The New Suffragettes

You can hear the deafening sileecsnce in New York City in the aftermath of last night’s election. My commute into New Jersey this morning  felt unlike any other. I could feel New Yorkers’ eyes pouring over one another. With election results that no one could have predicted, we feel a sense of distrust and suspicion amongst each other.

As I sit at my desk, I look at the clock and think about how different I felt only 24 hours ago. At this time yesterday, I was on a train to the Bronx wearing my “I Voted” sticker proudly upon my white shirt. I looked down at the coffee stain that I had spilled on myself while I waited in line to vote. Although I’m mentally annoyed about the spill, I still felt proud to wear white as a tribute to the suffragettes. And now, here I was ready to pay my respects to those women again.

I stepped out of the subway station with a fellow proud feminist and friend by my side as we walked into the Woodlawn Cemetery,  where we were immediately greeted by the security guard:

“You here for Stanton?” he asks.

We reply excitedly. We’re full of anticipation to pay respects to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a prominent American suffragette.  The security guard gestures us towards the front office. Before we even walk in, we are greeted by two women about our age who are dressed in red, white, and blue. Without even needing to speak, we magnetize towards each other. The four of us seem to be able to read each other’s minds. They had just come from Mrs. Stanton’s graveside. They gave us their map of the cemetery and point us in the right direction. We share words of solidarity with each other before parting ways. I could almost feel us embracing each other without ever touching. As we took the voyage up the path toward Mrs. Stanton’s graveside, we came across a few other women who reassure us that we’ve almost made it. I felt a connection to them without knowing anything about them.

Once we reach Mrs. Stanton, we immediately knew that we were in the right place. Her tomb is decorated with roses, sunflowers, large bouquets, American flags, buttons, and letters. Next to her grave was a sign where guests could place their “I Voted” stickers. There are dozens of stickers already left from previous guests. The crowd surrounding Mrs. Stanton was almost entirely female. We were all misty-eyed and sentimental. One by one, we all placed our stickers on her sign as if to say “I voted, thanks to you.” One by one, we paid our respects and returned to the regular world. My friend and I were lucky to be left alone at Mrs. Stanton’s graveside for a few moments.

ecs-2As  I stood in front of Mrs.Stanton’s tombstone, a few lines from her Declaration of Sentiments repeated themselves in my head:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.”

“Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country…we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

“In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.

After a few moments of internalizing all that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her sister suffragettes endured to win the vote for women, my friend and I quietly sang a few bars of Sister Suffragette from Disney’s Mary Poppins before we made the decent back down the hill:

“Our daughters’ daughters will adore us

And they’ll sing in grateful chorus

‘Well done, Sister Suffragette.'”

I laughed at first, but then I heard the lyrics echo in my mind and I walked away with tears in my eyes. I was immediately overcome with gratitude.

The last few hours have admittedly sobered me from the euphoric feeling I had while paying my respects at the graveside of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. However, while the somber cloud that was hanging over New York this morning is drastically different than the day before, there is still a different, indescribable feeling that lingers from yesterday’s events. It feels somewhat like pride, but with a bittersweet aftertaste. I feel honored that I had a say in this election at all. Less than 100 years ago, American women were voiceless. They had no right to their wages, their children, or their opinions. These rights were surrendered to them at no small cost. Women across the world have been ridiculed, jailed and battered in their fight for these rights. I do not take my right to vote lightly.

Although my participation in this election may not have yielded the outcome that I would have chosen, I refuse to turn myself against those who are pleased with the outcome. I refuse to shut myself off from them or feel any disdain towards them. If yesterday has taught me anything, it is that we must be prepared to recognize the rights that are now at risk and be willing to engage in conversation about these rights. We must also be willing to “use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.” We must be willing to become a new generation of suffragettes with new objectives and a renewed preparedness to stand for each other.

As the new suffragettes, we must not divide ourselves by gender, race, religion, or by any other standard. Instead, we must be willing to admit that we do not know each other and listen to what do not know about each other. We must be willing to learn how to serve one another better.  We must be willing to take actions that benefit those who are hurting or in danger, even if it makes our daily lives less comfortable. We must not leave or forsake this country during this time of need. We must be willing to do more than we have done in the past. Whether you are thrilled, content, relieved, or disheartened by Decision 2016, look inside yourself and decide your role in the new era of this country. Be a new suffragette.

xoxo, Meredithesc-3

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