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Suffrage

This week our long awaited presidential election was finally held and our president chosen. No matter what we might think about the decisions citizens made on election day, one thing was certain. Lots of people voted and for some the mere process of voting was not easy. In New York and New Jersey, people voted in spite of a complete loss of infrastructure due to Superstorm Sandy. In many jurisdictions people endured long lines, even for early voting. In Florida, people were still voting at 1:00 am. Here in parts of Virginia, people stood in lines for over four hours. But in nearby Arlington County, 83 percent of registered voters voted. How heartening to know that Americans so value their right to vote!

Near where I live is the now historic site of Lorton Prison. Closed in 2001, it is now a really beautiful Arts Center called the Workhouse Arts Center, but it is also the home of a museum chronicalling the imprisonment of women who fought for women’s suffrage in the early 1900s.

In 1917, a group of women led by Alice Paul, were arrested for demonstrating in front of the White House for the right to vote. They were imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse (Lorton). Alice Paul was placed in solitary confinement and fed only bread and water. When she became too weak to stand, she was threatened with being sent to a psychiatric hospital. When she and others went on a hunger strike, she was force-fed by sticking a tube down her throat. She was deprived of sleep, then made to endure lights shining directly in her eyes. The guards were ordered to brutalize the women and they grabbed, dragged, beat, choked, pinched, and kicked them.

If I remember correctly one of the women managed to smuggle out an account of their treatment and newspapers began reporting on it. The public was outraged. The Court of Appeals eventually declared all suffrage arrests, trials, and punishments unconstitutional. President Wilson finally put his support behind a woman’s right to vote, but it took until 1920 for the Constitutional Amendment to be ratified.

Until I visited the Workhouse, I never appreciated all that our fore-mothers endured so I could vote. Because of them, I was able to stand in a relatively short line at my polling place and vote without a hitch. I am very very grateful.

Political opinions aside (we’ve all heard enough!), how was your voting experience? Did you vote early? Were there long lines?

2 Comments

  1. I like voting the day of the election, any election. Most of my family does the early voting thing. Though I stood in line for about 15 minutes, it was mostly people who were on their way to work. I drove by a few hours later, and there was no line. I always appreciate how pleasant our polling people are.

  2. I’m with you, Judy. I like voting on election day, too.

    Our polling place was the most organized and efficient that I’ve ever seen it. We waited about 15 minutes, too, but we voted around noon.

    I also liked the vibe at our polling place. Calm and almost cheerful, when so much of the campaign had not been.

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