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Shame on me for taking my right to vote for granted

An e-mail forwarded to me this week reminded me of the importance of casting my vote in this and every election. I always vote, but I must admit that I often think of it as a duty, not a privilege. Actually, it’s both.
The e-mail brought tears to my eyes, not only for the sacrifices made for my inherited right to vote; but also a few for the fact that I have become so callous in my thinking that I should need a reminder of the suffering endured to secure that right. I suppose the chaos and mayhem generated in a newspaper office at election time has taken its toll, and I must confess, I have found myself just wanting it to be August 6th.
I have never thought of myself as being a feminist or a women’s libber or anything like that. I usually feel that I am treated fairly in business and the community and being a woman has never been a real issue for me. Shame on me for being so complacent in the world that my female ancestors handed to me.

This e-mail about the women who fought for our right to vote brought the story home to me on a level that had not reached me before. I’m not totally sure why. I knew the story. Perhaps it was putting faces with the familiar names that spoke to me in a deeper sense than before. In my mind, I took a walk in their shoes. They are no longer triumphant picketers marching on the White House in the early 1900’s. Now I see them as wives sitting on the church pew beside their mates on Sunday morning, mothers kissing their children goodnight as they tuck them into bed, and housewives making their weekly purchases at the market.
These ladies lived normal everyday lives in comfortable surroundings. They were good, decent people that committed no crime other than seeking to find a voice in their country. And for their efforts, they were ridiculed, jailed and beaten.
To be honest, heretofore, my image of Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis, Alice Paul, and all of “their kind” was that of a bunch of spoiled brats with too much money and way too much time on their hands. My gratitude for my right to vote was directed to our nation’s founding fathers and the brave men and women that fought for our independence and freedom. Unfortunately, I did not take the ladies’ crusade as seriously as they deserved. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They truly physically suffered at the hands of our own government and law enforcement.
As the e-mail had been forwarded so many times, I could not decipher the original author of the piece, but I feel confident she would applaud its use in jogging our collective conscience.

“This is the story… of our mothers and grandmothers who lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’ They beat Lucy Burns, 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, 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 (the) 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?…”

I’ll see you at the polls tomorrow.