6 women’s bar association presidents come together to celebrate the right to vote
The presidents of the women’s bar associations from New York City and the head of the statewide bar set aside part of their Saturday on Aug. 8 for “Equalitea,” a celebration and discussion of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Amendment’s passage.
“We got the name for the event because sitting down and talking over tea was one of the earliest ways that the suffragettes spread the word about the importance of women’s right to vote,” said Joy Thompson, president of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY).
Thompson was joined by the presidents of the five New York City borough-based women’s bar associations — Natoya McGhie, the president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association; Miguelina Camilo, from the Bronx Women’s Bar Association; Amanda Norejko, from the New York Women’s Bar Association; Soma Syed, from the Queens County Women’s Bar Association; and Rosa Tragni, from the Staten Island Women’s Bar Association.
“This event gives everyone a chance to introduce themselves, learn about each other, each of the presidents, a little about me, and to celebrate women’s right to vote,” Thompson said.
The 19th Amendment officially gave women the right to vote in the United States in August 1920, thanks in large part to what’s known as the women’s suffrage movement that began in the 1840s and includes the Seneca Falls Convention.
“The 19th Amendment was just a start, a statement on paper,” Thompson said. “Historically, and in practical terms, exercising the right to vote has been an ongoing struggle. Since then, states have enacted laws to quash this right and disenfranchise American citizens.
“For example, the poll taxes in the South, the gerrymandering to dilute the voices of certain people based on their communities, the necessity to enact the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and now the struggle to restore the potency of the Act after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013,” Thompson continued.
At Saturday’s event, a little more than 50 bar association members watched as each of the five local bar association leaders took turns sharing a bit of history, introducing themselves and talking about their priorities for the next year.
Brooklyn’s local chapter president, McGhie, opened by pointing out that the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) is the oldest incorporated women’s bar association in New York, and it was formed in 1918 when women could not vote, join a local bar association or even serve as jurors.
“Our articles of incorporation stated that our purpose was to promote reforming the law, to facilitate the administration of justice, and to cherish the spirit of sisterhood among members,” McGhie said. “Obviously, we’ve come a long way, but recent events have taught us that there is certainly more work to be done.”
In addition to the six bar leaders, the event featured a brief discussion led by Attorney General Letitia James.
“We as women of the bar have a special responsibility to address the inequalities that continue to exist in our society, to focus on the issues of gender equality, and the fact that women are paid less than men for doing the same work,” James said.
James encouraged the women in attendance to use their positions as attorneys to lobby for justice. She explained that one of her concerns, of many, was the impending “onslaught of evictions” that she predicts is coming.
“I’m so glad the governor extended the rent moratorium,” James said. “It was the result of a number of individuals who lobbied him. I, too, added my voice. I am concerned that there is going to be an onslaught of evictions not only in the city, but across the state … The bottom line is that we have to continue to recognize that the law is both a sword and a shield, and as women we have a special responsibility to stand up and protect other women and our families.”
Of course, there was a call to action by Thompson during the event — vote.
“Today, I urge you as members of WBASNY to remember the past and to continue to raise your voice,” Thompson said. “Yours is the voice of the enlightened, the voice of the engaged, the voice of the educated, and the voice of the empowered. Vote.”
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