Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get out and Vote, America!



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

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

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 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 Nov. 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.

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.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/prisoners.pdf 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? 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. 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. 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. 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.
 
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.'

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13 Comments:

Blogger Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Very powerful post. Dianne at Forks Off The Moment, had a similar post a couple months back. Brought tears to my eyes then as this did this morning. I thank those women of years ago to have the courage to stand up for themselves and us. And I thank you today for reminding us to have the courage and make them proud. Lisa

8:41 AM  
Blogger Webradio said...

Good, Girl !

8:54 AM  
Blogger MEDITERRANEAN KIWI said...

a truly inspiring story

9:46 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Salty said...

I agree with you on the right to vote; your post is most educational and inspirational; thank you! I have voted since I was old enough to and have been proud to do so. This evening after supper Salty and I will be going to vote in this historical election.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Mama Zen said...

Awesome, awesome post, Gretchen!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Aileni said...

A salutory piece for today, Gretchen.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Hootin' Anni said...

What a poignant blog post for the day in history!!! Well said!!!

Thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear that you voted!

Excuse my language, but for the last couple of hours, I've been as nervous as a 'whore in church'....waiting, waiting for the polls to close and we can get a little bit of encouraging news....

Happy Tuesday.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

What an awesome post and a good reminder of what a precious gift we have being able to vote and how important it is to exercise that right.

6:32 PM  
Blogger dot said...

That was horrible!

8:01 PM  
Blogger Gattina said...

From the 40.000 Americans living in Belgium and a big part of them in my town Waterloo, they all celebrate Obama today. Nobody wanted McCain. I just repeat what I have been told and what I have seen in the local news.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Reader Wil said...

I say amen to that! Could you post this entry on Women's Day as well? It is so important that women all over the world are taken seriously and respected. I admire the women and the psychiatrist who refused to declare Alice Paul insane. Yes we have the right to vote and to make the same mistakes men make. Fifty years ago the idea that women were not allowed to vote was quite normal in very strict protestant circles. Then I laughed about it and was glad that I was not a member of such a church. I voted always.

2:47 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thanks for this post, Gretchen! I forwarded it on to some friends. You were right on! I hope to see that movie some day too.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The struggle for the right to vote was not as violent in Canada.

It did finally take the British Privy Council to finally declare that women are "persons" since only persons can vote.

5:37 PM  

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