Women’s Equality Day – August 26
I was moved and inspired last weekend when I watched the HBO movie “Iron Jawed Angels,” which is about the women’s suffrage movement in the US. Born and raised in this country, I somehow made it to my mid-40s not realizing until now the significance of this piece of our history. Did you know that it took 72 years for the women to get the right to vote after the first conventions began in 1848? The women who began the movement, including Susan B. Anthony, had died by the time the law was passed for women to get the vote. And the women who led the final campaign to get the law passed, including Alice Paul, had not yet been born when it began. Alice Paul’s courage led her to take bold, yet nonviolent action in the face of “negative feedback,” which at times could be described as hostile and bitter. Her leadership was surely as significant as Gandhi’s, yet who among us has heard of Alice Paul? I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t until last weekend.
Some of the aspects of the story that were interesting to me:
- In 1916 when President Wilson entered the US into the World War I in Europe, he said that we must “fight for Democracy.” The women suffragists declared that we didn’t have democracy here in the US if women, half the population, were not allowed to vote, yet must obey the laws set by others.
- The suffragists had been holding peaceful demonstrations in front of the White House, holding signs that had Wilson’s own words on them, but equally applied to the suffrage movement as it did to the war in Europe. The suffragists were told that it would be “bad publicity” to demonstrate against a war-time president, because they would lose public favor.
- The women reflected on history, and realized that their predecessors had set aside their agenda to support the war effort during the Civil War in 1860s, and as a result, they lost momentum for their movement. So in spite of negative sentiment, they continued their peaceful demonstrations in front of the White House until they were arrested for “obstructing traffic.”
- Thrown in jail, Alice Paul led a hunger strike, and then was force-fed.
- Finally, in 1920, with pressure from an influential group of older women, Wilson advocated for a war measure to give the women the vote, which passed by just 2 votes in the Senate.
I had no idea what huge obstacles the suffragists faced, and what a profound victory it was to have achieved their goal completely nonviolently, without throwing a single brick, yet enduring violence against them.
So now, 89 years later, I was not in touch with the preciousness of this basic right of self-expression. Seeing the stories of these women who came before us got me in touch with what is possible when you have a deep conviction for what feels right in your heart.
So how does this tie into the present here and now, as we shop for beads? I believe where the similarities lie, is that we must believe in the beauty of our heart’s vision. Self-expression is not only a need we have, the people in our world are blessed by our self-expression. The men voted to give the right to women the vote because they recognized the unique value that women’s self-expression had. Each person’s voice does matter, and is an important part of the whole. Our self-expressions, whether in speech, in vote, or in making a necklace are unique and special and a blessing to our world. And it is amazing what is possible when you set your mind to it.
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P.S. The movie I watched was an HBO film called “Iron Jawed Angels,” starring Hilary Swank and Angelica Huston. It was shown by the League of Women Voters in Alameda.