This article by Catt appeared in the November 1917 issue of The Crisis, the monthly publication of the NAACP.
Over in Europe the greatest war that history has ever known is shaking the foundations of kingdoms and empires. Millions of men have been blown to atoms in the Titanic struggle. Billions of dollars have been burned up in the smoke and fire of its battles. The whole world is locked in the struggle and the struggle is to the death.
What is it all about?
What is the idea underneath the horror and the heartache?
What is it for?
We all know the answer. Every soldier who straps on his knapsack and marches away to camp, bound later for "somewhere in France," every mother, every wife who weeps to see him go, every woman who steps forward to take his place in industry, even the little child who is lifted to kiss him good-by, knows the answer.
"For democracy,—for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government."
In those nobly simple words of the President of the United States is set forth the whole story, the great ideal, the democratic faith that is sustaining alike the men of the Allied Armies on the battlefields of Europe, the women of the world waging their own double struggle to meet the new economic demands upon them while trying to secure a voice in their own government, and the Negro facing the selfsame problem and often refusing to see that through the Negro women his race is as vitally involved in the woman suffrage question as race can be.
For just as the world war is no white man's war but every man's war, so is the struggle for woman suffrage no white woman's struggle but every woman's struggle. Once long ago, the Negro man made the white man's mistake of deciding that the suffrage was the prerogative of men only. That was just after the Civil War. He had his chance then to stand by the woman's rights cause that stood by him. He did not do it. Like the white men around him, he could not and would not recognize that women were people, and that women, as well as men, must have a voice in their own government. Like the white man, he wanted democracy applied for himself, but not for woman. That is the crucial error of all men, white or black, in their efforts to apply democracy. It seems to be wholly a matter of sex, not at all of race or color. White man, black man, Mongolian, Malay, and Redskin are wonderfully alike when it comes to counting women out in any scheme for the political salvation of the world.
But however men have seen it, and may continue for a time to see it, women do count. Everybody counts in applying democracy. And there will never be a true democracy until every responsible and law-abiding adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own inalienable and unpurchasable voice in the government. That is the democratic goal toward which the world is striving today.
In our own country woman suffrage is but one, if acute, phase of the problem. The Negro question is but another. The enfranchisement of the foreign-born peoples who sweep into this country and forget to leave the hyphen at home is yet another.
How are we so to apply democracy that one and all of these problems may be fairly and squarely met by a voice in the government?
All along the line we fail of the right answer and the whole answer. Capital clashes with labor, class clashes with class, man-made laws are imposed on women who are denied all voice in the law-making, the individual sells his vote and pockets his dollar, race is arrayed against race, even to the perpetration of some such awful crime against common humanity as that against black people in the East St. Louis horror, and in woman's own struggle for democracy we hear some such retrograde outburst as emanated from the picket prisoners at being housed with Negro prisoners—not because they were prisoners, because they were black—a strangely and cruelly undemocratic protest!
Nowhere can we find the complete working basis for the democratic ideal. Yet everywhere that ideal rises again from the ashes of our wasted effort and again moves on ahead of us, a light that beckons.
Shall we shut our eyes and see it no more, remembering how hard it is to follow?
Shall we give up because we can't make a democracy work perfectly as yet?
Shall we cry quits because our patience wears out under the sorry failures and the long delay?
We could, of course, forswear democracy and herd together under an autocracy that would whip us into a grand machine, efficient as Germany's.
But who wants to be a Germany?
With all its failures, its delays, its harsh injustices, we will stick to democracy. We will not give up. We women, at least, will not even falter. We will press straight forward, knowing that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.
As suffragists we have a profound belief that with the enfranchisement of all women will come improvement in our body politic. We believe that the vote will do woman good and that women will do politics good. If we did not believe it, if we held the franchise as a light thing, to be neglected, or idly cast, or bartered and sold, it would not be worth working for, and democracy would not be worth fighting for and dying for.
For centuries women have been trying to make their convictions, their feeling against oppression, carry without the franchise. And century by century, the need of the franchise has come steadily uppermost. For decades, since women have been working for the vote, they have been urged to condemn this, espouse that, and work for the other before they get the vote, or as a condition of their getting the vote. Such delaying, such conditioning are but added affronts to democracy. As suffragists women stand on but one plank today and that the plank of equal rights, for women as for men, without delay and without conditions. Standing on that plank alone they bespeak for and from America that broad application of democracy that knows no bias on the ground of race, color, creed, or sex. To the end that Americans may stand united, not as Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Negro-Americans, Slav-Americans and "the women," but, one and all, as Americans for America.