Diversity and Inclusion Spotlight

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Select Quarterly Observances 2020

OctoberOctober is LGBT History Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Italian American Heritage Month, and Filipino American History Month.
 October 11:  National Coming Out Day, it is an annual LGBTQ+ awareness day to support the community in coming out, and it has been celebrated since 1988.
 October 29: Mawlid, also commonly known as Milad un Nabi, this day is celebrated to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. It is celebrated in the third month of the Islamic calendar, and it is observed as a public holiday in many countries with a large Muslim population like Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia and Lebanon.
 October 31:  Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), it is a Mexican multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and families who have passed away, and helping support their spiritual journey. 
NovemberNovember is National Native American Heritage Month. This commemorative month aims to provide a platform for Native people in the United States to share their culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance, and ways and concepts of life.
 

November 14: Diwali, it is the Hindu festival of lights. Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”

 November 16: Dutch American Heritage Day, the Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize the nascent United States as a sovereign state.
 November 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance, it is a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. It is a day to draw attention to the continued violence endured by transgender people.
 November 26: Thanksgiving Day, it is a national holiday celebrated in the United States as a day of giving thanks, historically for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.

December

December is Universal Human Rights Month, and the observance started in 1948, when the United Nations published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This took place right after World War II, and this Declaration was intended as a way to properly define what human rights would be protected universally. 
 December 3: International Day of Disabled Persons, the observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, right and well-beings of persons with disabilities.
 December 10-18: Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lights, special prayers and festive foods.
 December 25: Christmas is an annually celebrated holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians.
 December 26-1/1: Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American culture that started in the 1960s. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but they often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, one of the candles on the kinara (candleholder) is lit, followed by a discussion of once of the seven principles.

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From Then to Now  | The Fight for the Right to Vote

This year’s 100th anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment has given me the opportunity not only to contemplate the hard-fought battle for women’s right to vote, but also to reflect on the overall journey of our nation’s voting rights and present-day challenges.

In 1789, George Washington won the electoral college with 100% of the vote.  Only about 6% of the U.S. population was eligible to vote in that election.  Voting was a right that was extended only to white males who owned property.  In this year’s general election, you are eligible to show up and vote if you are at least 18 years old, a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of a state (and have not been convicted of a felony or declared mentally incompetent).

The Journey—Expanding the Vote

By the 1820s and 1830s, the American population was booming and voyaging from the East Coast into the western frontier.  Frontier farmers were resilient and self-reliant; however, they mostly were ineligible to vote as the majority did not own land.  As these western areas became states, their state legislatures typically omitted the requirement that one had to own land to be eligible to vote. 

Andrew Jackson, the United States’ first “common man” president, promoted the idea of what he referred to as “Universal Suffrage.”  By “Universal Suffrage,” of course, he meant “universal, white male suffrage.”  Jackson emphasized only getting rid of the property requirement to vote; he did not expand the vote beyond white men.

In the 1850s, after the removal of the landowner requirement, about 55% of the U.S. adult population was eligible to vote, much better than the 6% in 1789 but certainly far from “universal.”  By the way, Merriam-Webster defines universal as “including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception.”

At the conclusion of the Civil War—which largely was based on states’ rights and slavery—the United States passed the 15th Amendment.  Ratified in 1870, this amendment promised that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  This meant that Black men, newly affirmed as citizens of the United States, would now be allowed to vote.  Native Americans, however, who amazingly were not yet considered citizens of the United States, still were not eligible to vote.

The design of our laws, of course, is often a far cry from reality.  Despite the promise of the 15th Amendment, intimidation and threats of violence often kept Black citizens from exercising their new voting rights.  States passed laws creating obstacles such as literacy tests and poll taxes that limited the rights of Blacks to vote.  The literacy tests were often rigged so that even literate Blacks weren’t allowed to pass.  Even those Black men who were able to register to vote faced intimidation and violence if they chose to show up at the polls.

It was not for another 50 years that the women’s suffrage movement finally won its 30‑year battle and the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote.  (Happy 100th Anniversary, 19th Amendment!)  Persistent and prevalent racism continued during this era.  As such, the 19th Amendment did nothing to eliminate the state laws that were still in operation to keep non-white Americans from exercising their right to vote via poll taxes.  This struggle would remain for men and women of color.

Four years later, the Snyder Act of 1924 admitted those Native Americans born in the United States to full U.S. citizenship.  As with Black men and women, Native Americans were also prohibited from voting by specific state laws that made it difficult to qualify for eligibility; even once eligible, they faced threats, intimidation, and violence if they chose to exercise their right.

After years of sacrifice, bloodshed and pain, the United States finally passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eliminating restrictions such as literacy tests and protecting the voting rights promised under the 15th Amendment. 

Today

Today, the pool of eligible voters is far broader and more inclusive than ever before.  However, there continue to be active efforts to suppress some groups from voting and many eligible voters simply choose not to participate.  In 2016, only 56% of eligible voters turned out to vote. 

The United States Census Bureau tracks voter turnout by age, ethnicity, and gender (https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/P20-582.pdf).  In the 2016 general election, the number one reason provided for not voting—by approximately 19% of eligible voters—was dislike of the candidates or the campaign issues, followed by not being interested in the election, being too busy or having a conflicting schedule, or having an illness or disability.  (U.S. Census, Characteristics of Voters in the Presidential Election of 2016, September 2018.)

We pride ourselves on being a democracy, a government where the ultimate authority resides with the citizens of a nation, yet many of us still do not take the time to exercise our rights.  Considering the fight our ancestors fought—not all that long ago—for a truly democratic society, why not honor their sacrifices and commit to a better future for our next generation.  Exercise your right to vote.  Exercise your voting rights in local elections, in state elections, and in federal elections.  We owe it to our ancestors, and the future of our country depends on it.

 

Ellen Clinton
R
egional Administrative Manager
Kutak Rock LLP