Is Civic Engagement an On-Ramp to the Women's Equality Expressway?

"You get what you settle for."

That theme, echoed often in one of my favorite movies, "Thelma and Louise," serves as a haunting reminder for women who are serious about seeking the elusive goal of equality with men in all aspects of American life.

It cautions us to avoid being satisfied with partial victories that fall short of where we want to be.

"We've come a long way," is another trap. A consolation prize that measures incremental progress and invites us to pause our efforts to make positive change.

On October 26 of this year, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman will be in Nashville, Tennessee, to address a joint session of the Tennessee Women's Economic Summit and the Fifth National Congress of Vision 2020, the nationwide coalition working to achieve women's equality by the year 2020.

The title of Ellen Goodman's talk is "Who Will Carry the Baton across the Finish Line?"

I am sure she will challenge her audience to provide the leadership needed to bring women to the decision-making tables of business and government in equal numbers with men.

One formula for change is women's increased "civic engagement," and that is one of Vision 2020's four national goals, along with shared leadership, economic parity, and youth education.

What exactly do we mean by civic engagement? It can mean stepping forward to participate in our communities, providing leadership to solve problems, set priorities, and get things done. Granted, not every woman is in a position to run for office, but there are lots of ways -- such as writing letters to the Editor or joining in social media discussions -- to make our voices heard, and it's important that we are informed and engaged citizens.

Another way to be civically-engaged -- and this is something that we all can and should do -- is to VOTE, in primaries as well as general elections, so our views are represented. Voting also shows appreciation for the courageous suffragists who won that right for our half of the population a century ago.

We remember their victory on August 26, the federally-designated Women's Equality Day, as we observe this year the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The suffragists' willingness to march, picket the White House and even go to jail to achieve that basic right of citizenship for women was the ultimate in civic engagement.

So civic engagement means giving up being a spectator to what's happening. It means getting out of the bleachers and into the game.

Paying taxes is not civic engagement. Paying attention is. Paying attention to school board elections. Speaking up and out on turning-point issues. Persuading five more women to join you in voting on Election Day.

Complaining that things aren't fair is not civic engagement. Finding a solution is. Coming up with a better idea, and then organizing support for the change.

Civic engagement is not complicated. It's deciding what's important to you, and then doing something about it. For women, if equality is the goal - and it should be - it's time to reach for the baton.

Otherwise, we'll get what we settle for.

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