×

Divided opinion, change is coming

To the editor:

We hear quite often these days about how divided we are in America, and how this is a terrible problem. Is this such an unusual situation? In my view, community opinion is like a seesaw, tilted to one side at any given time. Things are the way they are. But, when things change, the seesaw tilts and rotates, and, eventually, slowly shifts to the other side. There’s a critical point in the middle, when the forces pushing in the new direction just balance the forces holding things in the old position. Community opinion is evenly divided.

Is all change bad? In 2020 we celebrate 100 years of women obtaining Constitutionally protected voting rights in America. The old way was that women could not vote. The new way is that women can vote. I think that’s a change we can believe in. Yet. It took 70 years of sustained effort for this change to become the law of the land. When the Constitution was written, all women were left out of voting, as were men without property and enslaved men. In 1920, as the seesaw tilted, opinion was evenly divided. It was evenly divided right to the end. The high-stakes fight for the final state ratification of the 19th Amendment was a nail-biter! The 36th state to ratify, Tennessee, was stormed by the pro- and anti-suffrage campaigners, with all kinds of operators pushing and pulling at the legislators. When the final vote was called, a last-minute vote change pushed the seesaw over, and the suffrage amendment was adopted.

What’s changing now? A lot. What will it change to? Unclear. We will be the ones to decide. Hopefully we’ll get it right and 100 years from now, folks will look back at the fight and say, “What was the controversy?” Just like we do now about the question of whether all citizens should have equal voting rights.