By STEFAN MODRICH
Pam Gaskin is nothing if not consistent.
Gaskin, a realtor and longtime member of the League of Women Voters in Missouri City, has been a voting rights activist ever since she grew up in La Marque, just outside of Galveston. And in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the passage of which gave some — but not all — women the right to vote in 1920, she believes it’s never been more important to have organizations that remind Americans about the significance of the efforts that went into supporting women’s right to vote.
“See, I like folks who do things consistently, and the League has been fighting consistently for the right to vote since the early 1900s,” Gaskin said. “And even though African-American women didn’t get the right to vote (upon the passage of the 19th Amendment) they continued to fight for that right. They signed on with the Civil Rights movement. And even now, the League is a party to a lot of litigation going on now about ballots by mail. And it’s just a great organization.”
True to her word, Gaskin makes regular appearances on Houston Public Media radio programs to answer frequently-asked questions about voter registration and how to be prepared at the polls.
And she demands the same consistency from her peers, her elected officials and even her school administrators.
“I’m the rebel of the family,” Gaskin said. “I was always a rebel. I had a teacher — (my) uncle had died, and we went to the funeral in Port Arthur. I asked her for a make-up assignment. And she said, ‘Oh no, you’re going to get an F. And I told her before I was going to be gone and I wanted to get a make-up assignment and that I might be gone for two days. And she said, ‘Well, you’ll just get an F for both days.’”
She didn’t take the bait from the teacher at what was then a segregated school, and called the superintendent to ensure that her academic rights weren’t violated. Sure enough, after a series of explanations from the principal and superintendent, the teacher apologized and her academic integrity was restored.
Similarly, Gaskin’s parents, who helped found the local chapter of the NAACP, taught her from a young age to keep a vigilant eye out for voter suppression or intimidation.
Although white primaries were outlawed in Texas in 1944 and poll taxes were outlawed in 1964, African-American women were not granted the right to vote until 1965, when Gaskin was a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August 1965, it had not yet gone into effect, and even if it had, Gaskin was below the legal voting age, which was 21 at the time.
“I grew up watching my dad pay the poll tax for people on the street so they could vote,” Gaskin said. “Because if you didn’t pay your poll tax, you couldn’t vote. I’ve seen receipts for poll taxes, $2, (which was) a lot of money in 1952. A loaf of bread was about 18 cents in 1952. That’s kind of how it got started and it evolved, organically. I’m an organic activist.”
Leaving a legacy
Brie Terry, a Missouri City woman who is also African-American, cast her ballot Oct. 19 at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. She said she was encouraged to vote when she saw there were more women on the ballot across the county.
“I think we talk about women having representation in all facets of life and professional settings,” Terry said. “I think definitely having more women representation in government is a good thing, especially since obviously our country was founded by a bunch of men. But I think over the years women have cemented their place within this country and history and have shown that we are capable of making informed decisions just like men are, and that we need that representation. Women work hard, and we should be recognized for it.”
Terry said she came to vote with her fiancé and her mother, and her sister and her husband had planned to also vote early.
“I think the enthusiasm about getting out and voting, exercising our right to vote, has been a positive throughout my family,” Terry said.
Anna Lopez grew up in East Bernard in Wharton County, but working in the Fort Bend County court system for 23 years brought her to Missouri City.
She worked at the district court level and as a coordinator for Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Joel Clouser. She now canvasses for his daughter, Lynn Clouser, a candidate for City Council At Large Position 2 in Missouri City, and was handing out literature to early voters Oct. 19 outside the Missouri City Community Center.
“I’ve always voted, my grandmother voted, even though back in her time they didn’t really have a lot of information about who to vote for,” Lopez said. “But then my mother and myself taught our children to vote. It really affects your daily life, whether it be fines, taxes or what have you.”
Lopez said it’s important that voters learn to study the women who have made an impact on suffrage and voter participation on a local level and to appreciate their service to the community.
She said the lesson she wants to pass down to her children and grandchildren is that every vote matters, and that elected officials need to stand up for their constituents.
“It’s really such a privilege and honor (to vote),” Lopez said. “People have died for this right, and you don’t want to take it lightly. The younger generations are more about aggression. There’s a right way to do things, civilly. You’re going to get a lot more done with a pen then with aggression.”
Gaskin says she is proof that women have always been capable of taking on crucial grassroots roles in politics, and she will continue to advocate for the candidates, community activists and political organizers who she feels are overlooked because of their gender.
“Women have been given a bad rap,” Gaskin said. “What’s the old saying? ‘Women can do everything a man can do, and we can do it in high heels and walking backwards.’”