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Thread: How much civil disobedience is justified?

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    Default How much civil disobedience is justified?

    Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes walked a painful path from hooligans to heroines
    Helen Pankhurst July 31, 2014


    The Daily Telegraph

    We shouldn’t gloss over the moral dilemmas of effecting social change.


    One-hundred years ago, the National Portrait Gallery in Britain was issued with surveillance photographs of suffragettes, including my great-grandmother Emmeline Pankhurst, by the Criminal Records Bureau. It was hoped that, as a result, staff would be able to recognise women planning to attack the gallery’s artworks in their campaign of political protest.
    Such concerns were justified: on March 10, 1914, Mary Richardson slashed the Rokeby Venus – hanging just a few steps away in the National Gallery – with a small axe. She was also arrested for arson, vandalising the British Home Office and bombing a railway station.


    Now the internal warning memos and surveillance images of my great-grandmother and her fellow campaigners are themselves part of a fascinating exhibition at the gallery, entitled Suffragettes: Deeds Not Words. I must confess I chuckled on first seeing the display. What a wonderful irony it is that the gallery is now positively promoting those whom it once looked out for in fear. Troublemakers have, over time, become worthy of tribute.
    Not that the National Portrait Gallery has paid the suffragettes no notice at all since 1914. A portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst, by Georgina Agnes Brackenbury, is usually on display. But now it is joined by a picture of her daughter, Christabel, my great-aunt, who was the key strategist and arguably one of the most militant-minded of the Women’s Social and Political Union. It hasn’t been on public view for 80 years.
    The exhibition features many photographs of Emmeline, including a famous image of her arrest at Buckingham Palace on May 21, 1914.
    In another little irony, on International Women’s Day this year I was joined in a march through London by a descendant of the detective shown arresting Emmeline in that photograph. It turns out he is a strong feminist.


    Indeed, a century on it seems the public – male and female – are, in retrospect, uniformly on the side of the suffragettes and horrified by the narrow-mindedness of the establishment they had to face. The suffragettes are viewed as heroines, and there is significant interest in them as various anniversaries rekindle interest in, and remembrance of, their actions.
    Among the most notable of these was the centenary last year of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, who famously died after being trampled by King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby. This tragedy was marked by a host of commemorative events. Meanwhile a film, Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, is due to be released next January and Jacqueline Wilson, the great children’s novelist, is publishing a book about a suffragette factory worker.
    My own life is also testament to this public affection for the suffragettes. Only this week the man delivering my groceries was so overjoyed to find out that I was related to the famous Pankhurst that he wanted to shake my hand.
    Naturally I am delighted the old derision has been reversed. In some small way I have contributed to this through my own activities – publicly speaking and campaigning for women’s rights in the developing world – primarily in my capacity as an ambassador for CARE International UK. However, I do wonder whether such unquestioning public approval of the suffragettes, in which they are cast so firmly as undisputed heroines, isn’t a little superficial.
    I feel that there is a sanitisation of history in play. We romanticise; we gloss over the vandalism and damage to public and private property, initiated by individual members but then increasingly endorsed by the leadership. We forget these tactics also split the movement, with those at odds with its growing militancy, such as my grandmother Sylvia Pankhurst, leaving or being expelled from the movement.


    The suffragettes were freedom fighters.

    As conventional avenues to voice demands for the right of women to vote were increasingly blocked and promises broken, they resorted to unconventional and unruly strategies. These caused disruption and involved attacks on public and private property. Arson, smashing windows and burning postboxes were but a few of the myriad tactics adopted in the face of the myopia, intransigence and brutal repression of the state.
    Yet despite the misgivings of those who questioned whether the ends justified the means, the suffragettes actively contributed to the ratcheting up of violence.
    So as we honour their courage and the changes they affected, which we all now benefit from in our more egalitarian society, we shouldn’t gloss over the moral dilemmas of their struggle. I’m all for the adoption of the suffragettes as ‘‘the good guys’’, but let’s not be seduced by a tame, rose-tinted rendition of history – lest we forget the complex and painful path travelled to effect social change.

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    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

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    In The Age newspaper today

    The HARD Left
    The FAR Right
    The Unbalanced Middle

    What an interesting choice of adjectives.

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    Default Fancy Persuasion

    Quote Originally Posted by jargonista View Post
    In The Age newspaper today

    The HARD Left
    The FAR Right
    The Unbalanced Middle

    What an interesting choice of adjectives.

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