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LETTERS / We Are Better Than That

Dear Editor and Friends,

Last night I attended the amazing MLK “I Have a Dream” 50th anniversary rally at the Harvest House, and I was greatly inspired by those of you who make such an effort to protect freedom, justice, and equality not only for yourselves but for all of your neighbors as well.

It occurred to me that not only were we fighting racism and discrimination just 50 years ago, but that the prior Monday was also the 93rd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment and the right for women to vote. An “exciting week in history” is an understatement. When Andy and Loretta asked me to run for Boone town council a few weeks ago, I had no idea that we would soon be facing such contentious issues right here in our county. This letter is to let everyone know that I am ready and willing to fight for our citizens rights.

Many folks refer back to “the good ole days,” but forget that less than 100 years ago in 1919, the amendment for women’s suffrage, which had been voted down at the national level for 40+ years was finally one state away from being ratified as an official amendment to our constitution. It all came down to the youngest representative in the Tennessee General Assembly, Harry T. Burn, a 22 year-old man from McMinn County who broke anti-suffragist ranks and ended the 48-48 gridlock, ratifying the 19th amendment for TN and the nation as a whole.

The official rumor from tn.gov involves Harry being chased from the chamber by the anti-suffragists and forced to crawl out of a window in the Capital, inching along a ledge to safety. He apparently changed his vote because of a letter from his mother:

“Dear Son:

     Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!  Don’t keep them in doubt.  I notice some of the speeches against.  They were bitter.  I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet.

     Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification.

Your Mother.” – Note from Phoebe (Febb) Ensminger Burn to her son, 1920

“I believe in full suffrage as a right. I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify.
I know a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” – Harry T. Burn

Good boy, Harry. Your mother and generations of mothers after thank you. ‘Mrs. Catt’ refers to Carrie Chapman Catt, a field organizer for Susan B. Anthony and the founder of the League of Women Voters.

In the age of ipods, iphones, ipads, icars, i-everything, it is hard to imagine a time when people couldn’t vote because of literacy tests and poll taxes. It is hard to imagine that 100 years ago a 22-year old representative from Tennessee was chased from his capital because he voted for women’s rights. It is hard to imagine that just 45 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated for his belief in civil rights and equality between whites and blacks. It is hard to imagine these times because we want to believe that today is different.

We want to believe that we all have moved past the discrimination, but a quick glance at one of the i-newspapers, or out our own front door, clearly shows us that is not true. North Carolina did not ratify the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote until 1971, followed only by Mississippi in 1984. We were 50 years late to that party, and from the recent headlines we are yet again making a name for NC and ourselves as a ‘last-place’ state. We are better than that.

I know we are better than that because I saw many of you out last night with signs and cheers and great numbers. Potholes and schools are not red or blue. Voting rights and discrimination are not red or blue. What I learned back in Sunday school and at church was that we should love our neighbors, take care of our poor, that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God, and that you should do to others as you would have them do to you. These are issues of morality and ethic, not red or blue issues, as illustrated by our brave Moral Monday protestors of all sides and backgrounds. Too often today the issues of ‘red or blue’ are getting in the way of our actual morality when we all know what the right thing to do is.

We could use this opportunity to point fingers and blame at a certain group of leaders that may be making bad moral decisions, however my mother taught me that if I do not have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything at all. History has proven that a mother’s advice should not be taken lightly, and negativity and blame will not help us move forward, together, as neighbors and friends. 

We must work together with our elected officials, and with our neighboring citizens, to enact the best, open, democratic government to fit our needs and our moral obligations to each other and our environment. We cannot continue to work against each other and against our own interests. We have come too far since Dr King’s speech to tolerate the oppression and abuse of the common people, and their collective property, for the monetary gain of the few, at the expense of the many.

I would consider it the greatest honor to be chased out a window defending the inalienable rights of our community and its citizens whose actions last night I find so inspiring. An open and inclusionairy government by ALL the people is the only way forward, because we are ALL part of the same Watauga community.

This upcoming November 5th please remember to vote for progress and unity, not division and discrimination. I know you are better than that. 

“Two steps forward, no steps back. We are better than that.”

-Quint David, Progressive Boone Town Council Candidate and citizen of Watauga County