TAMPA — With the ease of today's voting process, it's natural to forget the fights that made it possible to step into the booth and make a choice.
A choice made entirely by the voter.
Before movements started by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Burns, women didn't have a voice, let alone a vote.
They were considered property and everything they had belonged to their husband or father.
Stanton didn't even live to see the success that stemmed from her hard work.
Even when African-Americans were given the right to vote, they were still put through literacy tests that were intentionally made impossible to pass.
That's why Powerstories Theatre chose Eric Coble's play, Vote?, which runs through Sunday (Nov. 6), to inspire people to vote leading up to the election.
"It's a reminder of the blood, sweat and tears that went on before we got the right to vote," said Fran Powers, Powerstories founder.
Powerstories is an organization that only produces true stories.
"Sometimes it's about the people who came before us and the groundwork they've laid, the lives that have been lost," said artistic director Nicole Haumesser.
The plays are chosen by Haumesser and a group of about 10 people who are friends of the organization, board members and people who just love theater.
"Before we chose to do this play, we had no idea what a wacko, crazy election it would be," Powers said.
No matter how liked or disliked candidates are or how "crazy and wacko" it seems, the ability to vote is a power.
To remind people of that power, Vote? follows 18-year-old Nicole Harrison who, although registered to vote, has no intention of doing so once the time comes.
While watching a spy film full of guns and violence with her friend Daniel, her best friend Krista comes to drive her to the voting booth.
In the midst of her hesitation, Harrison travels back in time, from shivering in barracks beside soldiers in the Revolutionary War through the early '70s, when the voting age was changed from 21 to 18.
On her journey of discovery, she transcribes notes for Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the suffragette plans her speech for the Seneca Falls Convention.
She talks to George Washington as British soldiers shoot from beyond the hill tops.
She meets Martin Luther King Jr. just before he embarks on the Selma to Montgomery march.
At first, Harrison thinks people need guns to kill bad guys, as portrayed in the film she'd been watching with Daniel, but she later learns that real power comes from a piece of paper.
"When you see some of the things that we have gone through, from a women's perspective, just for silently protesting they would be dragged, clubbed over the head, stabbed between the eyes by a piece of wood and taken to prison with horrible conditions," said actress Lisa Negron.
Negron plays Stanton, as well as a suffragette in 1917 and one of the hippies protesting to lower the voting age in the '60s.
"I was talking to my mom about this, and when she heard I was playing a suffragette she told me her grandmother was a suffragette, so I am playing someone who did the same stuff my great-grandma did," Negron said.
In one scene, the suffragette, known only by her last name, Johns, stands with Burns and Harrison holding signs in protest until they are attacked by an angry mob of men while police watch.
"We need to cherish this right because of what people did before us," Negron said.
Despite being taught in middle and high school history classes, these lessons can be forgotten even if students are paying attention.
Vote? is a reminder.
A reminder to the audience to stop taking for granted a power that so many in our country fought to have.
"Last night, a girl was telling me I made her cry," said actress Jenna Earl. "The play is giving them emotions to attach to the election season."
While most of the characters fight for the right to vote, there is one antagonist, the sexist, racist and bigoted Southern politician, James Vardaman.
"I think he defines what we want to weed out in this world," said actor Drew Smith. "The close-mindedness of his that allows us to bring hatred to voting and human nature. It was a hard character to play and emotionally a little draining."
When Vardaman raises his cane to strike Harrison for voicing her opinion, the audience jumps.
Those feelings of fear and shock are a reminder of the struggles of the past.
While the world is moving forward, those struggles are still apparent.
"It's like 300 years later and there's still people in the country that sadly think the color of your skin or your gender affects your ability to vote effectively or reason political matters," Negron said.
In the end, Harrison realizes the importance of voting and the impact one person can have.
Daniel, on the other hand, is more interested in finishing the movie than casting his ballot, no matter how much Harrison pleads with him.
"I wanted him to vote so badly," said Jason Carroll, who portrays Daniel. "But then I thought about it and he doesn't go through the same journey as Nicole, so if he did vote it would have been because of peer pressure. I like that because it feels like we aren't telling the audience go vote, you can do what you want."
Contact Arielle Waldman at [email protected]