Wednesday, September 29, 2004

only you can silence yourself

this image makes me cry

The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night,
they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and with
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 (a mere 87
years ago), 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? 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 will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video and

I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include
the movie in their curriculum. 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."


i'm not sure of the writer of this, i received it in an email. it really moved me to get my butt off the couch this year and vote.

are you registered? register here by OCTOBER 4th!!

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