Sunday, March 3, 2013

One Hundred Years Ago Today

Parades are nothing new in this country. We've been lining up and marching to call attention to a cause or to celebrate every occasion from "Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up Day" in Monticello in the 60s to Homecoming, St. Paddy's Day and Easter parades. How we loved the Christmas parades with majorettes in white fur-trimmed maroon velvet uniforms and Miss Hospitality and the Farm Bureau queens waving from a convertible!

But long before those days, there was another parade on a chilly March 3. 

On this very day in 1913, thousands of spunky women who had traveled from across the country staged a major march on Washington D.C. Timed to occur on the day before the presidential inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, all eyes were on the nation's capitol. I can't help but note that the city would have been decked out with bunting and flags and grandstands already in place as these women seized the stage appropriating some perfectly good decorations for the cause--always a plus when we are resourceful with our decor budget.

Thousands stood and watched in top coats and hats as the event was both ballyhooed and heralded depending on one's point of view or gender. The New York Times' description of the opening tableau lifted the production to great heights of artistry and pageantry. We do not have tableaus anymore, do we? The photo brings to mind Mayor Shinn's wife's contribution to the festivities in the park in The Music Man set in River City, Iowa in 1912. What is a big shindig without a patriotic tableau? We still model our Olympic opening ceremonies after such a scene complete with Grecian drapes and laurel wreaths.

Then the marchers began their walk down Pennsylvania Avenue arranged in regiments by state.  Crowds of mostly men poured into the streets. History records that the men behaved badly.

They ridiculed the women with their absurd notions of voting rights and personhood under the law. Perhaps they thought their world was turning upside down with the prospect of women continuing to demand the right to vote which everyone knew could never happen or else what would become of our society? We as humans do some despicable things when threatened, or when our perceived status is threatened. We are not at our best.

Photos show the crowds pressing in on the orderly marchers until they block the street. The jeers and taunts continue. Soon the tripping, groping and physical contact get violent. Many are injured and taken away in ambulances. Others are jailed and charged, but those who vote make the rules. The progression is predictable.

The actual accounts of those who backed this cosmic shift in the American experiment should be required reading for a generation who does not even bother to cast a ballot in a presidential election. It represents nothing to them; they have no skin in the game. We have it too easy.

There is no one left who remembers this day in history.

The same will be said of everything else in our lives at one time, and we do not live to preserve our own personal history for its own sake. We are just passing through. But if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.  And so we do.

When we glance at the photos, we can offer a pause of appreciation, a word of gratitude from the daughters 100 years later of those courageous women who risked mockery and scorn that we might be able to walk up to that voting machine in our precinct and touch the start button.

It seems so simple now, but nothing hard-won is ever simple. Or cheap. Someone always pays the price.

What we now know as the 19th Amendment took 41 years to pass after it was introduced in 1878, and the women who introduced it were white-haired after working tirelessly on what we could be tempted to see as a mere footnote in a history book: women's suffrage. Then I think of the ones who wanted to join the throng, to put their conscience above their comfort but were intimidated into silence. Do we do it still?

Is there something you and I commit our lives to with the same passion, the same zeal and commitment? Are we called to a mission larger than ourselves and our little corner of Google earth? Let us keep asking that question and seek discernment. May God grant wisdom even as God gives dreams for each season of life and the courage to stand firm in pursuit of them for the Kingdom.

It is not just the law that governs our lives as believers, but the high call of God to love others, to practice justice and to show mercy. It takes both courage and humility to live into our faithful witness as we encounter needs of others. May God grant us both.

photos found in tribute on with credits to:

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