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The Power of Being Seen & Heard June 4, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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TANK MAN

 

If you are a certain age or older (as I am) and from certain countries (ditto), and you don’t even have to click on the link above to see the photo. Just the name immediately conjures up the general timing (1989), if not the exact date (which is June 5th), and circumstances. Even though the picture is still, you can probably “see” the little bits of motion that surround this “incident” in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That’s how the people in China refer to it (if they refer to it): the “June 4 incident” or the “six-four incident.” Not the protest and (definitely not) the massacre, unless they are outside of China. The Chinese government initially referred to the events in 1989 as a “counterrevolutionary riot,” but then started diminishing the impact. The “counterrevolutionary riot” became just a “riot” and then a “political storm.” Now, the government calls it “political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989.” They did not initially acknowledge that anyone died in and around Tiananmen Square, after what started out as peaceful student-led protests against the government. Later, they would acknowledge that “some” people were injured and “a few” died…but they still distance the injuries and deaths from the “incident.”

Keep in mind, “some” and “a few” are calculated in the thousands.

More telling than how they speak (or don’t speak) about what happened over the next couple of days in 1989, is the fact that if you grew up in China and you are 35 years old or younger, you can probably identify the location (after all, it is a landmark in Beijing), but you may not be able to identify the time, date, and circumstances associated with this picture. At least this was the finding of PBS interview dated April 11, 2006. When I watched the interview, I was a little surprised. What surprised me even more was that if you grew up in the United States and you are 35 years old or younger, you might not even be able to identify the location. (I asked around.)

Now, consider this second picture.

Do you know this woman? Do you have any idea why (or what) this woman would have been celebrating today in 1919? It’s not surprising if you don’t, regardless of your nationality or age (since if you are reading this blog, you probably weren’t alive at the time). But there are some clues, in particular the date: June 4, 1919. Ring a bell? Does it help if I say she’s connected to the United States?

Feel free to Google it. I’ll wait.

Even if you somehow know this woman is a suffragist, her name (Phoebe E. Burn, “Miss Feeb” or “Feeb” to her friends) may not mean a whole lot to you. Even if you’ve attended one of my August 18th classes and heard me mention her name (and that of her son, then 24-year old Harry T. Burn, Sr. of Tennessee), it still might not immediately register that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was approved by Congress today in 1919. It was passed with 56 “ayes” and 25 “nays,” and ratified by the required three-quarters of the Union on August 18, 1920. Harry Burn, the Republican Representative from Tennessee, was the youngest congressman and was expected to vote against the amendment; which would have killed the legislation. When he voted, he was wearing a red carnation, indicating he was against the amendment. However, unbeknownst to those around him at the time, he carried a note from his mother telling him, “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” And, so he did.

Some states got on board relatively quickly, but it would take a while for other states to make the law officially valid. In fact, women would not “officially” and legally have the right to vote (without impediment from the state) in Alabama (until 1953), Florida (until 1969), Louisiana and Georgia (until 1970), North Carolina (until 1971), South Carolina (until 1973), and Mississippi (until 1984).

If you’re wondering why it took so long, consider the fact that many people in power (i.e., men) saw women as little more than children or property. Additionally, they feared what would happen if the power dynamic shifted and women were not only seen as their equals, but also given equal time to be heard as they voiced their concerns about the country. (Speaking of power dynamics, don’t even get me started on how long it took some states to ratify the 13th Amendment, which didn’t even include the right to vote. Yes, I’m looking at you, Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi.)

Protests, revolution, and change: it always comes down to this. It also comes down, once again, to perspective. When leadership does not get on board with the changes their constituents are demanding, progress is slow and painful. When individuals do not do the little bit that they can do, for as long as they can do it, very little to nothing happens. When people do not speak up to those they love who may be on the wrong side of history, we find ourselves at a stalemate.

Just consider the historical examples of today.

Despite the quarantine, the political landscape in China looks similar to 1989 – people are once again protesting. And, while women have the right to vote in the United States, own property, drive, and operate a business (that’s not a brothel, boarding house, and/or saloon), there are still major discrepancies in the lived experiences of American men and women.

But, wait a minute. I’m kind of leaving something (or should I say, someone) out of the discussion. Do you see it? Can you see it? If you can’t, you’re in “good” company, because some people couldn’t see it in 1919 either.

 

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