Now we can begin …

It’s Women History Month. For this week’s blog, I am touching on two topics. The first is to spotlight one woman who may not have received much attention during history discussions: Crystal Eastman. How many of you have heard of her? If you have heard of the ACLU, you can thank Crystal Eastman. The title of this week’s blog is because of an essay she wrote in 1920.

The second topic for this week is a result of me reading O magazine’s March issue, particularly an article of Oprah sitting down two months after the Presidential election with women who voted for both Trump and Hillary. This article helped me to realize that my time is best not spent on trying to change the minds of Trump voters. I will present my thoughts to you on why.

First, a  woman figure in this Women’s History Month that I am just learning about. Crystal Eastman was active during the Women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s and authored an essay “Now We Can Begin” in 1920 after the 19th amendment to the US Constitution was finally done. I discovered her essay recently and it could have been written in 2017 because the words and messages actually are still appropriate. I am amazed at the timeliness of her words nearly 100 years later. Ms. Eastman received a Bachelor degree from Vassar College in 1903, Master degree from Columbia University in 1904 and a doctorate from NYU law school in 1907. She was a proponent for workers compensation and because of her work, in 1910 New York was the first state to adopt workers compensation programs. She was one of the founders of the Woman’s Peace Party in 1914. The Civil Liberties Bureau that she helped to co-found within the American Union Against Militarism eventually evolved into the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

You can read more about Crystal Eastman at these sources:

I want to share some excerpts from her essay, Now We Can Begin:

Freedom is a large word.

Many feminists are socialists, many are communists, not a few are active leaders in these movements. But the true feminist, no matter how far to the left she may be in the revolutionary movement, sees the woman’s battle as distinct in its objects and different in its methods from the workers’ battle for industrial freedom. She knows, of course, that the vast majority of women as well as men are without property, and are of necessity bread and butter slaves under a system of society which allows the very sources of life to be privately owned by a few, and she counts herself a loyal soldier in the working-class army that is marching to overthrow that system. But as a feminist she also knows that the whole of woman’s slavery is not summed up in the profit system, nor her complete emancipation assured by the downfall of capitalism.

Woman’s freedom, in the feminist sense, can be fought for and conceivably won before the gates open into industrial democracy. … All feminists are familiar with the revolutionary leader who “can’t see” the woman’s movement. “What’s the matter with the women? My wife’s all right,” he says. And his wife, one usually finds, is raising his children in a Bronx flat or a dreary suburb, to which he returns occasionally for food and sleep when all possible excitement and stimulus have been wrung from the fight. If we should graduate into communism tomorrow this man’s attitude to his wife would not be changed. The proletarian dictatorship may or may not free women. We must begin now to enlighten the future dictators.

What, then, is “the matter with women”? What is the problem of women’s freedom? It seems to me to be this: how to arrange the world so that women can be human beings, with a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in infinitely varied ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex to one field of activity -housework and child-raising. And second, if and when they choose housework and child-raising, to have that occupation recognized by the world as work, requiring a definite economic reward and not merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some man.

This is not the whole of feminism, of course, but it is enough to begin with. “Oh, don’t begin with economics,” my friends often protest, “Woman does not live by bread alone. What she needs first of all is a free soul.” And I can agree that women will never be great until they achieve a certain emotional freedom, a strong healthy egotism, and some un-personal sources of joy — that in this inner sense we cannot make woman free by changing her economic status. What we can do, however, is to create conditions of outward freedom in which a free woman’s soul can be born and grow. It is these outward conditions with which an organized feminist movement must concern itself.

Freedom of choice in occupation and individual economic independence for women: How shall we approach this next feminist objective? First, by breaking down all remaining barriers, actual as well as legal, which make it difficult for women to enter or succeed in the various professions, to go into and get on in business, to learn trades and practice them, to join trades unions. Chief among these remaining barriers is inequality in pay.

Second, we must institute a revolution in the early training and education of both boys and girls. It must be womanly as well as manly to earn your own living, to stand on your own feet. And it must be manly as well as womanly to know how to cook and sew and clean and take care of yourself in the ordinary exigencies of life. I need not add that the second part of this revolution will be more passionately resisted than the first. Men will not give up their privilege of helplessness without a struggle. The average man has a carefully cultivated ignorance about household matters — from what to do with the crumbs to the grocer’s telephone number — a sort of cheerful inefficiency which protects him better than the reputation for having a violent temper. It was his mother’s fault in the beginning, but even as a boy he was quick to see how a general reputation for being “no good around the house” would serve him throughout life, and half-consciously he began to cultivate that helplessness until today it is the despair of feminist wives. But fundamentally it is a problem of education, of early training — we must bring up feminist sons. Freedom of any kind for women is hardly worth considering unless it is assumed that they will know how to control the size of their families. “Birth control” is just as elementary an essential in our propaganda as “equal pay.”

Ms. Eastman wrote the above in 1920. Yes, 1920. It could have been written in 2017 for it surely applies today. It is ranked #83 in  American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century. Here is a  link to the full essay: https://inspirationalspeakers.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/crystal-eastman-now-we-can-begin/

My second topic comes from reading the March issue of O, Oprah’s magazine. Included in this issue is an article from Oprah sitting down with a group of women voters, some voted for Secretary Hillary Clinton and some for Donald Trump. After reading it, I have surely concluded that I shall not spend my energy trying to convince those who voted for the current occupant of the oval office that they made a mistake. I read their words of why they voted for him, how they rationalized their vote, how they still think he will do something beneficial for the country. I wish I could say it surprised me. It doesn’t. What it does is confirm that they are not seeing reality and there are many more like them. To say that they are delusional might be harsh but it would not be inaccurate necessarily. They have their own perspective based on what they want to believe. Here is some of what these women said:

  • Patty: I voted for him. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was the right one. I wanted decisiveness. Personally, I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time. And most people I know feel the same. How can we not be optimistic? We’ll see forward movement, particularly on the economy. And if not, in four years, we can vote for someone else.
  • Sarina: He was always telling people exactly what he was going to do. If you went on his website, he explained each position. …Hillary was out of touch with reality. Her foreign policy, along with Obama’s, destabilized the world. He doesn’t care what your sex is. He doesn’t care what your color is. He doesn’t care about anything other than “Can you do the job?” That’s the American dream, and he’s given it to so many people. Yes, I’m a Trump supporter supporter, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid about him.
  • Dawn: I am a military brat, then married a Marine. I’m dedicated to veterans. Her emails bothered me. (When asked by Oprah, she said the word to her that best describes Trump: fearless) I’m hopeful. I’ve heard Trump and his people talk about helping the urban communities, helping fight crime there and giving people opportunities they didn’t have.

I see little reality of the world I live in. And in a small group with other women who voted for Hillary but who look like them as they talked about their fears of this President, giving real examples of what he has said that is illogical and wreaks of lying yet didn’t convince them to see things differently. Oprah, a very intelligent woman with the capacity to present facts and logic was not able to change even one of their minds. They left that small group discussion still with their convictions that they were satisfied with their votes.

So, for me,  I can best serve as a community voice, an activist for the Resistance to help keep issues at the forefront for the damage he is causing, to organize and help to let Congress know that the rest of us know and will not be silent. I will do my part to register more people to vote. I will not wait for the next Presidential election, I will help organize now and keep up the protests. I will help keep the pressure on for investigations into the wrongdoing regarding the Russia collusion and his conflicts of interests. I will do what I can to help others be familiar with the issues and proposed legislation and nominees. I am blessed to have some time to do this right now.

Reading about Crystal Eastman and having the confirmation from the women who voted in the 2016 election, I am reminded of the phrase that has become the label for us women in 2017. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” My response is: Now we can begin.

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