Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Honor those who sacrificed so much...

The women were innocent and defenseless. 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 Burn, 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 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. 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.

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

The HBO movie "Iron Jawed Angels" is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that we could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have a say - our say.

One woman, who had studied women's history saw the HBO movie too. 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."

All history, social studies and government teachers should include this movie in their curriculum. It should be shown on Bunco night and at tea parties, and anywhere else women gather. Because women are not voting in the numbers that they should be and perhaps this film might be a little reminder to how far we've come, but how far we still have to go. It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies in the film 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."

Let's keep building courage, and if they think that women are insane because of it, then let's spread the insanity.

This is a personal issue for me... my great-great-grandmother moved from Indiana to California when she was in her late 80s. She left her home and family and all she had known to make the trek across the United States because she wanted to exercise the right to vote before she died. Women in California had won the right to vote (in 1911) and she didn't know if she'd live long enough to see Indiana do the same (it finally happened in 1917).

For my great-great-grandmother and all of the others who sacrificed so much so that I may have the right to vote, I must not dishonor them by not exercising that right. I don't have to move 3000 miles or go to jail -- all I have to do drive a few blocks (and some research, of course!). Thanks to them, I have a voice in my government.

Honor YOUR ancestors... VOTE!!

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