Our Anthology’s publisher, Cayuga Lake Books, has been sharing the words of some of our contributors in their Facebook project Solace in Viral Times. The project’s intention is to share short pieces in response to COVID-19 and our experiences, and offer some comfort to readers during this time of physical distancing. Several contributors to NY Votes for Women have pieces that have appeared recently, including (so far) Carol Kammen, Lisa Harris, Stacey Murphy, Yael Saar, and Yvonne Fisher. We hope you enjoy “Surrender” by Lisa Harris.
Above: Nancy Avery Dafoe, Stacey Murphy, and Gaia Woolf-Nightingall at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s annual conference, 11/2/19
In early November, three of us contributors presented our pieces in the Anthology to the members and attendees at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s Annual Conference in Syracuse, NY. To keep with the conference theme, “Women’s Rights and Justice in New York State, Past and Present,” I opened our reading with remarks on what we had learned in 2017. These lessons might be useful as 2020 is coming, as groups across the nation are planning celebrations, marches, local events, and other activities around the 19th Amendment.
If there is one main takeaway that people embarking on these events will need to realize to be effective, it’s this. Early in the process of gathering submissions and writing, I realized that in spite of a visceral sense of Suffrage’s enormity, I knew almost nothing about the events of the movement. I only had heard about a couple of its leaders. I didn’t know how many women were involved. I wasn’t aware of how racism played out as the movement(s) evolved. I am still learning a lot about when women did and did not have certain stated rights.
But I also learned I wasn’t alone. Many of the contributors experienced the same thing. And it comes out in conversations I’ve had since. This September, for example, one friend was shocked to learn that racism was a factor because, in her words, after all, “Frederick Douglass was at the 1948 convention.”
It comes out in the pieces, too. We did not edit out writers’ expressions or opinions, so in the book, there are pieces that laud the suffragists as a uniform, powerful force marching toward equality, and right before or right after, there are pieces that point out some of the more difficult realities that appear in the arc of the real story.
More and more, people learn and retain history in sound bites. Most of the history I was handed in school in the 1970s and 80s was white and male. That is changing, but still, facing 2020, I expect there will be a lot more education that needs to happen to understand what we are celebrating. Planners can expect to encounter it at events and other activities that come to bear around the national centennial. Some of it will be representative of the dearth of information and related confusion. Some of it will be vigorous pushback. Organizers that are planning events as actions for activism around women’s rights would do well to be ready. – Stacey Murphy, 12/13/2019
(an excerpt from remarks at Women TIES Women Rising Weekend Event, 1.19.18)
Last January, I was on my way to the Women’s March in Washington DC. I was on a bus full of other women, and we were sitting in traffic on the Beltway around the City. It was full of vehicles, not moving – the regular traffic combined with buses coming in from all over the East meant things were at a standstill. Looking out the window, I saw some movement at the edge of the treeline about 50 yards away from the road. Several men were emerging from the woods. And then a few more. I recognized the gleaming from the sun hitting the barrels of the shotguns they carried and a chill went through me. They were advancing quickly on the stopped busses, some lowering the barrels, running toward us. I couldn’t shout. Other women on the bus were starting to notice them, too. We were trapped. I couldn’t scream.
I sat up, straight in bed. It was still two weeks before the 2017 Women’s March.
I told no one about that nightmare, including the friends who were planning to come with me from Ithaca – I was pretty sure none of them had previous protest experience and I didn’t want to frighten them. I certainly wasn’t telling my mother about that dream!
Instead, I sat with those images and vision, and how stress shows up in our subconscious. Some dreams are hard to decipher but this time, my fear was clear. That my country, that all I took for granted as my rights in this country as a woman, SHOULD be able to take for granted, might be taken away after the inauguration. Just like that. Like someone hitting a light switch. What were we going to find there, in DC?
Luckily the DC March was nothing like that. It was powerful, delightful even. And in the months between then and now, I have devoted a lot of time to a project to do the opposite of that nightmarish feeling of no voice – to give women a forum to use their voices. That is this book – NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology.
I worked with Nora Snyder, who writes for her website Illuminous Flux and convenes a writer’s group, the Writers Block Party, and with Cayuga Lake Books. We put it together quickly. With 2017 as the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in NY we wanted to have it out and done during the year. In all, it contains twenty-two women’s words in a variety of engaging essays, stories and poems.
A big part of the project is about making a forum for voices. The book contains contributions from previously published, known writers and also from women who had not been moved to reflect on the significance of the women’s movement, or current events, or even to share their voices through their writing much before. Nora led a number of creative writing sessions through the Writers Block Party, and a few of the pieces in the Anthology had their origins in those meet-ups.
And now, a year after the inauguration, the conversations continue. Voice has taken on a new turn because the Anthology has led to a number of interesting, important feeling discussions between myself and others, particularly men. Some of them have been pretty awkward but some wonderful and I believe that they have their place in moving things forward – it’s another way of not silencing, of finding words that can make things better for the girls and boys too in our lives. For them, we have to do better.
We are very excited to be presenting a sneak peak into the Anthology from several of our own contributors! Mark your calendars for Sunday, May 7, 2017, 2:30 pm. Come to the History Center in Tompkins County to hear some of the pieces from “NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology” and chat with the following readers:
Erica S. Brath
and your hosts: Stacey Murphy and Nora Snyder
The full program for all four days of Spring Writes is viewable here:
Seven of the contributors to NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology will read their works, some poetry, some prose. This will be your chance to get a taste of what’s in the book before it is released, and we hope you will join us!