Voting should be a priority for every citizen. Not only because who we put in office profoundly affects our lives, but also voting is the cornerstone of democracy.
“We cannot have a healthy democratic form of governance without an informed and engaged electorate,” says Dawn Dyer, President of Dyer Sheehan Group and, since 2018, a California delegate to Drexel University’s Vision 2020, a non-partisan national coalition of organizations and individuals advocating equal rights for women.
As a delegate, Dyer promotes Vision 2020’s mission: reaching 50/50 shared leadership of women and men in business and government; increasing the level of civic engagement among women; educating students about the role women have played in shaping our history; and creating economic parity.
With these goals in mind, Dyer, who also serves as the Public Policy Director of the National Association of Women Business Owners-Ventura County and was named 2018 NAWBO California Woman Business Owner of the Year, has actively backed state legislation supporting women in business, including SB 826, passed in 2018. “This groundbreaking law requires publicly-held corporations based in California to have a representative number of women on their board of directors,” she says.
Additionally, Dyer is raising awareness of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. It was ratified on August 18, 1920 and certified eight days later.
“I’ve always been passionate about women’s equality as a practical matter,” says Dyer. “When I started my real estate career in 1985, I was denied a credit card in my own name, without a male co-signer.”
A divorced mother of two young children, it was crucial to the family’s survival she be taken seriously as a businessperson, Dyer noted. Discriminatory rules made that a challenge.
Dyer appreciated the trailblazers who came before. “But I was disappointed at the political apathy around me—particularly among younger women who were unaware we only secured the right to vote less than a hundred years ago,” she says. “It frustrated me to hear people say they don’t vote because it really doesn’t matter.”
As the Centennial of the 19th Amendment approached, she looked for ways to engage people in the democratic process. Her search led to Vision 2020.
“Our initiative is called Vision 2020 because when we began this work a decade ago, we viewed the Centennial of women’s voting rights as an important marker for measuring the degree of positive change in women’s lives over the last 100 years,” explains Lynn Yeakel, founder of Vision 2020 and Director of Drexel University’s Institute of Women’s Health and Leadership. “When women earn less than men for the same work and hold a fraction of leadership roles in business and government, we have not achieved the equality women deserve. The 19th Amendment was a critical first step, and this Centennial year is a perfect time to take stock of how far women have come, as well as determine where we still need change.”
Our Founding Fathers didn’t think of the Founding Mothers when writing the Constitution. Women were not given equal standing with men.
“During the nation’s first century, a married woman was legally considered the property of her husband,” says Dyer. “In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York.”
The suffrage movement was launched and over the next 7 decades, women campaigned for enfranchisement.
“They were arrested for picketing and sent to jail; many were beaten and endured hunger strikes,” says Dyer. “In 1913, suffragists organized the first massive political march on Washington.”
Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919. The following year, it was ratified by the states and adopted into law.
To mark the Centennial, Vision 2020 headquarters in Philadelphia and branches throughout the country, planned a series of events, topping it off with a Toast to Tenacity honoring the suffragists’ perseverance.
Dyer and her committee organized events, as well. Dressed as suffragists, they marched in local parades—including the 2020 Tournament of Roses—gave presentations and had planned voter registration drives on college campuses.
All “in-person” activities came to a halt with the pandemic. The committee was not deterred and instead, posted messages about voting and vignettes with portrayals of suffragist leaders on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Vision2020VC).
The live activities were to culminate with Ventura County’s Third Annual Toast to Tenacity.
The committee—Dyer, co-chairs daughter Tiffany Dyer, Assistant Principal at Buena High School, and Marni Brook, Director of Lending for Women’s Economic Ventures, and 45 members representing a variety of local groups, including the League of Women Voters, the AAUW, and the Girl Scouts—planned to start the public event by marching in suffrage attire through downtown Ventura.
The parade was to end at the Museum of Ventura County where guests could enjoy musical entertainment and fun activities at booths hosted by Vision 2020 sister organizations.
The Passion Players, a group created in 2019 by Dyer, her daughter, and NAWBO associates, were to stage Use Your Voice! Use Your Vote! - an original, 10-minute play showcasing famous suffragists.
Additionally, the Museum planned a special 19th Amendment exhibit of stories, photos and artifacts collected from Ventura County residents.
Because of the pandemic, the program will now be held on Zoom from 4 to 6 p.m. on August 26, National Women’s Equality Day and the date when the 19th Amendment became law. (Registration information for the free event: https://www.facebook.com/Vision2020VC.)
The event will close with celebrants across the nation raising a glass to toast the courageous suffragists.
“By honoring the past, we can help shape the future,” says Dyer. “Understanding history helps us appreciate the rights we have today, while recognizing the work still to be done. Although women won the right to vote in 1920, many women (and men) of color were denied access to the polls until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even today, voting rights are challenged and restricted in many parts of our nation. Don’t take your vote for granted.”