“Every single person can make a difference in this election — and today we’re asking supporters to start by taking one action that will help grow our campaign,” First Lady Michelle Obama said today at the launch of “It Takes One,” an initiative she will lead.
“It Takes One” will empower individuals to register voters through GottaVote.org and to discuss critical campaign issues with neighbors or door-to-door in a grassroots push to engage people in the push toward November’s election.
This initiative is new, but engaging the power of just one person to change the political process has been a part of our country’s history long before we were united under one name. Many unnamed people have set up tables and walked miles between houses and churches and community centers to register voters and educate the uninformed on discriminatory election laws, most of whom are not credited with published biographies or plaques to honor their contributions. As we look back at several women who notably changed the course of voter rights through their activism, we honor those individuals as well.
Here are seven voter-rights activists who stand for thousands more, all women, and each who used their voice to let ours be heard. One at a time.
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Fannie Lou Hamer 1 of 7In 1962, Hamer heard a sermon by an organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that called for black Americans to register to vote. She was the first to volunteer. Hamer became one of the country's most prominent voting registration activists, helping to organize the "Freedom Summer" initiative and other registration drives. She was beaten severely but kept on, singing hymns as she worked. "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired," Hamer famously said, words engraved on her headstone at her gravesite in Mississippi.
Margaret Brent 2 of 7Born in 1601 in England, businesswoman Margaret Brent is considered one of Maryland's most prominent female settlers. Some historical sources count her as the first woman to request to vote. As the executor of Lord Calvert's estate and as a land and business owner, Brent petitioned the all-male assembly for two votes to represent each entity. She was turned down, but her activism and financial savvy is noted as helping to stabilize the colony.
Marie Foster 3 of 7The number eight was significant for this Civil Rights activist. It was the number of times she tried to register to vote before succeeding. She was also a founding member of the Dallas County Voters League, dubbed the Courageous Eight, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to spotlight Selma, Alabama in the voting rights movement. Although she was beaten by police in Selma in 1965, Foster walked on in protests with injured feet and knees. Marie Foster, called the "mother of the voting rights movement" by local organizers, died at age 85.
Granny D 4 of 7Eager to "raise a little hell," Doris "Granny D" Haddock upped the stakes of her lifelong political activism as she approached her 90s. At the age of 89, Granny D took a 14-month, 3,200-mile walk across the country to lobby for campaign finance reform. Greeted by thousands of supporters once she reached D.C., Granny D kept on. At 93, she drove 22,000 miles around the U.S. to register women and minorities to vote. The great-grandmother of 16 lived to be 100 and was praised by many, including politicians Jimmy Carter and John McCain.
United Sluts of America 5 of 7After contraception-rights activist Sandra Fluke testified on the necessity of providing affordable, accessible birth control to women and was called out as a "slut," women swiftly mobilized to reclaim the derogatory term by organizing "SlutWalks." The movement has evolved to register voters, rallying around reproductive justice, marriage equality, access to health care and other campaign issues.
Susan B. Anthony 6 of 7Susan B. Anthony first fought for abolition, then became a leader in the American suffrage movement with friend and colleague Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony, born in 1820, tireless traveled the country speaking on women's rights. When she rebelliously cast an illegal vote in the presidential election of 1872, Anthony was arrested, brought to trial and fined $100. She died in 1906 without paying the fine, 14 years before women attained the vote.
Michelle Obama 7 of 7Today, the First Lady announced the launch of "It Takes One," an initiative appealing to individuals to register voters through GottaVote.org and discuss campaign issues. The grassroots-style program recognizes the significant impact of each small political act.