Appreciating our right to vote

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Whenever an election rolls around, the people who live with me like to pummel me with questions about who I will be voting for. Prior to the vote itself, I say things like, “I haven’t decided yet” even though I have.

This was an especially big deal four years ago when two of our kids were voting in their very first presidential election. They take it so seriously. And I love that. But I still don’t want to discuss it with them.

I don’t engage in political talk because I don’t want to have to defend my position (I feel the way I feel; I don’t know why), I don’t want to be called names, and it’s really nobody’s business but mine for whom I choose to vote. The important thing is that I voted. Period.

After the election this year, the kids will try again to get me to tell who I voted for. And I’ll tell them the same thing I always do as I laugh in their earnest faces and walk away, “Hello! Secret ballot.”

Don’t take your right to vote for granted. Especially if you’re a woman. In case you haven’t seen this item that’s been floating around the internet since 2004, I’ll post it as a reminder of what some very strong, brave women went through so we could have the right to vote. In secret.

This is why we vote: Because we can!

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 DVD. 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. The doctor admonished the men: "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

Please pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women.

-Connie Schultz, The Plain Dealer, 1801 Superior Ave.,Cleveland, OH 44114,, August 2004

Suffrage for Women - The Right to Vote

On August 26, 1920, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. The struggle for women's suffrage lasted for more than half a century.


Cyndi said...

Great post, Jean! Thanks for the reminder.

midlife mommy said...

Aw, come on. Spill it. I don't talk about it on my blog, just because that's not what it's about. But I love high spirited political discussion, as long as it doesn't get hateful.

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

I love you like a sister, my dear, but not a freakin' chance. These lips, they are sealed. :)

midlife mommy said...

Ah. I remember when you weren't so secretive. Usually when you were complaining that J was going to cancel out your vote. Tee hee.

Tanya said...

You go girl...great post! It's hard to believe how many women DON'T vote...we can make such a difference. Thanks for such a great reminder!