and South Dakota to follow. And there’s the upcoming national suffrage centennial in 2020.
SUFFRAGE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS HAVE THE POTENTIAL OF GOING VIRAL
Opportunities for New York State are in the early stages and they follow the best practices of states that have already held suffrage centennial observances. The pieces are in place to develop cultural tourism networks and infrastructures. There’s a state suffrage centennial commission recently passed in the NYS Legislature, the involvement of state agencies, the result of long and dedicated work by citizens and organizations working together. New York City and upstate communities are involved. Passionate grassroots advocates have taken leadership roles. Funding is available. And the internet is exploding nationwide and around the world with stories of amazing women, today and in the past. A major motion picture, “Suffragette,” will direct public attention to voting rights struggles. It’s a matter of bringing all of this together that will make the difference between blowing an opportunity and the potential of suffrage centennial celebrations going viral.
We can’t take anything for granted in a controversial climate that has marginalized women’s history over the past century. We could miss opportunities and assume that someone’s in charge, when in fact, a grassroots collaborative initiative is underway that could be taking on more than it can handle. The good news includes the efforts of visionaries who have set 2020 as the goal of achieving equality for women in the United States. There are stirrings in the U.S. Congress to revive the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) by 2020. A woman on U.S. currency is now a possibility. Special projects are downright exciting, including the building of a statue of women in NYC’s Central Park, a nationwide women’s trails initiative, upcoming conferences, literary initiatives, a proposed suffragist national memorial outside of Washington, DC, and a core of dedicated activists who view sustainable economic development of cultural heritage tourism as key to the process.
COMPARED TO THE 2017 WORLD WAR I CENTENNIAL OBSERVANCE, WOMEN’S CELEBRATIONS COULD TURN OUT TO BE A FLASH IN THE PAN
Compared to the big bucks being invested in the national centennial observance of World War I in 2017, the story of women and our accomplishments could turn out to be little more than a flash in the pan. Getting our story out to the nation takes dedicated and persistent work. Local communities must set priorities about how to honor this extraordinary opportunity. There’s a cultural struggle underway in light of the 2016 presidential elections and a great deal of past neglect of women’s history to overcome. A great deal of our history has been buried or marginalized. We can blow these openings and opportunities. And we can built infrastructures and constituencies that will last longer than any planned centennial celebrations.
WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK!
Are you on board? The move to celebrate suffrage events and centennial celebrations is about insisting on taking our place in the sun, assuming leadership, and spreading the word about how we stand on strong shoulders with not only women’s issues but our shared national activist history. Marriage equality was once thought impossible. One commentator recently called the activist who took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina as someone who had committed “patriotic civil disobedience.” Women’s suffrage history has a strong tradition of patriotic protest. We can connect the past and present and future by supporting efforts to build sustainable lifestyles and practices necessary for life in the 21st century and beyond. We’re moving mountains, but we can’t take anything for granted yet. Let’s make the most of every door that opens to us. We can sail through the challenging times ahead if we pull together. We’re on our way. Onward!
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