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Monday, 02 April 2012

Our Right and Duty to Vote

category_bug_politics.gif This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers - only 90 years ago.

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That is the beginning of a story continued below that has been floating around via email since about 2004. I had not seen it until Darlene Costner forwarded it a few days ago.

It's not a new story for me. Over the years, I produced at least two television programs about the women's suffrage movement and I am knowledgeable about the people involved in and details of the decades-long fight. However, this rendition reawakened me.

Maybe that is because these days in our deeply divided nation, I so frequently hear or read (on this blog, too) of people who say they will not vote under this or that circumstance. Oh how easily some throw away what was so painfully won.

There is no way to credit the woman who created the story and sent it on its way; no one knows her name. So let's just be grateful for the reminder.

I suspect the photographs are public domain. The words are those of our anonymous writer. In a couple of places I have added some commentary which, like this introduction, appears in italic so you'll know the difference.

And men, there is good reason for you to read this story too because even if you are not much interested in women's history, today it is you, along with women, who are being denied the right to vote.


Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

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The women were innocent and defenseless but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, for carrying signs asking for the vote.

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And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

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They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and she suffered a heart attack.

Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the “Night of Terror” on November 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food - all of it colorless slop - was infested with worms.

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When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

Ronni here. This is a clip of the scene depicting the forced feeding of Alice Paul from the HBO film, Iron Jawed Women.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because - why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

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Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie, Iron Jawed Angels. It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

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All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

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My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry and she was; with herself.

“One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,” she said. “What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.”

The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her “all over again.”

HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

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It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote Democratic, Republican or Independent party – remember to vote.

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History is being made. Vote!


Ronni here again. No one today questions women's right to vote, but throughout our nation, democracy is being undercut by Republican legislators who have passed local laws in numerous states making it difficult for young people, people of color, poor people and old people to vote.

It's not women being denied this time, it is everyone. Men are in those four categories too.

These new laws carry such draconian penalties for minor errors in registration of voters (like delivering the paper not one minute later than 48 hours after signature) that both the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have canceled their voter registration campaigns in Florida. There are likely to be more cancellations in other states.

Are we really going to allow that to happen? Are you really not going to vote?

Our generation, old folks, may be uniquely qualified to remind people of how precious the vote is; some of our grandmothers - maybe mothers too - could not vote and may have told us about that first hand.

Let the story of our grandmother suffragists be our inspiration. The HBO film, Iron Jawed Angels, is strong motivation.

It is also a good movie and aside from a fictional and unnecessary love interest for Alice Paul, historically accurate. You can see it for free in 12 parts at YouTube beginning here. This is Part 1 to get you started:


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Mom and the Ants


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I'll never forget my late husband taking me to register to vote (hadn't done that when we married, I was 19). He was a serious voter, and had been in Vietnam... Since then I've never missed voting in any election, local, state or national.

After he died, I would sometimes think it's inconvenient...but then I remember his insistence so I always vote. "Iron Jawed Angels" should be required viewing in schools!

That is indeed powerful. I have often thought that the year my mother was born, 1912, was the first year my grandmother could have voted in Oregon. Some states were ahead of us like Wyoming where they passed their first suffrage law in 1869; and when they came into the Union, they said they would not go if their women's right to vote was taken away. They weren't paranoid. That had happened. They came in and their women kept the right to vote. It's just amazing to me to imagine it was ever otherwise but it's like owning property and so many other things. We should never take these rights for granted as there are those constantly plotting to take them away through fraud or trickery.

Thank you so much for posting this. It is so very important that this history is not forgotten.

I have never failed to vote in any election except one local election held when I was out of state. My grandmother was adamant that every woman should vote and I never forgot it.

I remember vividly voting for the first time for JFK! What a thrill. Have voted in every election since then. These women were awesome! :)Dee

Wonderfully powerful. I will vote and urge everyone to do so, but boy am I sick of politics.

I haven't missed a vote in decades. Here in Washington I get a mail-in ballot that makes it very easy. Amazing that when my mother was born her mother couldn't vote.

As a past president of my local League of Women Voters and now vice president, I ask everyone reading this to join your local league and work on voter registration drives, candidates' forums and other such activities. In spite of our name, membership is open to men as well.
This is the best way to honor the legacy of the brave women who worked to obtain for us the rights we have now.

If you look deeper, it's not just our reproductive rights the conservatives are after, it's also our right to vote, as evidenced by presentations given at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

There was a panel, “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American identity.”

A speech from Serge Trifkovic focused on how the “cult of non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual victimhood” and “multiculturalist indoctrination” is ruining the West. “The native Western majorities will melt away,” Trifkovic’s speech concluded, “The facilitators of our destruction must be neutralized if we are to survive.”

BTW ALL the GOP presidential candidates attended this White-Power conference. Each tried to convince the audience that they were the most conservative candidate of all.

Thanks for this moving and informative post. I also needed to be reminded of this tragedy.

I am embarrassed to admit I never knew such things happened during the suffrage movement. Thank you for opening my eyes and making me appreciate even more my privilege to vote. I've never not voted, but from now on my voting will be with these brave women foremost in my heart and mind.

Going to the polls on election day, signing in and entering the booth to cast my vote has always felt like a holy thing. It always chokes me up and oh, how I appreciate my grandmother's generation for their sacrifices. Thanks, Ronni, for this powerful reminder of how precious and precarious are our rights.

Thank you for reminding us all, Ronni. No matter how disgusted I am with the way things are, especially since our supposedly independent Supreme Court decided that corporations are the same as people, it simply has never occurred to me not to vote. Like Dee, the first president I voted for was JFK. What an exciting time it was!

No one, NO ONE, should ever take the right to vote for granted. We've already had a pretty good preview of what powerful ultra-conservative males will take away from women if given the chance: EVERYTHING! They want their female chattel back--dependent, meek and subservient. That cannot be allowed to happen!

You may be correct that shock is needed to emphasize the importance of voting, especially for women, given the assaults to which we are presently being subjected.

I don't know how much my mother knew about these events, or if she even knew about the brutalized ladies stories you have here. I do know she reached voting age the year women were allowed to vote and proudly told me she had voted then. She stressed to me from the time I was a child, that voting was much more than a right and privilege. Voting was a responsibility to maintain our form of government and our womens rights.

She prided herself in having voted in every primary and election throughout her life. Even when she had vision issues requiring she have assistance, she voted. Years later with health failing and her vision mostly gone she still initiated that she wanted to vote which I saw that she did.

We need to remember the words floating around the Internet...
"Women bring all the politicians into the world.
In 2012, we can take them out!"

Thank You Thank You Thank You. I just read the following by Jan Phillips in her book of days. "Even though most of our institutions are failing us, we don't have enough moral outrage to fuel a change in course. ...In order to sustain this thinking, we have to tune out our emotions... because if we let ourselves fee oneness with those people... then we'd have to do something. We'd have to bear the weight of our complicity. We'd have to feel the sorrow..."

Just a thought and to think we give birth to men.

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