I have a distinctive voice. The kind of voice teachers wanted to hear read books aloud to the class. Part gravel and part bubble, my voice even as a child had enough weight to be taken seriously, but enough enthusiasm to be the captain of the cheerleading squad. I can’t stand to hear my voice played back to me. It sounds too cartoonish to be real. When I was child, my father recorded me singing “America the Beautiful.” I sounded like Tweety Bird.
In seventh grade history class, my teacher asked me to be a part of the speech team she was putting together for the citywide competition. We’d been discussing women’s rights in America at the time, so I chose Susan B. Anthony’s speech, On Woman’s Right to Vote. She delivered it after being arrested and refusing to the pay the $100 fine for voting in the 1872 presidential election. While I may not like the sound of my voice, not having the right to use my voice seemed absurd to me. I grew up in a house with a mother who had a powerful voice and she encouraged me to speak my mind, even when she didn’t like what I had to say, which continued to be more often then she could have ever imagined when I was practicing the lines for this speech over and over in my bedroom, in the bathroom, at the dining room table and in front of the mirror in the basement.
In retrospect, a thirteen year old blonde hair, blue-eyed girl delivering these lines written well over a hundred years ago must have been fascinating to the judges considering I wasn’t old enough to vote. But I could relate to Anthony’s sense of injustice when she proclaimed, “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people–women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government–the ballot.”
I won the competition. My dad sat next to me when they were announcing the winners. When they called my name, he screamed so loud, I never heard the judges. I was embarrassed that my father would get so excited for somebody else’s kid to win. Everyone on my team started shouting, “It’s you, you won. Get up there!” This is the moment when I realized my voice had the power to be heard, to be felt, to be understood. It’s also when I thought, if I can do this, what else am I capable of doing with my life? Would I have the guts to stand up against someone who claimed I didn’t have the right to do anything I wanted to do with my life? Could I live up to the victory Susan B. Anthony had helped womankind achieve?
Power lives in the hearts of those who are willing and open to embracing the truth. My voice is a force for personal change. Right now in our country, people seem to be shouting their personal opinions and beliefs about everything, especially when it comes to politics. It’s important to remember that fear only sounds louder. But just because it’s louder doesn’t make it true.