Saturday, October 14, 2006


Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Winning the Vote

A letter came in today reminding me why I
believe in voting --
in spite of mind numbing frustration
about Diebolt voting machines, etc.

In our town VoteRescue is holding a parallel election
click here to volunteer.

Abbie DeLozier and Vickie Karp have edited a book
of essays titled Hacked about how elections have been
stolen to keep us on our toes.

I'm of a mind to throw out all incumbants —
but know that's too harsh, and no substitute
for learning local ballots.

Early voting starts in a few days in some places.
Check local voting rights groups to see what can be
done in your town to keep this election from being stolen.

For now here's a bit of history from Judge Susan Criss,
Galveston, TX —

Your Right To Vote Cost Too Much Not To Be Used.

Election time is almost here. We must be ready to focus our efforts on getting people to the polls and defending against attempts to suppress voter turnout and to intimidate voters.

We cannot be vigilant enough about protecting the rights of all citizens to vote and to have their vote counted.

Attempts are being made to pass Voter ID laws throughout state legislatures and in Congress. These laws are designed to make it more difficult for certain groups of persons to vote. Yet they are promoted as necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot box to fight a nonexistent voter fraud crisis. This type of legislation has already passed the House of Representatives and now waits in the U.S. Senate.

The history of using tactics to intimidate voters and suppress turnout is as long as the history of voting. The women who fought for suffrage in this country expected these tactics to be used against them once they got the right to vote. That is why those very same women founded the League of Women Voters to educate and encourage women to vote. These women knew they could not take their newly gained right to vote for granted. The sacrifices they made to gain that right were too dear and the cause too important.

It is easy to forget how a high the price these women paid so we can vote and have a voice in our government.

Inez Millholland knew the cost and paid it with her life. Inez was one of the most gifted speakers of the suffrage movement. She traveled around making speeches about why women should be able to vote. In 1916 she contracted pernicious anemia and became very ill. Her doctor told her that her health could not withstand the demands of her speaking schedule. He explained that if she did not stop she could die. She refused to stop or to even slow down. On October 22, 1916 she collapsed on stage during a speech. She did not recover and died a few weeks later.

Lucy Stone was another gifted suffrage speaker willing to pay a dear price for the cause. Lucy was the very first woman to make public speeches about suffrage. She decided to do something dramatic to make her point. In 1857 she sent her tax bill back in without any money. Instead of a payment she included an explanation that she would not be subjected to taxation without representation. She knew the government would not tolerate her act of civil disobedience. During this time her husband was traveling due to his job. She was home alone with a two month old baby. In January of 1858 the government came to her house and seized all of the personal property in the home including treasured family mementos. She refused to back down even though she was devastated. She said that “The principle requires sacrifice.”

Susan B. Anthony is considered the mother of the suffrage movement in the United States. After doing public speaking tours for the abolitionist and labor movements, she began in 1852 to focus on suffrage. She dedicated the rest of her life to the cause. In 1872 Susan decided it was time for dramatic action. It was time to cast a ballot regardless of whether it was legal. In fact the act of casting a ballot at that time by a woman was a criminal offense punishable by jail time. She convinced other women to join her by voting at their polls. One of the women she convinced was the abolitionist Sojourner Truth. Sojourner and others were turned away when they tried to vote. Susan and a few women convinced the poll workers to let them vote. Then warrants were issued for their arrest of the women and the poll workers.

At her trial Susan was determined to speak in a court of law about the injustice of not letting women vote. The judge was just as determined not to let her speak. He refused to let her testify by declaring her incompetent as witness because she was a woman. The judge ordered the 12 person all male jury to find her guilty. Before he formally sentenced her he asked if there was any reason why sentence should not now be pronounced. Susan seized the opportunity to talk. Before he could stop her she launched into one of the most famous speeches about the injustice of not allowing women to vote. The judge was afraid she would become a martyr if he sentenced her to jail so he only fined her one dollar which she refused to pay. She was more than willing to give up her freedom and comfort for the cause.

Alice Paul was another suffrage leader willing to go to jail for the movement. In January 1917 she organized a picket outside of the White House to force President Wilson to take a public stand on the suffrage question. The women carried banners directly confronting him on the issue. They asked why he was willing for Americans to fight for democracy abroad when it was being denied to citizens here. The women picketed every day regardless of weather for over six months. They were taunted and jeered but would not leave. Their presence became an embarrassment to the President.

In July of 1917 the women were arrested and imprisoned under horrendous filthy conditions. The women were stripped of their clothes and beaten. But they could not be beaten down. To protest their treatment Alice went on a hunger strike. The guards force fed her raw eggs through her nose. She would not back down. She told herself, “ I have to endure this. I have got to live through this somehow.” They sent a psychiatrist to examine her and declare her insane to discredit her. After talking to her the psychiatrist refused to find her anything but sane.

After seven months a lawyer convinced a judge to release the women. In March of 1918 a federal appeals court ruled that the women had not violated any laws but had been locked up due to war hysteria.

These women went on speaking tours detailing their treatment behind bars. The sympathy generated by their suffering as well as the respect for their perseverance helped the movement achieve their goal.

Alice Paul was the only one of these four women who lived to see women vote legally.

Lucy Stone gave a eulogy for a fellow abolitionist in 1851 where she quoted Abbey Foster where she said

“ Bloody feet wore smooth the path by which you come up here.”

I think about that when I think of how much we owe these women.

The history of the movement to gain the right for blacks to vote is just as rich in stories of sacrifice and bravery.

We owe these brave heroes more than we can ever pay. The very least we can do to honor their sacrifices is to get everyone we know to vote and to vigilantly fight for the right of every person to vote and to have their vote counted!

©Susan Bright, 2006

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, Let us take the vote away from the men and only let women vote for the next six years and see what happens? Mauren Dowd as a senator...good, Barbara Bush as president...yuck! but why not try it out. The men are total f**k ups.

6:01 AM  
Blogger SB said...

In my lifetime I would like to see this --

women's work praised --

just that.

Less the defensive junk above.

Another point. It is less men v. women. It is patriarchal thinking -- power over, instead of generating from the center of the being, hording instead of sharing, talking at instead of with, the ladder of success v. the circle of community.

Anyway -- the comment above is one in a long trail of defensive comments which in my life time I hope people can grow past.

In that kind of reality Barbara Bush wouldn't have much influence.

10:32 AM  

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