In Spring Term 2019, Jacob McMurrin, Brittany Miller, and Bella Magdaleno interviewed Dr. Aislinn Addington. Dr. Addington is the director of Abby’s House at Western Oregon University, a center for equity and gender justice. Although born and raised in Montana, she completed her undergraduate degree at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, double-majoring in Sociology and Political Science. She continued her education getting her PhD in Sociology at the University of Kansas. She also completed her graduate certificate in Women Gender and Sexuality Studies. Throughout her time at school, she was very passionate about gender justice work and was involved in a women’s center at her university. During graduate school, she worked at a direct service emergency call line that was community-based where she learned her strengths are in direct service. When she completed her degree, she moved from Kansas, bringing her amazing rescue dog to Oregon for the Abby’s House director position. Today she spends her time advocating for women not just through her work, but she also hosts a podcast with her brother, who is a filmmaker, where together they discuss women in film. Their podcast is called “The Contenders.” Dr. Aislinn Addington is an amazing woman who understands the importance of gender justice and inspires all to fight for what is right. As a whole, Dr Addington believes that voting has an important role in shaping the nation and is the right and responsibility of all people.
Q: In your view why is voting important?
Dr. Addington: Voting is one way for individuals to help shape our nation. Our system is far from perfect, but voting empowers folks to actually, tangibly influence decisions on the local, state, and national levels. Voting is a right, but access to voting is a privilege, and too many of us take it for granted. The process can be difficult or even impossible for many marginalized groups in the United States. For those of us who have the right to vote, I believe it’s our responsibility and obligation to use our power to make a statement, choose our representatives, and change the way our nation works.
Q: What barriers to voting have some Oregon women experienced?
Dr. Addington: The fight for women to gain voting rights in Oregon was long and arduous. The first legislation was proposed in 1884, but it wasn’t passed until 1912. That’s almost 30 years of Oregonians – fathers, brothers, husbands, neighbors, etc. – actively denying women the right to vote. And while the suffrage movement was impacted by other social movements and political issues, it’s still striking to think about the tenacity it took to get the issue on the ballot six times before finding success.
It’s also vital to remember that the 1912 decision to eliminate the word “male” from the voting-related language in the Oregon Constitution did not grant voting rights to ALL Oregon women. Many groups of women were still disenfranchised based on racial and ethnic discrimination.
Still today, women in Oregon face obstacles to voting. Whether it has to do with access to polling places, limited language proficiency, or citizenship status, women and people of all gender identities may encounter barriers to voting.
Q: How have some women used the vote as a tool for social change?
Dr. Addington: First, let me say: women influenced social change long before the right to vote! But if we are focusing on using the right to vote we can see very clearly how this historical change ushered in additional rights and freedoms for women, such as better access to education, fairer wages and treatment in the workplace, and reproductive justice. Once women achieved the right to vote candidates were moved to include issues and take positions that would motivate this new block of voters to support them. These changes did not happen overnight, and I would argue we have work to do in all of these areas to achieve equity, but the 19th Amendment certainly opened the door to progress in a number of ways.
I want to fast forward to 2018. The 2018 midterm election results include a number of historic moments for women in the United States. From this election we have the first openly Muslim women in Congress, the first Native American women in Congress, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, as well as a number of fantastic firsts for women in different states around the nation. This most recent election inspires me by demonstrating that the tenacity to get the vote, back in 1912 (for Oregon), was just the beginning! There is a lot of work to do in this country and more and more amazing women are stepping up to the plate and taking on that work.
Q: What additional points do you feel are important for us to consider as we commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment?
Dr. Addington: It’s important to emphasize to all Oregonians who are eligible to vote that participation is our system – at all levels – is a right AND a responsibility. I understand that the complex issues our nation is facing may seem far away or too big to influence. For me that’s all the more reason to take part and let those in power know what my priorities are and what values I expect they work to uphold.
I also want to emphasize that voting is not the only thing folks can do to make change. First, individuals can put themselves on the other side of the voting process and run for elected office! Or join in on the campaign of someone who inspires them.
I sometimes hear from students that they are reluctant to vote because they feel like they don’t know enough about the issues or people involved. So, educate yourself and your community! Go to events, meetings, rallies, lectures – so we can all become conversant on the issues that mean the most to us. Through that process, we can find the places where we can get involved and make change.
Our elected officials represent US – sometimes it’s important to remind them of that, through phone calls, letters, online posts, and depending on the situation, in person conversations. Get involved, in whatever way you can!
While the 19th Amendment specifically prohibits the denial of voting rights on the basis of sex, whenever I think about the right to vote, I also think of those who have limited access or are the target of strategic disenfranchisement. We must be vigilant and call out this behavior as we see it.
The 19th Amendment gave me the right to vote. And as part of the voting public, I want the system to be as just and equitable as possible. I refuse to be complacent while others are actively marginalized by this system of which I am a part.