Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Why Women Should Vote

SANTA FE The polls are open. Go vote. The first Tuesday in November no longer is election day, it’s just your last chance to vote – and the day they count the votes.
This is why you see political ads in full swing already. Presidential candidates realize this. So do congressional candidates. But some local candidates are behind the curve, which can cause problems. Last minute blitzes don’t work well on an electorate that has already voted. And that is what is increasingly happening. The early birds are going to get the vote.
So does increased early voting mean heavier total turnouts. Unfortunately there isn’t much correlation. People who don’t want to stand in line on election day are either voting early or not at all. And too many are choosing the latter.
You’ve heard all the stories about how we should appreciate our right to vote, because not everyone has that right. Surprisingly, people who have lived under a dictatorship don’t always appreciate their newfound freedom either.
In Russia, officials are trying lotteries, with tickets given to voters with which they might win cars, TVs, VCRs, refrigerators, washing machines or baskets of food. Back in the good old days of communism, Soviet officials had much more effective means for compelling turnouts of 90 percent and better.
The English Parliament has toyed with the idea of levying a five-pound fine against anyone not voting. So we aren’t the only ones with problems.
In Mexico, the P.R.I., which dominated national politics for 72 years, did so with much help from women who often control local politics. But interest lagged badly enough in the last national election, won by Vicente Fox and the P.A.N., that some local P.R.I. groups hired male strippers to turn out the vote.
That may be good for some laughs, but a deadly serious new HBO movie tells the most compelling story I can imagine of why people should vote. It is a true story and it is about women, but the message should be the same for all of us.
It is the story of the “Night of Terror,” Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden of 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.
The movie is titled “Iron-Jawed Angels.” It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that women today can pull the curtain at the polling booth and have their say.
For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food was a colorless slop, infested with worms. Then on Nov. 15, 40 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 some women almost to death. One was chained to cell bars high above her head and left hanging all night, gasping for enough breath to live. Other affidavits described guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming and kicking the women.
After word finally reached the press and the women’s release was imminent, President Wilson and his cronies tried to persuade a psychiatrist to declare the women’s leader insane so she could be permanently institutionalized. The doctor’s answer, “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”
So why aren’t you going to be able to vote this year? It’s raining? Gotta get to work? Have to drive the car pool? Ask yourself how you would explain that to these women.
Reports say HBO will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video and DVD. I haven’t seen it, but it sounds like something that should be required watching for everyone.


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