blackbirdonline journalSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts

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Suffrage and Sedition
reprinted from The Masses, August, 1917

The suffragists who have been arrested for picketing the White House with banners demanding woman suffrage as a political right, deserve our heartiest congratulations.

Their straightforward and courageous propaganda comes as a happy reassurance that the soul of the suffrage movement has not been corrupted by opportunism.

Sentinel with banner addressing “Kaiser Wilson”
 Sentinel with banner addressing “Kaiser Wilson,”
 Harris & Ewing Photography, Washington, D.C., August, 1917.

It was perhaps to have been expected that many women would succumb to the temptation of bargaining with militarism for the vote. Yet the spectacle of women anxious to assist a military bureaucracy in depriving others of their liberties, as signified by their offer to help in the work of conscription registration, in order to gain a political privilege, has been viewed with intense chagrin by those who regard the political emancipation of women as part and parcel of human emancipation.

It would be useless to point out to such bargainers that they will fail to receive their hoped-for reward at the hands of the militarists; they will have to find that out by pathetic experience; they will learn well enough who are their friends.

But meanwhile this proof that politically sound and humanly decent tactics have not been discarded by the best elements of the movement, is welcome if expected news.

The incident which resulted in the arrest of the militants was sufficiently ironic.

It is not to be wondered at that the police failed to recognize the “seditious and treasonable” inscription on their banner as the President’s own words.

Members of the National Woman’s Party picketing in front of Cameron House Headquarters on Lafayette Square
 Members of the National Woman's Party picketing in front of Cameron House
 Headquarters on Lafayette Square. Banners read: “Mr. President What Will you do for
 Woman Suffrage”; “Mr. President You Say ‘We Are Interested In The United States
 Politically Speaking, In Nothing But Human Liberty’”; “Mr. President How Long Must
 Women Wait for Liberty?”; “Mr. President You Say ‘Liberty Is The Fundamental Demand
 of the Human Spirit’”; “Congressional Union for Women Suffrage New York”; and “We
 Demand an Amendment.” Washingon, D.C., 1917.

But that fact, when discovered, only made their offence more serious.

To turn the President’s words against him, is to commit, apparently, a species of lese–majeste.

National Woman’s Party members demonstrating outside of President Wilson’s speech
 National Woman’s Party members demonstrating outside of President Wilson's speech at the
 International Amphitheater in Chicago, October 20, 1916.

It is all right to talk about liberty and self-government when you mean something to be instituted abroad by means of conscription and censorship at home; but if you want to make those beautiful phrases mean something at home, you are on the danger line—where all lovers of liberty belong, and we are glad to see the militant suffragists taking a conspicuous place.  end

   Silent Sentinels and the Night of Terror
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   Voices from Occoquan
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   1917 Suite: A Month, a Year, a Term of Liberty
   Introduction & Cross-issue Table of Contents

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