Sunday, February 27, 2011

89 years since US women's nonviolent enfranchisement

On 27 February 1922 the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was unanimously upheld by the US Supreme Court, cementing it firmly as a complete victory for a nonviolent campaign waged politically beginning in 1878 and in the streets beginning in 1916 and continuing all during World War I. When an amendment survives a court challenge all the way to the Supremes it also has the solid backing from Congress (two-thirds of both houses) and the states (three-quarters of their legislatures). These legislative hurdles brought the 19th Amendment into being in August 1920. Then a serious and completely unsuccessful court challenge met by unanimity of the court completed that triumvirate.
(Map showing states with full suffrage for women--green--partial suffrage, and no suffrage--red--just prior to passage of 19th Amendment)
How often have we been told, "Yeah, you have your opinion, but you can thank the military for your right to express it and for all your other rights too"? Many times for anyone who challenges militarism in the US. I've heard it for decades and from coast to coast.

Really? Tell that to the women who, during World War I, led by Alice Paul, the Ph.D. Quaker scholar activist, stood in all weather, every day, outside the gates of the White House with banners that asked, "What about democracy at home, Mr. Wilson?" and those women were beaten by uniformed members of the US military. Nonviolence brings liberation despite, not because of, the military. Nonviolence gains and defends our rights despite, not because of, the armed forces.

Movements for liberation have proven that it is a poor tactic to make an enemy of the military no matter which country we consider, but neither should nonviolent actionists be dependent upon nor petrified of the armed forces. Women in Britain threw bricks and broke windows in their campaigns for suffrage and they started their street actions years before the US women. They won their suffrage in 1928, eight years after the American women. So much for the blinding speed of violence versus the slow plod of nonviolence. Turns out that the only thing blinding about violence is literally blinding eye for an eye.


Ruthie Benjamin said...

Great write! Thank you .. I'm going to share this in light of International Women's Day.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Thanks, Ruthie. Make that 90 years now!