If the Suffragettes Could Tweet: Looking at the 18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling|
Let’s play a game for a second – you know, to honor Women’s History Month. It’s called “If the Suffragettes had Twitter.” What would that have looked like?
@susanbanthony RT if you support the women’s right to vote! #suffragettes #voting
“Like” us on Facebook if you want to support the National Woman’s Party Suffrage Campaign! Check out our new YouTube Videos of the latest protests and share them with all your friends!
@elizabethcadystanton Check out my blog for pictures from last night’s visit to the White House so support “Watch Fires of Freedom”!
@RosaParks Excuse me sir, you’re in my seat. #unbelievable #hatetheMTA #morningcommutehorrorstories
The Suffrage Movement couldn’t use social media – but the phrases and messages used in those tweets and posts sound all too familiar. Nowadays we can get real-time news about anything from anywhere. It’s easy to be part of “something”– to share your opinion, to engage in discussions and, ultimately, to become a citizen journalist. We live in a world where we can share our anger and emotions with a few clicks, tweets and posts and sometimes, big corporations change their minds and PR teams have to issue apologies within a few hours. In so, so many ways, that’s a wonderful thing. It encourages transparency and open communication between consumer and producer. How could that be a bad thing?
Power to the people (and their social media skills)!
Here’s the downside to a very low barrier to entering the global conversation on any topic: the convenience also make it easy to share an opinion without really caring, having an informed opinion or engaging in the conversation the next day– especially when that video with kittens and the skates is floating around in every timeline and on every blog now and the conversation you had yesterday is far away in the past.
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information, we might lose sight of what is important and how much time, courage, sacrifices, and determination it takes to improve the world. Even though the Arab Spring and the Revolution 2.0 in Egypt and Tunisia seem to have come out of nowhere and happened within days, there were years of fighting, sacrifices and suffering that finally resulted in the protests that started a new era. Whether that was really affected in a fundamental way by Twitter has been the object of much discussion, including Malcolm Gladwell’s October 2010 New Yorker piece “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.”
It’s getting difficult to imagine what it was like to “change the world” over a century ago – how were people reached and messages spread before there was TV and Internet?
One inspiring group that succeeded doing exactly that was the Suffrage Movement. A group of women faced the challenge to win a vote they couldn’t participate in: Suffragettes were courageous, aggressive, determined, and most of all well organized – for 70 years they fought to change the lives and the rights of women, vote by vote, state by state. They could keep people engaged and motivated for decades; they never lost their momentum and continued coming up with new strategies and ideas to stand up for what they believed was right.
Women of the suffrage movement spent years tirelessly lobbying, petitioning, organizing parades and pageants, and educating the public. They weren’t scared to up the ante and move from parades to public protest and civil disobedience: suffragettes started picketing, which lead to numerous arrests. In prison, the women experienced miserable conditions. Hunger strikes became an effective and powerful tool. Released prisoners gave speeches and shared their experiences on “Prison Special Tours.” “Watch-fires of freedom” were set up and kept burning in front of the White House – a powerful reminder of the injustice.
And it worked: Congress approved the 19th amendment in June 1919, after many years of relentless fighting.
Women put their lives, their health and reputations at risk, faced arrests and imprisonment to fight for justice, equality, and freedom of expression.
Keeping that in mind makes the effort and the success of the suffrage movement even more impressive. Suffragettes made history with flyers, newspapers, posters and signs. They found ways to spread their message, find supporters and financial resources. They never ran out of ideas how to step up their game and kept the momentum for seven decades.
Retreat to move forward
We live in a different time, and a different political and economic climate– but we should think of our legacy. We have a lot to be grateful for but there are still numerous issues that need our attention.
“Likes,” tweets and posts can be powerful and you can start a movement from your couch but eventually, you will have to leave your headquarters, organize volunteers, join your supporters and face your enemies. Movements and change take time and effort. They have to be well organized and coordinated; have clear long-term goals and make concrete demands. There have to be strategies and tactics, new strategies and different tactics once the old ones become ineffective. Maybe a tweet is the spark but eventually all your ideas and actions have to be taken offline – into the rain, into crowds of people who don’t care, disagree and call you names. If you want change, you will need endurance, patience and determination. And a coat.
We have all the tools we need to start a new movement and leave a mark. It has never been easier to get involved, be active, participate, share and engage. We don’t have excuses not to speak up. We all have ideas that can be the spark that is tweeted, retweeted, gets its own Facebook group, a blog, a website where volunteers can sign up and then there is a meeting. More meetings. And maybe somewhere someone will print a sign.