When my grandmother was born in 1915, American women didn’t have the right to vote. In the 96 years since women’s suffrage became a reality in 1920, women have impacted this country in outstanding ways, including Hillary Clinton’s current presidential election bid. If we indeed elect our first female president, she will be standing on the shoulders of great women: both of the famous trailblazers you likely already know, and the quiet contributors like my grandmother.
In 1936, when my grandmother was 21 years old, she cast her first ballot. That same year, she became the first in her family to volunteer as an Election Day poll worker. For seven decades she continued to work at polling stations because she believed in making all voices heard. She dedicated her life to civic service, serving on 12 organizations including the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and the local Food Bank. At 89 years old, she worked her last election in Arizona. She passed away on November 8, 2005. I will step into the ballot box on Election Day this week, 11 years after her death, and remember her legacy.
I think about my grandmother often, and had a moment last spring that brought her memory to mind. I was looking at a photo gallery of past U.S. presidents, and standing there, I wondered if we were ever going to see a female face in that gallery. American women make up just over 50% of the U.S. population, and more women have turned out to vote than men in presidential elections for decades. Yet not one woman has led our country. “Now is the time to change this,” I thought.
I began looking up American women’s “firsts” in history, like the first woman to earn a medical degree or the first woman to win a Nobel prize. Women who were dreamers, risktakers, doers and changemakers. Then I placed the list of achievements in an hourglass, and the end result was a poster I named, “Now Is The Time.” At the top is what I hope to see come true in 2017: “First Woman President of the United States of America.”
Originally, I printed out “Now Is The Time” posters and gave them away to Hillary campaign volunteers. But “Now Is The Time” struck a chord, and began to spread word-of-mouth. I decided to sell the prints and donate 100% of the proceeds to the campaign. Not long after, I received a phone call from the Clinton campaign, who invited me to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia — and asked to bring the image along with me.
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At our “Now Is The Time” booth in the convention center, we had two 7-foot tall prints of the image. Hundreds of people came by each day for selfies. I was amazed at how many women would pause, smile and tell me: my mother was a First. I was a First. Or, my grandmother, you know, she was a First too. One woman I spoke with said her grandmother was the first Postmistress in a small town in Missouri. Another told me the story of how her great aunt became the first female psychologist west of the Mississippi. Another woman was running to be the first female representative of her district in Congress. It became clear that my artwork didn’t sufficiently capture all of the firsts from our nation’s women.
When I returned home after the convention, I wanted to find a way to capture all of these stories of “firsts” inside “Now Is The Time.” I wanted to highlight these inspiring voices, and celebrate lesser-known firsts for women, too. To do that, I built an interactive webpage that enables anyone to add a “First” and honor herself or a woman in her or his life.
On Election Day, I’ll be thinking of my grandmother, not just because November 8 was the day of her passing – but because her legacy will shape my vote. “Now Is The Time” to honor women’s “firsts” large and small, from the ordinary to the historic.
Drue Kataoka is an artist based in Silicon Valley. Her work merges art and technology, often for social impact. She is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
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