Here in San Francisco, today is Election Day. I received an email from Bay Area NOW, the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, reminding me how recent of a phenomenon women voting really is. Here's what they wrote:
A Short History Lesson on the Privilege of Voting
The women were innocent and defenseless. 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 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 Nov. 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 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? The weather? [end of excerpt]
I was going to vote anyway, but receiving this email was a humbling reminder about the four generations of courageous women who fought the good fight, nonviolently, for seventy-two years (from 1848 to 1920) until they finally won. Who am I not to take the time to get involved?
As it happens, there were a couple of local races this November that got my attention. The one I want to talk about is the District Attorney’s race. I have a law degree, but I don’t think that makes me qualified to run the District Attorney’s office of a major city. Yet most of the candidates in this race do think that’s all they need. That, plus political connections.
I wish someone would fund a poll right now about this race, to educate voters. I would script it like this:
Do you know that the District Attorney prosecutes crime and supervises a large team of prosecutors? Did you know there are only two attorneys in the race who have ever prosecuted a crime on behalf of the D.A.’s office? Did you know that only one of them is an actual career prosecutor and a prosecutor at this time? Did you know that she’s been an Assistant D.A. for twenty-two years and has prosecuted every type of crime and has what is universally considered an outstanding—95%--conviction rate? Did you know she is a DNA and cold-case expert? Did you know she already supervises a large team of prosecutors? Did you know she’s one of the only D.A.s in the country who has taken it upon herself to prosecute trafficking in women and girls? Did you know that no one else running has any of these qualifications or anything equivalent?
Her name is Sharmin Bock. Since she's the only qualified candidate you'd think she’s the frontrunner by a landslide. But she’s not, despite a well-funded and well-run campaign. Why?
She’s one of the reasons women in my community need to vote today, to get her elected. And as NOW points out, another reason is to honor those women who fought for the vote long before women were allowed to go to law school, to become attorneys, District Attorneys, or to run for office.
The title of this blog post was “Are Women People?” which was the name of a column written by a suffragist and writer named Alice Duer Miller, published in the New York Tribune, in 1915, five years before women finally got the vote. She was a fiction writer and a satirist and even wrote a screenplay for a successful Hollywood movie. Satirizing the thinking of the powerful anti-suffrage lobby, she offered this mirror-image of their platform:
Why We Don't Want Men to Vote
- Because man's place is in the army.
- Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
- Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
- Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
- Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30% of eligible women don’t register to vote, and about half of unmarried women who are registered don’t vote. As I learned many years ago in Louisiana politics, no matter how many backroom deals or media coups are staged, it always comes down to votes.
As corrupt and complex as the political system is, and as varied the demographics and political ideas of American women are, is it naïve to think that if we all honored our history and at least voted, that this country would be transformed? So many doors are still closed, so many types of power still inaccessible. Are we doing everything we can to make sure women at least exercise the power they do have—to vote?