Since the 2016 election we have seen women at the forefront of the movement against the authoritarian policies of the Trump administration and the president's hateful rhetoric. It began the day after the inauguration with the historic Women’s March and has continued with women right here in Berks leading organizations like ours. There are also a record number of women who have decided to take matters into their own hands by running for office themselves. According to Bloomberg Tracker 524 women ran in the primaries, both Democratic and Republican, and there are over 300 races where at least one woman is a candidate. They’re here in our own backyard, too. Katie Muth, Linda Fields, Chrissy Houlahan are just a few who come to mind.
We all have our reasons for voting. It could be to stop or reverse a certain policy, to support a pet cause like common sense gun laws, or because we’re excited by a particular candidate. Whatever sends you to the polls next Tuesday; it’s important to keep in mind all those who fought, suffered, and even died so that historically marginalized groups like African Americans and women could have the right to vote.
in front of the White House in 1917. I didn’t discuss the story behind that photo, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say we can draw a direct line from those events in 1917 to the later ratification of the 19th Amendment through the Civil Rights Movement to what is happening today in our country.
Here’s the part of the story of that photo I think you should hear. In early January of 1917, prominent activist Alice Paul led a group from the National Woman’s Party to march on the White House. Later, President Wilson met with representatives from the group who presented him with the following appeal:
“We desire to make known to you, Mr. President, our deep sense of the wrong being inflicted upon women, in making them spend their best health and strength, and forcing them to abandon other work that means fuller self expression, in order to win freedom under a government that professes to believe in democracy. No price is too high to pay for liberty. So long as the lives of women are required, these lives will be given.”
— Written appeal from National Woman’s Party to President Woodrow Wilson, January 1917
Wilson was far from being a fervent backer of the women’s cause, believing that the right to vote should be left to the states not the federal government. After the meeting with the president, a group of women who became known as the “Silent Sentinels” began stationing themselves around the White House as a reminder to Wilson of his lack of support. The women’s literal silent vigil went on for two and half years with many of them harassed and arrested along the way, being charged with “blocking traffic”. Several of the protesters were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where conditions were deplorable. When Wilson pardoned some of the women, they refused because they believed they were innocent and had done nothing for which to be pardoned. Suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns went on hunger strikes in further protest and were force-fed when they refused to give in. Events escalated on the evening of November 14, 1917, which began to be referred to as the “Night of Terror” when the superintendent of the workhouse ordered close to 40 guards to terrorize and beat the women. Lucy Burns was chained to the bars of her cell. Dorothy Day was slammed over an iron bench. Others were dragged, kicked, and choked. Newspapers began carrying the stories of the women, garnering support for their cause from more Americans. By the end of November all the protesters were released, and in January of 1918, Wilson announced his support of the 19th Amendment. You know the rest.
It’s the stories of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and heroes like John Lewis that I bring with me whenever I walk into my polling place to exercise my constitutional right. The beauty of our democracy is that there are many ways to voice our opinions. We can protest quietly like the Silent Sentinels or thanks to those who have gone before us we can voice our opinions by using the power of the vote. How will you make yourself heard on November 6th?
posted by Amy Levengood
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