Mayor Nan Whaley (Dayton, OH) and Mayor Victoria Woodards (Tacoma, WA)
This week, When We All Vote launched a new initiative — the When All Women Vote Week of Action in partnership with the United State of Women — with a goal to help register women voters and share how all of us can bolster voter participation. And while we are celebrating 100 years since the 19th Amendment passed, which gave some women the right to vote in the United States — it took decades until all women, specifically women of color, were able to exercise their right to vote. Many women of color, especially Black women, are still fighting today to make the promise of the 19th amendment a reality for all. We talked to two influential women in leadership — Mayor Nan Whaley (Dayton, OH) and Mayor Victoria Woodards (Tacoma, WA) about their path to leadership and what the 19th amendment means to them.
Tell us about the first time you voted.
Mayor Woodards: I know I voted when I turned 18. However, it wasn’t when I voted that made a difference to me, it was who I voted for. Casting my ballot the first time for a local elected official who was African American. This race was also the first time that I personally volunteered in a campaign. That vote was for Harold Moss, a man who would go on to be an important mentor and father figure in my life. Still today, Harold Moss is one of only two African American men who have served on Tacoma’s City Council.
Mayor Whaley: At 18 years old, I voted for the first time and also served as a poll worker at the local church in my hometown of Mooresville, Indiana. Before I could know that I would one day be on a ballot myself, I felt the responsibility to make my voice heard — to exercise the right that so many women before me had diligently fought for.
What was your path to leadership?
Mayor Whaley: As a woman in politics, I spent most of my 20s working to elect progressive male candidates to Congress and the Ohio State Senate. It had never actually occurred to me to run for office myself, but in 2003 I was approached to run for Congress. I chose to run for Dayton City Commission instead and became the youngest woman ever elected to a Commission seat at 27. Recognizing a need for a more active leader, I was proud to then run for Mayor of Dayton and was elected in 2013 by a double-digit majority. As the mayor of Dayton, Ohio; 1st Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; and as a member of WWAV’s Civic Cities initiative, I’ve been able to join the host of women in executive roles around the country who continue to redefine and expand what leadership looks like.
Mayor Woodards: Tacoma has been my home for nearly my entire life. Before elected office, I felt drawn to a life of service. It began in high school and continued as I joined the military. Initially, I held supporting roles with organizations like the Tacoma Urban League and the Pierce County Council staff. Over time, due to the many mentors in my life, I moved into leadership roles that I never would have dreamed of alone. I am proud to have served the community as president of the Tacoma Urban League, Director of Community Development for the Tacoma Rainiers MILB, and in various positions with the Tacoma Metropolitan Parks Board, the Washington State History Museum, and the Washington State Commission of African American Affairs. I never took these positions because I was seeking leadership roles — I took these roles to be of service to my community and make life better for all who lived in our city.
Mentorship has been critical throughout my path in public service, especially with women and people of color opening doors and making a seat at the table for one another. And we know that underrepresented groups shouldn’t be satisfied with just any seat at the table. We should be at the head of it. Now, I’m working to empower the next generation of leaders by engaging our City’s youth in community decisions that impact them every day, by expanding Student Government Day and establishing the Mayor’s Youth Commission of Tacoma.
What does voting mean to you and why is it so important?
Mayor Woodards: I live in a community where the people who fought for my right to vote are still active. I cannot imagine not exercising the right they fought so hard for. We’re seeing a lot of energy and demands this year to make a change — but speaking out isn’t enough. We must take action and vote. As mayor, it’s my job to protect the right to vote for my constituents, but it’s their responsibility to vote. We are lucky to live in a state that votes by mail, same day voter registration, and expanded drive-through voting in response to COVID-19.This is a start, but there is more yet to do to ensure that barriers are removed so that everyone can exercise their right to vote. The voice of our country is the voice of many, and every vote matters. So register, vote early, and ask your friends to do the same.
Mayor Whaley: It has been an incredibly challenging two years in my city of Dayton. We’ve faced tornadoes, a hate group rally, a mass shooting, and now COVID-19. And when people ask me how they can help with these problems, I always tell them one important way to help is to vote. The issues Daytonians and all Americans face were not created in a vacuum — choices made by elected officials impact them greatly. So it is up to all of us to use this opportunity to make our voices heard.
We’ve made progress: We saw an increase in turnout among women between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, and a record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. But we can, and must, do more to ensure every woman can make her voice heard at the ballot box. Did you know that the 2016 election was effectively decided by fewer than 80,000 votes across 3 states?
Voting is bigger than any one party, one issue, one candidate, one election. It’s about ensuring that we have an active and engaged electorate that understands the important role that government plays in our day-to-day lives.
This week, we celebrate our progress and continue the work needed to ensure all women can vote in every election — because when all women vote, we can change the world.
Take Action with the United State of Women and When We All Vote:
- Join WWAV and the USOW’s virtual voter education #CouchParty tomorrow, August 20, at 5pm ET to hear from Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, Samantha Barry, Glamour Editor-in-Chief, Valerie Jarrett, Co-Chair of USOW and When We All Vote, Yvette Nicole Brown, Actor and Activist, and DJ Diamond Kuts. A virtual training on how you can help people make sure they are registered and ready to vote this November. You can RSVP here.
- To register to vote, click here.
- To check your registration status, request your mail-in ballot, and more, click here.