I have spent a lifetime studying Miss Alice Paul. She has been my North Star in countless ways. To her feminism was a full time vocation and nothing diminished her devotion. She lived within the etiquettes of Quakerism while applying the most radical ideas and groundbreaking public behavior. Under Alice's direction, ladies wore their hats with boots buttoned while burning the speeches of the President at the White House fence. Her social propriety was always evident while creating a major revolution.
Years tick on and my interest in Miss Paul has expanded, my investigations deepened and my passion to share my understanding of her is overwhelming. One day Alice Paul will be recognized as the first American to use Nonviolent Direct Action, Civil Disobedience and political protest within a political movement and I hope I will be one of the instruments of that righteous occasion. As we see thousands of people at the White House fence, it was Alice Paul who set this lineage in motion; relentlessly confronting the President and Congress at their very door.
We need to acknowledge her. We need to insist that history honor her. We need her point of view. We need her inspiration. We need to see her as the radical lifelong committed activist that she was. It is my hope to lift her off the pages of academic and history books, scrape off the disturbing fiction slathered on her and offer you the Alice I know, love and hold as my dearest most inspiring political activist. She is human, flawed, funny and "pure feminist." I hope you will join with me in lifting her to the rightful moniker of The American Feminist Gandhi and more.
My current deep dive into her life began in earnest December 2012 when Purdue University invited me give the keynote address at their Centennial March commemorating the Suffrage March of 1913. That unfolded into a 90 minute program, Miss Paul ~ The Heart of an Activist. Half is on Miss Paul’s life and half is her relevance to our lives as modern day activists. I also presented it at California State University Fullerton’s Social Justice Summit. Each time the content and relevance bloomed.
Sharing stories, activist lessons and insights about Alice Paul present modern obstacles which require a realistic examination of writing, publishing and distributing information. Starting with books; what is the lifespan of a traditional book, be it either a printed or digital? Big corporate conglomerates now dictate much of that pipeline. Secondly, teeming with ideas and activism changing daily, a book would have come to an artificial halt when the world is still turning and activism unfolding.
My vision is to build this ever expanding, open ended Headquarters for Miss Alice Paul. Adopting the tested and true model of serial installments, this will be an ever expanding body of information and goods. The plan is to pour all I know about Miss Paul and activism into this website. It will be public and available as I go. It will be dynamic, influenced by today’s news. It is my idea of fun. I hope you enjoy it too.
When human beings encounter one another deeply,
in the midst of their struggles for freedom and equality and community,
prophetic power is unleashed.
Can you feel the heat when you picture Gandhi talking with Margaret Sanger? Can you imagine the intensity when Thich Nhat Hanh sat with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Stanton finds Anthony, Huerta and Chavez find Alinsky. How did Dorothy Day end up in a jail cell with Alice Paul? Could such provenance be by chance? Author Dan McKanan1 says a loud and studied no.
Beyond the wonder of such luminaries sharing space, challenging long-held beliefs or resting in rarely matched passion, McKanan proposes that something actually occurs when radicals converge. Is it an opening, an explosion, a remembering or a passing of a baton? Some would say it was destiny, maybe even prearranged. In fact most inhabitants of the earth, believing in reincarnation, would be comfortable thinking it was unavoidable. To me, both experientially and through historic discovery, access to the powers of radical activism happen at the point of genuine inquiry fueled by what has been stored within the heart, possibly for lifetimes.
As Mary Daly asserts, god is a verb and Emmeline Pankhurst states, deeds not words; there is a profound instant recognition that change-makers solicit, elicit, long for and celebrate. Could it be a tribal collected release or a divine spark awaiting ignition? It is impossible to measure and impossible to deny. The appearance of a relay demonstrates that activists, clearly radical activists, share a certain woof and warp. Frederick Douglass put it thus, it was only through his encounters with other radicals that he could get any, “glimpse of God anywhere.”
To know someone, you have to be willing to look at the trivial, the bad, the breadth and length of their reach, the peaks and their reaction to it all. Who loved them and who hated them is only half an understanding if it doesn’t lead to ask and answer why. To pass McKanan’s test of Prophetic Encounters with radical activists, Alice Paul exceeds anyone whose life is knowable. Her soul was ignited again and again. It was a dazzling and daunting path her falling foot created.
Certainly Miss Paul’s Quakerism set her stage from her very first breath. It was more than posture and buttoned boots. It was a refined and abiding regard for silence, for listening, for a seated community who respects the individual and assembled voice. From her family and home she saw equality as unquestioned. It was not unusual, it was threaded throughout. Her great aunt was a minister. Her mother attended college and it was expected Alice would too. The very notion of inequality with all its consequences was not in her early line of vision. Her family followed Elias Hicks, founder of Hicksite Quakerism. Another radical in his own right.
This young lady packed up her seemingly predictable life, privileged life, tennis racket and all, to begin college at Swarthmore. Her major was biology with the expectation that she would teach. All was game. set. match. until her senior year, when Alice met the new, thirty-year old professor who just completed his dissertation on the effects of poverty on women’s choices; Robert Clarkson Brooks. This Cornell graduate held seminar-style classes on the relationship of gender and class. Senior Alice Paul was examining the intersection of economics, politics and gender for the very first time. She was fully engaged and Professor Brooks took notice. He suggested that biology may not be her calling and to investigate social work.
Upon her graduation, Robert Brooks nominated Alice for a scholarship with the College Settlement Association (CSA). She was given several cities to pick from and chose New York. In 1905, she left her quiet religious home to live at College Settlement House, 95 Rivington Street, NYC and attend classes at the New York School of Philanthropy.
The young adults living there, most in their first paid job, were serving a neighborhood of extremely poor immigrants, many of whom were Russian Jews. Out in the streets was a mass of humanity constantly on the move. Somewhere in the center was the College Settlement House with lovely rooms, servants, privacy and safety. Alice had a room on the third floor room with a big window. Many times her college girlfriends visited, spending the night. These brand-new caseworkers were learning directly from the pioneers of social reform, participating with the birth of applied social work. It was there that Alice first met trade union women and learned about protection laws.
Alice also attended classes at the New York School of Philanthropy, a start-up which eventually became Columbia University’s School of Social Work. There she met women who would be at her side for years to come, Lavinia Dock, Jane Addams, and Florence Kelly who eventually opposed her. She was a renown overachiever, serious student, even head of the sewing club. Importantly she learned life was more than tennis, bowling, friends and socials. Alice found purpose: politics, economics and social reform. Alice was a fledgling social worker. After a year of intense demanding work she came to a conclusion which informed her entire life,
I could see that social workers were not doing much good in the world…
you knew you could not change the situation by social work.
Carrying forward that original spark from the Prophetic Encounter with Robert Clarkson Brooks, Alice left social work to study sociology, political science and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her Master’s Thesis was “Towards Equality.” She was nominated for a fellowship at the Quaker School in Woodbrooke, England. There her days were filled with silent prayer, lectures and games all under a Quaker rubric, Alice fed her driven curiosity with classes at the University of Birmingham where her next Prophetic Encounter awaited her.
Suffrage was on the march in Britain. From department store windows to table china, women voting was conversation across the Kingdom. The call for suffrage in the U.S. was polite and patient, serving tea and writing notecards to their legislators, epitomizing the term, lady-like. Nothing had happened there in close to sixty years but across the ocean, the Pankhurst family of London was heating things up. Fashionable ladies were speaking on streets, marching in unison, singing songs in public and collecting more attention than ever before. They were breaking convention, breaking windows, breaking the law and thereby arrested, jailed and force-fed to keep their fasting bodies alive.
Twenty-two year old Alice Paul was more than interested to hear this celebrated suffragette, twenty-seven year old, Christabel Pankhurst speak at Birmingham University December, 1907. When Christabel rose with much to say, Alice witnessed a life-changing moment. The crowd relentlessly jeered, booed, ridiculed and shouted down Christabel with such contempt, the entire event could not continue. For the American Quaker Alice Paul, this was an unthinkable travesty. It was unlike anything she had ever seen or heard. A young lovely, well-dressed woman with a message of self-worth and justice was being swallowed up in a torrent of mad vulgar yelling rudeness that was so inescapable, the event ended with Christabel unheard.
That night Alice wrote in her daily notes that she was shocked and disgusted. It turned out to be Alice’s defining moment. The fire was lit. This Prophetic Encounter, which was just beginning, was her road to Damascus, her Satori, her Enlightenment. Alice’s soul was revealed to herself, potential awakened. Drafted into a lifelong and, mostly, solitary leadership, Alice Paul was converted, “heart and soul.”
Christabel’s speech was rescheduled and fully heard. Alice was forced to reorganize her life’s priorities. It was a long way from tennis and biology. It was not polite, silent listening for the internal witness to arise. It was not a triviality or a temporary meal for a lifetime of starving poor. It was meaning. It was purpose. It was the soul speaking loudly in the form of a woman who wanted, demanded to be heard.
Keeping the summer plans intact, Alice spent the season bicycling in Europe. When she returned to London the British suffrage movement was bursting. Alice joined in the two scheduled suffrage parades and rallies. June 13th, thousands of women marched including a U.S. group led by Anna Howard Shaw. Dressed in white, pushing carriages, demanding attention and widening their influence, they marched through London to collect at Royal Albert Hall. June 21st, seven separate parades converged into one massive rally in Hyde Park of 30,000 (many reports of more) suffragettes in white, green and purple. Alice marched in Christabel’s contingent, leading with a banner, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” It was so spectacular and strategic, it was written about all over the world. The New York Times reported it in detail.
Alice’s notes were now about women speaking in the public square, the impact of pageantry and garnering media attention. She was witnessing the personal transformation of unrealized and housebound women into heartfelt activists working on liberation through camaraderie and asserting their voices. She saw, as all activists do, the activist is activated by doing something bold never to return to faintheartedness again. It was the same realization Gandhi would offer the women of India twenty years later, inviting them to protest in the public square knowing that such an action would create a permanent awakening.
Alice rented a little place at 31 Red Lion Street, London. It was two unfurnished rooms and her first home. Alive with purpose, she went to all the suffrage meetings she could, and began studying with the most militant. As was the practice, the “newbies,” were sent to street corners to hawk the Women’s Social and Political Union’s paper, Votes For Women. (WSPU) Like dozens of other burgeoning activists, Alice was finding her public voice.
Christabel’s mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, the resolute, vocal, daring and brave suffrage commander was nothing like the cautious, mannerly, thoughtful, Tacie Paul, Alice’s mother. Mrs. Paul was concerned with the newspaper reports of arrests and violence in the British suffrage movement. She wrote Alice often about coming home, sending a hundred dollars, here and there, for glasses, clothes and dental work. After several scholarship applications failed and money spats escalated with her mother, it appeared that Alice would have no choice but to leave Britain.
Just as plans were developing to set sail for the U.S., Christabel asked Alice to partake in an arrestible protest directed at Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. It was an activist’s iconic call to be brave, to step beyond expectation, to break all boundaries both social and internal, It was delivered by the irresistible patron of her awakening. Alice could not refuse. Quaker resolve meets Pankhurst action. A lightning bolt of an encounter.
She had to say yes. She had to practice the militancy she was growing to understand and admire. She wrote her mother that she would not be coming home. Instead she collected her nerves, wrote yes in a note to the WSPU, paced around the post box for hours and, finally, dropped it in. Any activist who has said yes in advance of a daring public action can easily understand this rush of fear and second guessing. All the while it is the soul insisting that this is a vocation that cannot be ignored. As Doris Stevens said, “You may delay it. You cannot stop it. We want to accelerate it.”
Alice was directed to attend the preparation meeting, led by Sylvia Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. The women were given explicit directions. They were told what to wear, what to do and to expect to be arrested. June 29, 1909, with Mrs. Pankhurst at the lead, they marched twelve across to the St. Stephens entrance to Parliament demanding to see the Prime Minister. With clubs and fists, the police turned them away line by line. Dressed in triple thick clothes, the protesters stepped up volunteering to receive the violent blows. It is the same technique Gandhi and King would use decades later to demonstrate that justice will not be turned away, even in the face of personal harm. With slingshots, some of the women pelted stones with petitions attached at Parliament windows. Arrests began, Alice among them. She was taken to the police station where her third Prophetic Encounter awaited her.
That night one hundred women and a few men were arrested for confronting the Prime Minister for their Right to Petition. They were taken to the London police precinct that served the Parliament district. Standing in the midst of it all, Alice described the scene; ladies and police, hats and batons, gavels and all manners of processing churning around her. In the visible distance was the officers’ recreation area. Apart from the bedlam, leaning on the billiard table was a tall, red-haired, stately woman with an American flag pin on her lapel ~ Miss Lucy Burns, Catholic from Brooklyn, Vassar class of 1902. She was all that Alice was not. While Alice was self-contained, refined and studied; Lucy was outgoing, theatrical and attractive. The party came to Lucy as Alice would be seated in a straight back chair on the sidelines. Both braver than any others, deeply committed to equality, a magnificent pair. Impossible to know at the time, as is always the case. Thunder found lightening. Light found Day.
Daughters of bankers who believed in their daughters. Religious homes; Quaker and Catholic carried the lessons of their faith throughout their lives. Alice questioning and, finally, repelled by the violence. Lucy took the opposite tack, slapping a police chief inspector’s face, tossing his cap to the floor and throwing ink bottles through windows. The banner for suffrage they mutually embraced was large enough to cover England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.
Traveling through the Kingdom, Lucy and Alice heckled all the best, including a young new politician, Winston Churchill. Most famous of their conquests, November 9, 1909, a banquet given by the Lord Mayor in Guildhall. Oddly symbolic of their personalities, Alice dressed as a char woman and Lucy in an evening gown set off to heckle and demand votes for women. Lucy got close enough to Churchill to say right to his face, “How can you dine here while women are starving in prison?” referring to those who were on hunger strikes. Amelia Brown, who was with Alice, threw her shoe and broke a window as they both shouted, “Votes for Women!”
Alice was arrested and sentenced to a month of hard labor in Holloway prison. The WSPU women refused to wear prison clothes or to eat. Suffrage hunger strikers were now being brutally force-fed. If they refused to open their mouths, the hose was plunged down their nostrils. Famously, Alice had a particularly painful and difficult time, her cries heard throughout the prison. She fought back to the point where the nurses tied her torso to the chair with sheets as the doctor carelessly jammed the metal tube into her nose. This torture happened to Alice a record fifty-five times. In a letter to her mother, Alice wrote it is, “simply a policy of passive resistance and, as a Quaker, thee ought to approve of that.”
After three years abroad and only twenty-five years old Alice Paul returned to her family a trained and veteran suffragette, an experienced prisoner and a woman who found her passion. She was a strategist with purpose who would not be deterred. January 20, 1910, it might have looked like a fine young lady was walking down the gangplank in Philadelphia but militancy had never been so deftly understood by one so perfectly timed.
1911, Alice and Lucy reunited in America. Women had just won the vote in Washington state. The vision for national voting rights was on the horizon. It was time to wake up the sleepy moderates of Mrs. Anna Howard Shaw’s National American Woman Suffrage Association. Alice was about to launch her brand of suffrage and Lucy agreed to help her for “a week.” Of course Lucy would be the match-head for Alice’s flint-strike for nine years. Pageant master would meet map-maker and all those who opposed Votes for Women would have the choice to acquiesce or extinguish in a golden hot flame.
When searching through the life of Miss Alice Paul for Prophetic Encounters, one might ask, why not Gandhi, why not Mrs. Pankhurst, why not Alva Belmont? Because this is not about fame or fortune. It is about an indelible ignition that fuels an unrelenting passion. It is about a singular ignition that lights again and again. It is about looking into the face of one who also carries such a soul force. In fact, it may not even be a shared mission, such as Gandhi meeting Margaret Sanger, both holding grave differences. It is about an activist’s heart which can only be perceived by another activist.
Within that heart-to-heart, there is a melancholy of never finishing, a knowing that nothing less will do and a brief satisfaction of being understood. There is a joy that occurs at the point of this encounter. It is a flash when looking into their eyes. You see them. You may see a bit of yourself but the best part, the immeasurable part, is at last you are seen.
Robert Clarkson Brooks, Christabel Pankhurst and Lucy Burns met a certain bar. They struck a chord within Miss Paul which made it clear life would never be the same. Beyond the moment, larger than imagined, there was a quickening, a profound transformative meeting. As Alice described after hearing Christabel only once, Alice was now a “heart and soul convert.” It was a conversion that lasted all of her life, to her last breath at age ninety-two.
As an activist, you can wonder about a Prophetic Encounter on your path but the knowing is only available in retrospect. Hold you lamp high for all to see. As the Quaker motto states, Mind the Light.
1. McKanan, Dan. Prophetic Encounters, Religion and the American Radical Tradition. 2011, Beacon Press.
… time and again, lobbyists would come back from the Capitol with the news of some unexpected maneuver which perplexed or even blocked them. Congressmen, themselves, would be puzzled over the situation. Again and again, she has seen Alice Paul walk to the window, stand there, head bent, thinking. Then, suddenly she would come back. She had seen behind the veil of conflicting and seemingly untranslatable testimony. She had, in Maud Younger's own words, cloven "straight to the heart of things." Often her lobbyists hail the experience of explaining to baffled members of Committees in Congress the concealed tactics of their own Committee.
The Story of the Woman’s Party, Inez Haynes Gillmore
Google Miss Alice Paul today and you will find 164 million results. It is a very high number for a woman whom most only know as Hilary Swank, wearing a pink hat, enjoying prison and evaporating August 27, 1920. If you scan the first hundred references there is one description always in the lead; strategist. Lucy Burns was comfortable in public, loved parades and pageantry but it was Alice Paul whose mind never, ever rested.
As recently and notably, George Lakey in 2013 and Marty Langelan in 2014, Hazel Hunkins-Hallinan to Peg Edwards describing Alice’s mind at 91 (1976), all agreed. “I interviewed Alice Paul many years later and found in her the shrewd strategist who knows that polarization can close doors in the short run and open them for the longer run — it’s all in the timing” writes George Lakey.1
Where did this plotting mind come from? Was it the organized mind of a banker’s daughter or from sitting in silence at the Meeting House. Did she naturally organize all matters because of her study of biology and economics or was she so genuinely focused that all distractions were instantly discarded? She is often quoted as saying nothing else mattered before constitutional equality – nothing. It was a maddening insistence to some and a great relief to others. It was never simple and always calculated. Grandmaster Irina Krush would have no chance with Miss Paul. Not only was her strategy the long game but she never tipped her next move.
Alice simply knew the cause, the effect and the differential. All masterfully played. The worse things got, the more women showed up for her. And make no mistake, it was for her. As Miss Hazel Hunkins-Hallinan remarked, when you looked into her violet eyes, you could not say no. Followers trusted her for one reason – she knew the next move. She always knew the next move. In fact, sometimes she was on to the next move while everyone else was still finishing off the last. Her earned discipline, her own self-mastery was her core.
Looking up Pennsylvania Avenue, most see a domed building. Miss Paul saw the collective ground game for legislative success. She dissected and indexed the capitol. It became her chessboard. The goal was to invade and convert lawmakers to finally enfranchise women. Alice trained and unleashed her fashionable, ladylike crusaders in full force. The 64th Congress would be occupied by ladies heels constantly clicking on the white marble floors. The more the men resisted, the more ladies showed up. The private men’s smoker became compromised. From the gallery to the offices, there was a constant parade of hats under which ticked an unwelcome insistence for a voice, a vote, an office, full equality.
Who were these ladies? Their economic and educational diversity was pivotal to making the viewer pay attention. These were wives of the powerful men of Washington, socialites with furs, PhD’s and artists. These were students, waitresses, secretaries and housekeepers. These were daughters and grandmothers who were swept up in the thrill of stepping out. With assignments distributed, notes in hand, they took to persuade, convert and conquer the Senators and Representatives of the United States Congress. The “ladies” were activated.
Spent the entire day, rode elevators, walked the white marble halls even “discovered secret stairways.” One congressman said, "Women don't know anything about politics. Did you ever hear them talking together ? Well, first they talk about fashions, and children, and housework; and then, perhaps about churches; and then perhaps — about theatres; and then perhaps " he finally added, " Do you think I want my wife working against my interests ?
Revelations of a Woman Lobbyist, Maud Younger
Alice had seen the differential at work in London. Militants had the hearts of warriors, the tactics of soldiers but the fashion sense of Selfridges. They carried chalk in their handbags for public announcements and one, Mary Richardson, toted a small axe she used to slash the painting Venus at the London National Gallery. Alice herself knew the power of appearance. It stood in direct contrast to the violence of being attacked, banners ripped or being dragged down the street. She was a Quaker, a very reserved lady and the epitome of a tempest in a teapot.
In those days, Alice Paul herself was like one driven by a fury of speed. She was a human dynamo. She made everybody else work as hard as possible, but she drove — although she did drive — nobody so hard as herself. Winifred Mallon said, "I worked with Alice Paul for three months before I saw her with her hat off. I was perfectly astonished, I remember, at that mass of hair. I had never suspected its existence."
The Story of the Woman’s Party by Inez Haynes Gillmore
The women of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and her Congressional Committee dressed to attract, not repel. They were dressed as women of means and etiquette with their plans on index cards in their pocketbooks, held by gloved hands. They were respectable ladies, many of whom were married to the very legislators they were agitating. Widely brimmed, held by hatpins, Edwardian hats were uniform. These ladies were not the ones mocked in anti-suffrage cartoons wearing the pants in the family. They were shapely, refined and articulate on politics.
Many of these ladies had not lobbied before. Possibly they had not envisioned themselves walking up the hill to tangle with Congress at all. These were not the seasoned lobbyists representing labor and protection rights. To start the orientation, Alice Paul sent them sit in the gallery and watch the democratic process at work. Lucy Burns headed up the Congressional Union army of lobbyists who would insist that the US Constitution be amended to include women voters. Each was assigned a member of Congress. They read reports, took notes, followed legislation and knocked on every office door. They distributed questionnaires, flyers and filed all their findings back at the CU office. As one member of Congress remarked, the CU had turned the halls of Congress in to a “Millinery Establishment.”
Their assigned target was based on similarities; clubs, family members, religion; dozens of things ~ all detailed in the Congressional Voting Card index (CVC). Thousands of handwritten 5 X 8 index cards were organized and constantly updated on every member of Congress. Managed by Ann Martin in 1915 and carried on by Maud Younger in 1916, this extraordinary, detailed analog database was an unparalleled weapon for change. An astounding twenty-two senators were converted through the use of the CVC. “One Congressman on whom we started a campaign received so many letters and telegrams that he said:' If you will only stop I will vote for the amendment. It keeps my office force busy all day answering letters about Suffrage alone,'' recalls Maud Younger.
Oracle could boast of such a “relational database.”
In addition to these data fields, there were dates of the interview, the name of the interviewer and personal notations by the lobbyists. They also tracked all signatures, letters and sent holiday cards, including birthdays.2
It is important to know all about the mother, and that explains why a whole card is devoted to her. Mothers continue to have strong influence over their sons. Some married men listen to their mother more than to their wives. You will hear a man telling his wife how his mother used to do it, and then we know from his frequent reference to his mother that if we can make of her a strong advocate for suffrage we have the best of chances of winning the son, or if it is the wife who has the strong influence and she is an anti. We know that our first work must be to convert the wife to our cause.
New York Times, March 2, 1919.
In true Alice Paul style; frugal and forthright, she publicly presented a full report on the “Cost of Suffrage.”
Regarding the CVC;
The National Woman’s Party has a card index which contains a record of each individual Senator and Representative. This index and the maintenance of the “legislative department of the party” cost $12,639.37 involving, as it did, a large corps of lobbyists to interview members of the Senate and House not only once but repeatedly. This involved considerable traveling and a large office for cataloging the cards. The results of the interviews of the militant organizers with the politicians and every obtainable printed report indicating the suffrage views, were cataloged in these files for use in the fight to compel the passage of the resolution, which submitted the suffrage amendment to the state legislatures for ratification.
(Total cost to the NWP for the ratification of the 19th Amendment, $664,208.42)
New York Times, November 29, 1920.
Ms. Abzug traced the wearing of her trademark wide-brimmed hats. She recalled: ''When I was a young lawyer, I would go to people's offices and they would always say: ‘Sit here. We'll wait for the lawyer.' Working women wore hats. It was the only way they would take you seriously. After a while, I started liking them. When I got to Congress, they made a big thing of it. So I was watching. Did they want me to wear it or not? They didn't want me to wear it, so I did.”
New York Times, April 1, 1998.
In October 21, 2014 the Veteran Feminists of America presented Gloria Steinem with one of Rep. Abzug’s hats at a gala luncheon at the New York Harvard Club.4
No mistaking the brilliant commanding strategist of the militant branch of the American Suffrage Movement was quiet, brave, percolating Alice Paul. It sounds so simple but the depth of her understanding cannot be overstated. She, herself, navigating the differential moved from a childhood home of equality and ease to carrying the banner of women worldwide to end second class citizenship, any classism in regards to citizenship in fact. She never stopped, be it while serving in an organization or utterly alone.
It is almost as if Alice hovered miles above to have this long vision; the procession, the halls of Congress, the Sentinels at the fence, the vote, were all calculated moves on the road to full constitutional equality. It was never for her mother, daughters (she never had), her friends, herself. It was for the constitution itself, as without equality, it was flawed beyond application. Without equality, no one was a full citizen. She never took her hat off as the job was and is not done.
1. Should We Bother Trying to Change our Opponents’ Hearts? George Lakey. Waging Nonviolence June 4, 2013
As true students of yourselves and mankind, you cannot be content with the present.
You must feel a Divine Discontent with things as they are,
however transitory or even incidental you may be or feel.
Professor Robert Clarkson Brooks
There is a mysterious and uncommon thread that runs through certain people. It appears they are in every culture. Poets write about them, history is driven by them, change depends on them. Religious people award it to god and irreligious people have no explanation. No matter how you look at it there are extraordinary people among us. These are people who cannot accept things as they currently are.
Alice Paul is a most exquisite example. She was a very privileged young lady, raised by educated people with an easy future in view. College bound, tennis racket in hand, friendly and believing she would be a biology teacher. Swarthmore College veered off her home path a little with music and distance but it was not much of a social shock to her. She had not yet set foot on the Road to Damascus or awoken to her life’s assignment.
At the insightful urging of Professor Brooks, Alice discovered the depth of her compassion once in service to the immigrants at the New York Settlement house. It was the explicit differential of her privileged life and the poor in New York and London that presented the problem that would inform her entire life. Equality, full constitutional equality, was in her sites. It motivated her. It defined her. It never let her out of its promise. From the time she saw, in total clarity, that social work was only treating the symptoms of economic inequality, Alice was called to action.
Like Boudicca at the lead, the prospect of success was not going to define the cause. The cause was intrinsically meaningful and, once fully perceived, nothing less would do. Alice’s mastermind began debating, configuring, honing in on full equality; all else was merely a cobblestone on the path. This was what the Quakers call her “Concern.” The Divine Discontent had been ignited and would never fall to embers in her ninety-one years.
The Quakers, and particularly the Hicksite Quakers, hold in esteem the act of stillness. Yes, it is an action, not inaction. One’s own truth rises up in the silence to light a knowing that will not be ignored, definitely not denied.
To have a concern means to feel a strong leading from the Holy Spirit to take action; to raise a question in meeting, to testify in public to organize a protest….. to have such a compassion to feel so keenly the plight of others, to care so much that one’s duty is to take action. Margaret Hope Bacon.
Alice’s primary biographer, Amelia Fry said, “Her divine discontent demanded an activist channeling. It had found its direction – women’s equality.” Of course today we know that this really is not only about women but about all people being equal. Lifting the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed to full equality includes everyone. As Gandhi would point out, the oppressor is in harm’s way as well. The goal is to end the entire cycle of oppression for all.
How is this Divine Discontent recognized? What Theodore Roosevelt called a “fierce discontent.” Deepak Chopra said, “Discover your own discontent and be grateful.. for without Divine Discontent, there would be no creative force.” For W.E.B. DuBois, it was a state of grace.
Most famously, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it Divine Dissatisfaction and prayed that a whole nation had it.
And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity. Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied. Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power.
There are certain attributes that appear again and again in those who suffer from this acute internal awakening.
The activist with Divine Discontent may not know the source but they always know the unrelenting disquiet. Others question, why can’t you just be happy for a moment or propose that you have done enough. But for those who cannot be sated, cannot be silenced, cannot declare victory midstream, this is impossible. Steps are always steps never the goal and nothing but the goal will do.
THE RISE AND FALL
Movements never actually die, they ratchet up and down, they scatter and retrench. The visionaries hold the course and wait for urgency to sound the alarm. As they rise and fall with time and circumstance, Divine Discontent holds a certain few at the edge of change as if lashed to the bow. Often it means they are ridiculed, marginalized and ignored while the drive never stops. From Selma to Ferguson many things occurred and racial equality visionaries stayed the course, only with far fewer numbers and slim media between. When the equality is measured again, as is reproductive justice in the 2010’s, there is an urgency that calls the sleepy to work but those with this unrelenting discontent never left.
For the activist with Divine Discontent, even in the throes of terrible burnout, there is a longing to heal and get back to the work. There is a guilt in the unsolicited rests. There is shame that they cannot return to 100% participation. And, most tragic of all, peers demand more work and push beyond the spirit’s measured intent.
THE DIS-EASE OF DIVINE DISCONTENT
There is a grave possibility for tragedy and pain in this dis-ease; assassination for men and obscurity in poverty for women.
New York Times, November 4, 1975, page 21.
“Mother of the U.S. Equal-Rights Measure Nearly Penniless in Nursing Home at 90.”
Ridgefield, Conn. On the eve of the vote on the Equal Rights Amendments in New York and New Jersey, the author of the original federal version is near destitution, recovering from a stroke at a nursing home here.
Dr Alice Paul, now 90 years old, nevertheless continues to push for the amendment that she drew up in 1922 and keeps abreast of the states that have ratified the equal rights amendment to the Federal Constitution.
Discontent without resources is pure torture and, unshared, it leads to a melancholy isolation. The knowing of process, of strategy and that the new leagues of change-makers must learn through their own doing unfolds as a disregard. Alice Paul warned NOW and all in hearing distance that the deadline for the ratification of the ERA meant it would never pass. It was over before it began. Alice explained that opponents had only stop the threshold state from ratification to preclude a super majority within the time allotted. In other words, it was just a matter of disabling one state in seven years.
As she was sitting in her wheelchair in a retirement home, foolish people, expert in nothing but the practice of ageism, did not confer with Miss Paul. March 22, 1975, the day the ERA was passed from Congress to the states, Lethe Mae Glover, Miss Paul’s housekeeper, said that Miss Paul was deeply sad. Alice knew, with the deadline attached, it would never pass. She was the ultimate political strategist with three law degrees and fifty years of contemplating the Equal Rights Amendment; not just in its application but in what it would take to become law. Miss Paul called the deadline the “axe of the opponent.” At age 91, Miss Paul said she was worried she was useless.
Divine Discontent is different from social discontent, a collective sense that things as they are cannot, do not serve the citizens. This is not the discontent that housebound ladies suffered and mushroomed into Freidan’s Feminine Mystique. This is not the quiet percolating in which a community is so oppressed that nothing can relieve the pain but public protest. This is a private singular ineffable call of dissatisfaction, maybe sustained by believing things could be better, a vision of what that could be and once seen, undeniable.
One can only speculate about the origin of Divine Discontent.
It is only perceived in the use of it as the source alludes detection.
It calculates in the head.
It serves in the hands.
It marches in the feet.
It resides in the heart.
It is a dis-ease that does not seek treatment, only action.
It is an infinite whisper that shouts when justice is in sight, LIFE COULD BE BETTER.
Maybe you are one who is struck with this terrible dis-ease. Maybe you suffer with this mystical vocation to advance social justice. Maybe you know life could be better and see justice in the mist.
If you do,
keep it safe from anger,
feed it with servant leadership and
know it is fueled by love and love alone.
If you do,
know that angels bend down from the clouds to get a better look. There is something very special about this calling as it is a discontent with things as they are and it is the Divine offering the vision for change. As Gandhi is so often quoted, Be the Change, as how else is it going to get here but through your hands, your feet, your heart. You are the demonstration of justice, sent to inspire.
If you do,
your benefactors’ spirits will rise to assist you. They are heavily invested in your success. Call on them often to light and shorten the road.
Henry David Thoreau * Dorothy Day * Harvey Milk * Barbara Gittings * Oscar Romero
Martin and Coretta King * Bayard Rustin * Susan B. Anthony * Mohandas and Kasturbai Gandhi
Margaret Sanger * Rachel Carson * Harriet Tubbs * Sojourner Truth * W.E.B. DuBois * Jane Addams
And so many whose names we have lost.
Now your new advocate, Miss Alice Paul.
And should you be so fortunate to have been born with this terrible unquenchable knowing coupled with an inability to just “sit this one out,” lucky you.
You don’t need to do anything lawless to arrest attention. All that is needed is something novel.
Alice Stone Blackwell
We march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society from which women are excluded.
From the event program, March 3, 1913
As of 1913 there had been no political marches up Pennsylvania Avenue. No women. No men. No one had taken their politics to the White House fence. The seat of American government was seen as an office space where men and a woman performed the work of governing. It was designated as an “officially isolated district.” A law was enacted in 1882 declaring it illegal to carry a banner or make a raucous of any kind in the streets or on the steps of federal buildings. The first to test this was in 1894 as half a million unemployed men marched to Congress petitioning for funding to build roads across the country: Coxey’s Army. Jacob Coxey led the action and was arrested, charged for walking on the grass. Mounted police with clubs attempted to control the men and Congress was put on notice that that citizens were going to come to the district to state their case, make their claim and demand action. The next national march petitioning the government was unexpected and remains unsurpassed.
To understand the 1913 suffrage procession and pageant one needs to know what life was like for women. Measuring that contrast, it was revolutionary on all counts. At that time, mothers told their children to be quiet in public, girls were told to stay in their place and, mostly, DO NOT make a spectacle of yourself. Wives, mothers, sisters; all women were held hostage in highly defined roles, proper attire which always included a hat and restricted social participation. There was lots of backbreaking work but somehow women were still thought to be frail and expected to be docile.
Many believed that if women were allowed to vote, it would be the end of the harmonious home. Once women found their voice, they would start wearing pants and leave childrearing to the men. Some of the Wild West states had given women the vote but the South and the East were not going to dismantle women’s roles by allowing them the political voice of the vote. It was a matter of domains. Men managed public space and complex thinking. Women were to raise children, care for the home and leave the rest to the men.
However two American women had been to Britain and seen women on the move. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns had been working closely with the militant suffragettes, often directly for the movement leaders, the Pankhursts. They had broken convention, broken the law, broken windows and broken any outdated ideas about women. They had driven across the country, spoken to large masses of people, been arrested, served jail time and force fed when on hunger strikes. Most importantly they had crossed over accepting male dominance and would never return. Sights were set on full equality and it was evident that such progress would only occur when women organized to aggressively take their rights.
In 1910 Alice returned to New Jersey. She finished her PhD in economics, at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation was, “The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania,” asserting that woman suffrage was critical. Alice saw that the American Suffrage movement had fallen into a sleepy rut. The National American Woman Suffrage Association had slipped right into the very role suffrage was supposed to change. These women knew their place, wanted tea at the White House and held their breath as if not rocking the boat was their only option. They were sustaining convention with no talk of breaking it.
In Philadelphia, November, 1912, at their national convention, Alice and Lucy asked to reignite the NAWSA Congressional Committee in Washington D.C. With Jane Addams convincing the organization it was a wise choice, they were given $10, a membership roster and the address of the NAWSA DC office. December 7th Alice arrived and went to work creating an event to rival the inauguration of the President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Not only was it an impossible amount of time but the membership list was unusable because of deaths and people moving in and out of the capital, the headquarters was no longer open and fundraising was now critical. Lucy arrived, classmates were drafted and basement rooms rented at 1420 F Street NW.
The rejuvenated Congressional Committee met on January 2, 1913. The idea of a procession was on the table. Among those in attendance was Elsie Hill, daughter of Connecticut Congressman Hill, who became Alice’s longest and closest friend. Maybe her only close friend. Alice said, from that day forward, “there was never a day from that time until she died that we didn’t work together over something.” An invaluable friend as well with useful connections. When the chief of police declined granting a permit, “It’s totally unsuitable for women to be marching down Pennsylvania Ave,” Elsie and her mother changed his mind, leaving with permit in hand for March 3, 1913.
Two months was very little time to mount this enormous project but the entire idea, both procession and pageant were precisely what they needed. It was entirely without precedent. At that time, women were not speaking or performing in public. They were not collecting in groups seeking visibility. Some were visible “out West” but it was considered unsophisticated and, to many, shameful. Suffrage tea was more the preferred method, not driving automobiles or selling papers on street corners. This Washington DC event would change the suffrage identity from state to state battles to a national movement. Alice wanted to make a permanent and public statement that this movement will stand in the center of the US: ALL women should be fully enfranchised.
In sharp contrast to women being assigned to home and family, marching on the most politically powerful avenue in the country was a vision which would shatter long held convention. In fact, women were not allowed to march at all the following day in Wilson’s inaugural parade. Ladies were to be seated in ticketed grandstands and watch the men process. Hotels were all booked and thousands of people, particularly from the South were already in town to cheer for their newly elected Democrat Wilson. Grandstands were in place for March 4th and the Suffrage committee made arrangements to make a bit of money selling the same seats for their event.
Brilliant strategist, always seeing the big picture and often not even stopping to explain, Alice knew that the contrast of all women on Monday and no women on Tuesday was a human banner demonstrating inequality. When asked, she said, “one half of the people have not participated in choosing the ruler who is being installed.”
This would be a visible collective, signaling a change that went far beyond the vote. Her goal was not to sell suffrage to the nation but to demonstrate power to one another and the government. By leaving home, assembling in public, walking down this most famous street, they shed their own inequality, even if for that single day. They tasted what they could be. They rejected dominance and the isolation of hearth and home. They were going to boldly claim their space which was most unladylike. It would not be festive but serious, calculated, and thoughtful, stating ~ I can examine issues, I can consider candidates, I CAN VOTE.
Lucy Burns was in charge of production and she contacted Hazel McKaye, the best pageant producer in the country. Hazel took charge of everything regarding the street theater production of The Allegory of the Women. On the front steps and large entrance of the US Treasury Building, across from the grandstands, the all-female cast would present Columbia and her Muse: Liberty, Justice, Peace, Charity and Hope.
Silent and costumed, with girls dancing and releasing doves, 20,000 spectators would see beauty, elegance, strength, dignity and grace. At the close there were over a hundred performers on stage showing this new portrayal of female patriotism.
The procession began at 3 PM. First was the Grand Marshall on horseback, Mrs. Richard Burleson. Then a wagon bearing a huge square sign, “We demand an amendment in the Constitution of the United States enfranchising the women of this country.” Next was Inez Milholland on a friend’s horse, Grey Dawn. Inez was to embody the Free Woman of the Future.
What followed was a highly organized procession of eight thousand marchers, twenty-six floats, ten bands, six chariots and decorated horses with women riders. The women on foot were arranged in the colors of the rainbow. They were directed to not speak, to walk in perfect formation and visually deliver the message that they would bring beauty and dignity to Washington, to Congress, to politics as fully enfranchised citizens. Voting would not break the home, the family, the roles of men and women.
There were seven themed sections, each representing different committees: doctors, nurses, lawyers, students, homemakers, farmers, all showing that women contributed to society. One section was women from foreign lands in their own costumes. Alice walked in the college section with Elsie, wearing caps and gowns “ours was a very dark and dignified section.” Artists, actresses, musicians and writers wore red. Social workers to librarians in pale blue. Bringing beauty and harmony to political life.
Then women from the enfranchised states, “Nine States of Light Among Thirty-Nine of Darkness.” Showing that women had public identities already, they had been wrongfully invisible. Not just to society but also to one another and mostly to themselves. No masses, nothing haphazard but rigorous disciplined order implying who they would be as citizens.
As Wilson’s train pulled into Union Station at 3:45 PM with no fanfare, he asked where is everyone. Everyone was at the Suffrage Pageant and Procession. Women, by the thousands, were marching in front of his new home with the loud, colorful, explicit message, Mr. President, we will not be ignored. We are going to make ourselves known to you and your entire administration. This is now a national movement. We are going to VOTE.
Ten blocks into the procession, chaos erupted. Onlookers began taunting the women with jeers, insults, tomatoes and eggs. The men poured into the street narrowing the road, choking the formation and floats. Mayhem broke out, banners were snatched and ripped, feet of those on floats were grabbed. There were very few police on duty, some of whom only furthered the confrontation by telling the women it was their doing by leaving their families unattended. Taking over three hours to cover one mile, there were over 175 ambulance calls and over 200 injuries reported. Serving at the request of Mrs. John Rogers, whose brother-in-law was the then Secretary of War, the US Cavalry was called in to restore the peace.
The day after President Wilson’s inauguration, the first order of business in the US Senate was hearings on what happened at the Suffrage Campaign march. There were dozens of photos showing the congested streets and dangerous behavior of duplicitous police. They were supposed to keep spectators on the curb and keep the streets clear. Finally, the hearings generated 900 pages of testimony and many days of press coverage.
Harriet Stanton Blatch, “Some marchers were struck in the face by onlookers, spat upon, and overwhelmed with ribald remarks and the police officers, as a whole, did nothing.”
The Baltimore Sun "Women practically fought their way up Penn Ave.”
The Washington Post "An irresistible appeal to the artistic and completely captivated the hundred thousand spectators.”
The Chicago Tribune “Hoodlums vs. Gentlewomen”
New York Times “Suffragists danced on the razor thin lines between spectacular and outlandish, ridiculous and controversial.”
Reported at the hearings, “Only men had broken bones” “no woman badly hurt” “12 broken arms “ “Women fainting”
The crowning result was that Police Superintendent Sylvester was fired May 29, 1913.
Maybe people acted horrified, shocked or even cynical but Alice Paul knew full well what was in the works. She knew that most of the priceless publicity was the result of the riots and bad police work. She always knew it is all in the contrast. She was imagining a new way of life for women and to get the job done, it would require a whole new method of disruption. Unlike the British, she was unswerving in her commitment to non-violence. She actually put forth its opposite in the doves and muses and perfectly poised marchers.
She knew that for these women it wasn’t that they marched. It wasn’t that they kept in rows and columns. It is that they were breaking every habituated and accepted convention. It was a one way and major trip from the parlor to the street. Everyone saw them enter the public sphere but, possibly more importantly, these women saw one another. They were discovering themselves and sculpting a new role in society. They were shedding confinement, breaking the mold, never to return.
Another result was that the US Government was now on alert that they would have to protect citizens’ right to demonstrate in the nation’s capital. The riots of March 3rd was in strong relief to the calm regulated peace of March 4th, the differential was instantly demonstrated. Marching would become permitted, protected, tolerated. Maybe it would stop traffic for a bit but it would never again be the show-stopper or massive chaos as it was March 3, 1913.
She also knew, as all radical activists do, once the novelty was spent, they would have to escalate. They could not create change by repeating the expected. They would need to ratchet up to disturb and surprise. Pressure would have to increase, moving from polite to confrontational. Now their protests could not be scheduled and permitted. They might be rehearsed and rigorous but never predictable. She would have to expand the tension with unsuspected disruption. They had to create a whole new kind of spectacle.
The outcomes included Senate hearings and the firing of the Police Superintendent but even better, a thousand new members and twenty-five thousand dollars in donations and dues. The message was delivered to the citizens and the national legislators: suffrage was the central issue. Alice woke up the nation after a seven year nap. She forewarned Mr. Wilson that she would not disappear. She would escalate. She would be there when he sought his second term.
The press was reporting that the spectators were “lewd, dangerous and male.” The police were not just irresponsible but they joined in the harassment. A woman asking for assistance, the officer said, “Nothing would happen to you if you had stayed home.” Once again falling right into the plans of the lead organizers: perfect demonstration of what scoundrels men are when not tempered by women.
Unlike today with mobile devices, instant viewing and livestream, the success of this event rested with the number of spectators. Miss Paul could not have chosen a better day, a better path, a better form to “create an acute situation.” The hostile rioting, the glib police, the late arrival of the cavalry, the jeers and injuries ~ all that poured out from that moment ~ it was epic. The American Militant Suffrage had begun and they were solely interested in the vote for the entire nation
When asked about it all, Alice stated, “women should not only be allowed to vote, but to run things.”
Ultimately Miss Alice Paul showed us that creating change is all in the contrast, in the differential. As activists, we are called to make an unforgettable spectacle of ourselves. Anything less than novel will not do. At an unexpected and/or unwelcome time, create what the opponent will perceive as chaos. Always pressing for greater contrast from what was, what is and what is wanted. All in the interest of the mission. What do we have today to create the contrast? What can we do to demonstrate the outcome we want while permanently breaking convention. What can a person do that alerts them and all who see, that there is a possibility for a different Life? Liberty? Justice?
Women are still voiceless. We have to wait until complete equality becomes a reality. I grew up in a Quaker family and the Quakers believe in the equality of the sexes. It is hard to grow up in such a family and never hear about anything else. When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you reach the end of the row. Alice Paul, 1975
But, in the silence, walls dissolve and feelings which have been hidden all week come bubbling up to disturb the worshipers’ peace of mind. Many a Quaker concern has been born in the heart of a silent worshiper as he sits on a hard wooden bench and opens himself to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The Quiet Rebels, Mary Hope Bacon
In the city of Machida, on the border of Tokyo, you will find possibly the most renown bowl of ramen in the world. The master chef in this tiny diner is Junichi Shimazaki,1 the Godfather of contemporary ramen. His establishment, consistently ranked as the best in Tokyo, requires full silence. At 69 ‘n’ Roll One, phones are not allowed. Food is ordered and paid for outside the door. Once entered and seated, the only sounds are water boiling, knives clicking and ecstatic customers slurping. The mind is one with the complete experience as dictated by the ramen sensei. He knows something most do not or would not risk, the immersion into the food, from preparation to the last noodle, is elevated by silence. Everyone in 69 ‘n’ Roll One is fully engaged. Uninterrupted they eat as never before. It is not the emptiness of Zen or the interior labyrinth of Vajrayana but the full combined absorption of senses and attention.
The power of silence when used to heighten awareness goes far beyond the silenced. To the observer, it awards importance. It welcomes inquiry. It stops the clock. It establishes a mutual reverence. It announces, something steady is happening here. Those who bring silence to the public sphere are also engaged in a reverential way. It allows reflection. It calms the doer. They can listen outside but inside too. Secrets shared as both the seer and the seeker are invited to use other senses to meet one another. I see you. You see me.
This is not referring to the use of silence as torture. This is referring to the use of silence as demonstration. This is not the use of silence as a study of indifference or avoidance such as the Vatican and the rise of the Nazis. This is not the outcry of Act Up that Silence = Death. This is a gift of silence that seals manifest commitment. This is the British Guard at Buckingham’s gate or a duct taped vow by Jeff Parshley and Adam Bouska’s NO H8 campaign ~ there will be no words of hate spoken here.
This is a magical silence of Yugoslavian performance artist, Marina Abramovic2. She sat in the middle of a bare room with only a table and two chairs at the New York Museum of Modern Art in total silence, daily March 14 to May 31, 2010 for a total of 736.5 hours. Visitors were invited to sit across from her for as long as they wished. “The Artist is Present,” performance art installation was said to be transforming. People cried and laughed and looked away from the shared intensity. Photographers, onlookers, celebrities, filmmakers swam in her room of silence; sometimes her heart of silence. It was not unusual for sitters to weep as to say they had never been seen before. Very rarely, Marina welcomed holding hands. It was silence given form.
All religious people, all spiritual people and people who excavate their inner selves use many tools; dance, music, art but one shared thread is the use of silence. Nowhere has this silence rippled more, out into society creating forms and facts for social justice, than from the Quakers. Sitting on wooden benches in both community and silence, Friends wait for a surfacing thought that deserves to be said aloud, weighed by others who are also alert to the arising spirit. Alice Paul had sat in Friends Meetings, heard women and men preach, giving witness to the power of the waiting silence. With a resolute understanding that honest social constructs will surface from this collection of open minds, educated hearts and silent patience ~ they sit.
1916 had been an election year for Mr. Wilson. War was on the horizon. Campaigning for the White House to remain blue, he was under a great deal of pressure. Suffrage was not on his essentials list. There was an expectation that the ladies would mind their manners, dampen their public resolve and show concern for the county’s military plans. December 4, 1916, the re-elected President Wilson addressed the 64th Congress on the possibility of war. From up in the gallery, five members of the Congressional Union unfurled a banner over the railing, MR. PRESIDENT WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE? A congressional page tore it from its cord and in those five minutes it became evident that militancy was also going to be a domain for suffrage.
Jan 9, 1917, Three hundred women met with President Wilson in the White House East Room. From the speeches on both sides, it seemed that neither was going to be heard. The ladies wanted assurance of a federal suffrage amendment. He side-stepped the demand with a lecture on party politics. Finally he advised them to continue working on collecting “public opinion.” He and his many men left the East Room. The call to duty had been signaled.
Maud Younger, Stunned, talking in low indignant tones, we moved slowly out of the East Room and returned to our Headquarters. There we discussed the situation. We saw that the president would do nothing for some time. Perhaps not until the eve of the presidential election 1920. He said we must concert public opinion. But how? For half a century women had been walking the hard way of the lobbyist. We had made speeches, meetings, parades, campaigns, organization. What new method could we devise?
Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and Mabel Vernon developed a long term plan, a new plan, to never let Mr. Wilson forget or sideline suffrage again; not even war would deter them. “We have decided that it will be an excellent thing to have a silent guard of suffragists at the gates of the White House,” Mabel Vernon recounted. With military precision, the language of rank & order, they would create their own army.
Women were to be drafted, deputized and stand at attention on behalf of suffrage. They would be stationed at the White House gates. They would stand in silence. It would not be a wondering inattentive silence but an alert bright silence as one had seen before with pairs of suffrage women in London, Albany, New York City and Tennessee. Silent messengers would state their case loud and clear. Flags and banners were only part of their arsenal. Dressed in the very best, marching in pairs, standing tall with feet together, backs to the president, they were living billboards facing the nation, publishing the president’s position and their demands. A battalion of women soldiers for the vote would stand as Silent Sentinels for the duration.
January 10, 1917, at precisely 10 A.M., twelve women marched in pairs from the NWP Headquarters to the White House gates. In purposeful silence, carrying four banners and eight flags of purple, gold and white, they began their perpetual vigil. This perfect line in perfect silence would occur six days a week, 10 A.M. – 5:30 P.M. Organized by Mabel Vernon the plan did not include an alternative for bad weather or national crisis. It would be open to everyone; all classes, all races, all ages. Days were designed by events, holidays, schools, professions, all of the states had a certain day and Fridays were reserved for Washington D.C. women.
In March, 1917, Washington D.C. was preparing for the second inauguration of President Wilson. The hotels and streets were flooded with Democrats celebrating their victory. The suffragists held a meeting and agreed to merge the Congressional Union and the National Women’s Party. They elected officers and committed to the Silent Sentinels campaign. Signs were posted and flyers poured through the crowds: COME TO THE WHITE HOUSE ON MARCH 4, COME IN THE THOUSANDS.
March 4, the eve of Wilson’s second inauguration, the skies opened with torrential rain. The streets shone like glass from the puddles. A rubber company was summoned and sold the marchers, coats, hats and wellingtons. Bands set the tone, Vida Milholland at the lead, a thousand picketers marched to the fence. They circumambulated the White House four times. All four gates were locked and the petitioning cards for the president were given to a sole guard who would deliver them at the end of his shift. The deputation was undaunted and marched against the rain and wind, their banners and flags challenging their banner’s grip. Women ranged in age from Reverend Olympia Brown, 82 to dozens of college girls.
The overall plan was in full force. After robbing Mr. Wilson of his first inauguration with the pageant and procession, they would overrun his second by taking command of the White House gates and fence. They would stand, as the ladies they were and silently mock him. He might wonder each day, is this their last? Onlookers thought surely rain will deter them, surely snow will keep them near a teapot. But nothing stopped them. They stated the truth in pure silence and a soldier’s posture. We are citizens. We will have the vote. With organic ease, they left the moderates (NAWSA). They were not interested in an invitation to a White House tea or polite repartee. They were militants. They were warriors. They were indomitable agitators.
Keeping time with the congressional session they adjourned after the inauguration and reconvened April 2. They expanded their station from the White House gates to include the Senate entrance. April 7, the United States joined the war and there was no talk, zero talk of ending the picket. NWP Chairman Alice Paul never considered bowing her head or that of the National Woman’s Party in deference to the warring government. Nothing would deter the demand for the vote. Alice was a general in a war that was of grave importance to all women. Disregarding threats of violence and even murder, this militant community would not end their campaign.
As dignitaries drove in and out of the White House, they tipped their hats to the ladies standing at the gates. Military leaders met with the president only after they drove through the gates and read the banners’ fresh announcements. Back at the NWP Headquarters, ladies were constantly going over the president’s speeches and the newspapers for pertinent and provocative quotes. New banners were sewn on a daily basis announcing women’s demand for the vote, the president’s dismissal of its importance and challenging his priorities.
As the war progressed, the banner quotes escalated their attack. While Mr. Wilson spun thousands of words, the daily banners summarized his message. These were not White House guards. These were opponents who were 1917 equivalent of CNN zipper crawls. They were not communicating to the White House but to the nation about the White House; about the administration’s indifference to women’s voice, women’s citizenship, women voting. When news of the war was posted, danger escalated. Confrontational banners were ripped from their poles. Immediately a new one would be delivered. As one was destroyed, Hazel Hunkins brought another; DEMOCRACY SHOULD BEGIN AT HOME. Again that one was torn to shreds. Mobs of people, emotions high, and yet they were tamed. “This silent, persistent courage had, however, its inevitable effect on the crowd. It fell back.”
Nothing could have served the Sentinels better than their silence. Nothing could have spoken more eloquently of their nobility and lasting commitment to the right to vote. To stand, banner in hand, sometimes with an inciting quotation, the silence commanded gravitas. Even their eventual decision to answer meaningful questions was given dignity by their months of silent witness. By that time, no one thought this action was trivial; not the press, not the public and not the sentinels.
To begin a long term action with the hopes of attracting hundreds of activists required special drafting skills. This was compounded with the context that for entire lives, many ladies were told to be quiet, to not assemble an opinion, to not enter the man’s domain of politics. For these women to be safe, to be certain, the silence gave them insulation. They could see the river of government pass right in front of their eyes. They could hear conversations about their banners. Standing at the White House gates was an education in itself and many left after their shift with new found ideas and words. The introverts were not excluded and the extroverts were invited into contemplation. There would be no shouting or embarrassment.
“While their slogans obviously were inflammatory, the suffragists were never once arrested for disturbing the peace, inciting a riot, or jeopardizing the security of the country or its Chief Executive.” Eleanor Flexner
Alice Paul never turned away an uneducated woman. She said she preferred exuberance over expertise any day, anytime. She believed in life providing its own education as it did for her years before when she stood among the poor in New York City and London. No textbook could have instructed her so fully, so quickly. The entire understanding of humanity and the need for equality was a single lightning strike of direct experience. None of the Sentinels had to worry they would not be smart enough to represent the whole of suffrage or worry they would say a wrong or intemperate thing.
The Silent Sentinels were silently demanding a voice. It was all done in contrast. In public contrast. With each passing day, they were stronger, steadier and increasing in numbers. All kinds of women took their turn, some for days and some for twenty minutes. Once the campaign started, letters and offers poured in. Mothers sent daughters as if it was a war. Ladies took turns representing their state or profession. They were militant sisters, standing in growing community. They looked like ladies. They behaved like ladies with one notable exception, they could stand in public and demonstrate that they understood the politics of war and the value of the vote. As Alice Paul said, “We always tried to make our lines as beautiful as we could and our banners were really beautiful.” Activist George Lakey describes them this way, “The suffragists were beautiful like the Valkyries, not like clinging vines. Physical courage was a major virtue.”
After months of unbroken silence, the sentinels adopted another tactic of answering intelligent proper questions. They used their public access to educate others and to push their message further.
From The Story of the Woman’s Party,
It was the intention at the first for these sentinels to keep complete silence. But, as throngs hurrying past began to question them, continued to question them, conversation became inevitable.
The commonest question, of course was, “Why are you doing this?”
The pickets always answered, “The President asked us to concert public opinion before we could expect anything of him. We are concerting it upon him.” The second most popular question was, “Why don’t you go to Congress?” The answer, “We have – again and again and again; and they tell us if the President wants it, it will go through.”
The Silent Sentinels were a live tweet to the nation. Their banners were most often under one hundred and forty characters. However the tweet was not the point. The point was the point. Non- enfranchised women standing with their backs to the Commander in Chief, the White House and by default, the American flag were giving witness to an injustice was the point. They were embarrassing those in power and, in their own contrast, these ladies in rain or snow or sunshine stood in silence, broadcasting the point. Banners were only one of the tools among their ordnance. The full tweet was countless letters and words describing their actions from varnishing poles, sewing banners, marching, standing, etc. The message poured out from their action. Unlike the stilted, armchair tweet, #bringbackourgirls which had no foundational action but a collective outcry carrying no threat of action, the Silent Sentinels placed themselves at risk and that risk propelled the message.
A true action-based twitter storm began with the silent standing of Erdem Gunduz,3, 4 6 P.M. June 17, 2013. This dancer and performance artist walked into Taksim Square, the site of so many protests in May, 2013 during which peaceful protestors were met with teargas, batons and finally a water cannon. He disregarded the police barriers, walked into a protected space and found himself facing Turkish flags and a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He stood and stared in unyielding silence. In Erdem’s speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum he explains, “… my peaceful gesture was meant to give them hope."
With public silence, there is a mind-bending expression of the dual nature of the action. It is at once both impenetrable and approachable. As Richard Seymour of the Guardian said, “...passive resistance is not merely symbolic; it confuses and derails the calculations of the rulers."
Like with Rosa Parks where lazy minds think she just sat down in the white section of a bus one day, as if tired feet launched a movement; Erdem Gunduz was not a novice wandering into an epiphany. He had trained, studied and developed his passion for human rights. As he stared ahead and became a single witness for thousands. "I felt pain in my heart for the protestors." In great contrast to his training as a dancer, he stood still.
Men began to taunt him, search his backpack, frisk his body. Police approached him. The onlookers began to tweet #standingman #erdemgunduz. People stepped forward to encircle him in protection. In a few hours over three hundred people stood with him. From his simple action, his unmovable bravery, his silent attraction, a global contagion was launched. Action was the point, twitter was the global transmitter that an activist was acting. He was standing in silence on behalf of all those living in the grip of injustice.
There are deep abiding roots in the heart of an activist. Miss Paul was no exception, exceptional as she was among her followers. She had attended meetings of the Friends Equal Rights Association. Among the Quakers there was full equality. Women were leaders. In fact, William Penn wrote non-gendered language. This was her upbringing. To her surprise she discovered that the world that did not see things that way. She was left with a heart that longed for all to be equal. As was the practice of Quakers and activists, in silence there arises a collective concern or possibly a sole concern which assigns the seer the task to passionately, compassionately transform injustice to justice. Silence required.
The avenue is misty gray,
And here beside the guarded gate
We hold our golden blowing flags
The people pass in friendly wise;
They smile their greeting where we stand
And turn aside to recognize
The just demand.
Often the gates are swung aside:
The man whose power could free us now
Looks from his car to read our plea --
Sometimes the little children laugh;
The careless folk toss careless words,
And scoff and turn away, and yet
The people pass the whole long day
Those golden flags against the gray
And can't forget.
ALICE PAUL by Katherine Rolston Fisher
I watched a river of women,
Rippling purple, white, and golden,
Stream toward the National Capitol.
Along its border,
Like a purple flower floating,
Moved a young woman, worn, wraith-like,
With eyes alight, keenly observing the marchers.
Out there on the curb, she looked so little, so lonely;
Few appeared even to see her;
No one saluted her.
Yet commander was she of the column, its leader;
She was the spring whence arose that irresistible river of women
Streaming steadily towards the National Capitol.
Miss Alice Paul © 2017 All Rights Reserved.