Indigo Insights

Thursday, September 02, 2004
This essay deserves more than one read, so I'll be posting it at the beginning of each month until the November election.

My grandmother, "Mammy" to all who loved her, was one of the first women voters in the United States. She was married in 1898 and immediately became the property of her husband. Voting was the first right given to her as an American citizen. Within the seclusion and secrecy of the voting booth, she could make a decision without consulting her husband. She wasn't chattel in that booth, but a thinking being, choosing for herself. It's hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago in this country, American women were perceived and treated much as Arab women are today. When I was a child, young adult, and mother of my own children, I didn't understand why voting was such a big issue with Mammy. She never learned to drive, so every election day someone had to drive her to the polls to exercise her hard-earned right - basically her only freedom of choice. She lived to be 82 years old, but aches or pains, rain or shine, she made it to the polls every year to cast her vote, even if only a dog catcher was running. Voting was her only freedom and she exercised it to the utmost. I didn't get it then. I do now, after reading the story that Mammy lived.

Remembering How Women Got the Vote

The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 helpless women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic."

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards
grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the "Night of Terror" on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the 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.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie "Iron Jawed Angels." It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

There was a time when I knew these women well. I met them in college--not in my required American history courses, which barely mentioned them, but in women's history class. That's where I found the irrepressibly brave Alice Paul. Her large, brooding eyes seemed fixed on my own as she stared out from the page. Remember, she silently beckoned. Remember.

I thought I always would. I registered voters throughout college and law school, worked on congressional and presidential campaigns until I started writing for newspapers. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president, I took my 9-year-old son to meet her. "My knees are shaking," he whispered after shaking her hand. "I'm never going to wash this hand again."

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes, it was even inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was. With herself . "One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,"she said. "What would those women think of the way I use--or don't use--my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn." The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her "all over again."

HBO will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunko night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order. It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

[profuse thanks to Christina, Swansboro, NC]


After Sept. 11th, one company invited the remaining members of other companies who had been decimated by the attack on the Twin Towers, to share their available office space.

At a morning meeting, the head of security told stories of why these people were alive.....and all the stories were just: "little things"

As you may already know, the head of the company got in late that day because his son started kindergarten.

Another fellow was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.

One woman was late because her alarm clock didn't go off in time.

One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.

One of them missed his bus.

One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.

One's car wouldn't start.

One went back to answer the telephone.

One had a child that dawdled and didn't get ready as soon as he should have.

One couldn't get a taxi.

The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning, took the various means to get to work but before he got there, he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today.

Now when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone .. all the little things that annoy me. I think to myself, this is exactly where God wants me to be at this very moment.

Next time your morning seems to be going wrong, the children are slow getting dressed, you can't seem to find the car keys, you hit every traffic light, don't get mad or frustrated; God is at work watching over you.

May God continue to bless you with all those annoying little things and may you remember their possible purpose.

Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole. --Roger Carras

Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid. --Harlan Miller

The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. --Lily Tomlin


Q. What does HMO stand for?
A. This is actually a variation of the phrase, "HEY MOE." Its roots go back to a concept pioneered by Moe of the Three Stooges, who discovered that a patient could be made to forget about the pain in his foot if he was poked hard enough in the eyes.

Q. I just joined an HMO. How difficult will it be to choose the doctor I want?
A. Just slightly more difficult than choosing your parents. Your insurer will provide you with a book listing all the doctors in the plan. These doctors basically fall into two categories -- those who are no longer accepting new patients, and those who will see you but are no longer participating in the plan. But don't worry; the remaining doctor who is still in the plan and accepting new patients has an office just a half-day's drive away, and a diploma from a Third World country.

Q. Do all diagnostic procedures require pre-certification?
A. No. Only those you need.

Q. Can I get coverage for my preexisting conditions?
A. Certainly, as long as they don't require any treatment.

Q. What happens if I want to try alternative forms of medicine?
A. You'll need to find alternative forms of payment.

Q. My pharmacy plan only covers generic drugs, but I need the name brand. I tried the Generic Medication, but it gave me a stomach ache. What should I do?
A. Poke yourself in the eye.

Q. What if I'm away from home and I ! get sick?
A. You really shouldn't do that.

Q. I think I need to see a specialist, but my doctor insists he can handle my problem. Can a general practitioner really perform a heart transplant right in his office?
A. Hard to say, but considering that all you're risking is the $20 co-payment, there's no harm in giving him a shot at it.

Q. Will health care be different in the next century?
A. No. But if you call right now, you might get an appointment by then.