Thursday 8 February 2024

LUCY BURNS, DOROTHY DAY, "KAISER WILSON" & THE SILENT SENTINELS

 They were called The Silent Sentinels. Members of the National Woman’s Party, 33 of them were sentenced to prison in November 1917 for protesting outside the White House.

Their mission was to convert the US into a legitimate democracy by gaining votes for women, though they were not without sympathy for the many disenfranchised African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in various states.


The National Woman’s Party (NWP) had broken away from the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and called for direct action to gain the vote.


Led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, they began their campaign on March 3,1913 - the day preceding the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson - by marching through Washington DC.

 

They were attacked by spectators on Pennsylvania Avenue, 100 women were hospitalized, and eventually cavalry troops were summoned to restore order. Ironically, a decade later, the Klu Klux Klan held a huge DC march without incident.


Born in Brooklyn to well-to-do Irish-American parents, Lucy Burns was tall, flame haired, and a devout Catholic. She was studying at Oxford University in 1909 when she met Alice Paul in a London police station. Both had been arrested at a suffragist protest.


They bonded and worked together in the British Suffragist movement for some years before moving back to the US.


Here they gathered a formidable group of fearless women, including Dorothy Day, a young writer from New York with many admirers in bohemian circles, including Eugene O’Neill. Described back then as “a frail girl,” she had indomitable will and would go on to found the Catholic Worker Movement.


By 1916 nine states had granted women the right to vote but President Wilson opposed a federal amendment.


Paul and Burns resolved to force his hand. In January 1917, as Wilson was about to begin his second term, the NWP called for women to picket daily outside the White House, regardless of the weather or Wilson’s displeasure.


They wore distinctive gold, white and purple sashes and were at first tolerated as a curiosity. Wilson often smiled at them as he passed, though like many he disapproved of their “unladylike behavior.” However,


Fueled by patriotic fury, onlookers attacked the silent protesters and ripped up their signs and placards.


By mid-summer the women were being arrested, but usually released without charge. Eventually the courts sentenced them to short prison sentences. The silent women fought back by carrying more aggressive signs that labeled the president as “Kaiser Wilson.”


Paul was arrested in October and sentenced to 7 months in Occoquan Workhouse. She went on hunger strike, was brutally force-fed and detained in the psychiatric ward.


Burns and Day were among 33 women brought to Occoquan on November 14th – since known as The Night of Terror. 


They demanded to be treated as political prisoners, but instead guards dragged them down the hallways and threw them into filthy, dark cells.


Lucy Burns was shackled, hands outstretched above head, and forced to stand all night. 

Dorothy Day, the “frail girl”, was twice slammed down onto an iron bench, and various others were either knocked unconscious or injured – one suffered a heart attack.


Many of the women went on hunger strike but their demands for political status were ignored.

However, word leaked out about their brutal treatment, and by the end of November all the protestors were released.


The oldest, Mary Nolan, 73, who had also been injured during the guards’ assault, published an account of the night and national outrage ensued.


President Wilson, sensing the change of mood, demanded legislative action and Congress passed a federal suffrage amendment on June 4, 1919. The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, and women were finally granted the right to vote.


Lucy Burns retired from public life soon after to raise an orphaned niece and lived quietly in Brooklyn.


Dorothy Day’s reputation as a leader of Catholic social action continues to grow. Though a confirmed feminist with left-wing and anarchist influences, she is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.


And the indomitable Mary Nolan, who refused to be silent, is buried in Jacksonville FL. Her tombstone contains her own quote “I am guilty if there is any guilt in a demand for freedom.”

Thursday 25 January 2024

2024 - THE YEAR OF THE BITCH

 Well, it’s finally here – 2024, the year of the bitch!

Rest assured, sisters, this has nothing to do with any gender-based slur, rather a recognition of the prevalent national pastime of whining.

 

I say national because on trips to Sicily, Scotland and Ireland in recent years, the whine level barely surpassed a whisper. 

 

Our era of complaint and victimhood inarguably amped up when Donald Trump glided down the escalator and announced his candidacy for US President on June 16, 2015.

 

Bloomsday, no less! Perhaps, Mr. Trump is a secret James Joyce admirer. Now there’s something for conspiracy theorists to sink their teeth into. One can only imagine the man from Queens and Mr. Putin exchanging Molly Bloom quotes or breaking into a few sober bars of Finnegan’s Wake during late night calls.

 

In no way am I accusing Mr. Trump of inventing the national whine. The No-Nothings beat him to it by a solid century and a half. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the most influential president since Franklin Roosevelt legitimized the art of complaint.

 

Even my Uzbekistani barber, a once cheerful man, has grown dour and can launch into a persecution-laced rant that could leave me hairless if I didn’t keep a close eye on the mirror.

 

Does Mr. Trump not realize the damage he’s doing to the national mood? What’s his problem anyway, he was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth, got free digs in the White House for four years, and now lives down in sunny Mar a Lago with his beautiful wife, yet he never stops whining.

 

Why doesn’t Melania order him to swear off social media, go to the pub a couple of nights a week, and lighten up my barber’s mood? Just the thought of four more years is enough to send me to Uzbekistan.

 

When I broached this matter to my Black 47 co-founder, Chris Byrne, he advised with Brooklyn logic, “Just don’t listen to him.”

 

But that means no more television, and what am I going to do when Slow Horses returns in the fall?

There are a lot of downsides to President Biden but give the man his due - he’s eminently ignorable.

 

 Come to think of it, neither of these guys takes a drop of the hard, Barack Obama could drink both of them under the table. Now that’s a scary thought.

 

But forgive me, I’m straying into politics, and it’s a long way to November. No, I want to deal with the whine, and why it seems to be everywhere. I know, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees and Manchester United all suck, but there’s so much else to be grateful for.

 

Whatever happened to the American ideal of the tall, silent stranger blowing into town on a palomino, and sorting things out? I never heard a single whine out of Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, or The Duke, all paragons of silent fortitude.

 

Where did we go wrong? I mean, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times agree that the country is thriving economically. In many ways we’ve never had it so good.

 

Wages are up, unemployment is down, new immigrants are lining up to do the jobs we want no part of; we even pulled together and came through a pandemic that could have floored us.

 

Financial markets are booming, 401(Ks) have rebounded, the big companies are raking in profits as per usual, you can listen to Taylor Swift on Spotify without paying her a dime, and though the outside world is in crisis, we merely supply weapons to the antagonists now, we’re not sacrificing our young as in previous generations.

 

And yet we bitch on. Maybe it’s time to smell the roses; they were still blooming in Manhattan on Christmas Day, the product of climate change, no doubt, but even that eventual cataclysm can be prevented, should we pitch in one more time and do something about it.

 

But that would take listening to each other, and we don’t have time for that, we’re too busy whining while being pushed around the chessboard, the willing pawns of self-serving politicians.

 

In the meantime, who’d like to open a couple of good Irish pubs within strolling distance of Mar-a-Lago and the White House? Rumor has it that certain politicians may soon be in need of a pick-me-up.

Friday 12 January 2024

WRITE ON, FRANK McCOURT!

 “Any Irish person who’s not writing a memoir is a feckin’ eejit.” Frank McCourt was heard to proclaim when Angela’s Ashes became a bestseller.

But how to begin, says you.


Anywhere but the beginning! “My name is Paddy Murphy and I was born in Ballydehob…” has been done to death.


However, if you insist on first things first, then try something like, “If the midwife back in Ballydehob hadn’t dropped me on me bloody head, then this would be a far different story.”


In any literary effort, be it memoir, play, novel, short story or even some scabrous lines scribbled on a bathroom wall, it’s not how or where you start that matters, but that you begin at all.


Many years ago, after an abysmal attempt at writing a first novel, I read a simple statement by an anonymous Greek dramatist. “Out of character comes story!”


Thus was I saved from the ignominy of typing Chapter One at the top of an empty page and praying like hell for a way forward.


No, instead I wrote down the first thing that came to mind about the hero of my next epic - nothing had to be in sequence, just a litany of facts, musings, observations, the majority of which I never used. It didn’t matter – the more I shoveled from my brain onto the page, the clearer my character became.


I began to see this person in ways I had never imagined. Soon other characters appeared, and I devoted the same granular attention to each. 


The sharper their outlines became, the more I realized I had never put much thought into those around me. Oh, I noticed their obvious attributes and foibles, but being a callow youth, I’d never delved much below the surface. 


And although I’d grown up around strong women and admired their grace and courage, it was as if they inhabited a world of their own. Suddenly, the women characters in my story came much more into focus, and life in general became richer.


The DNA of my story slowly began to emerge. Don’t rush this process - stories need time to marinate. Keep your eyes locked on your characters and before you know it, they’ll be interacting like old friends – or bitter enemies.


When that happens, it’s time to take a long warm bath in the darkness to allow your story to wash over you. Assuming you don’t drown, the hour has come to get the main events of your epic down on paper.


Number and name them. These ideas will provide the seeds of your chapters and a road map, as it were.

Then decide which of your characters’ aspirations and actions fit within these chapters. 


Don’t worry if some character resists your placement; this rebel may cause a surprise twist in a later chapter - a valuable asset in any story.


Take heart!  Although, you have much wrestling and desperate days ahead of you, you’re definitely on your way.


Remember that writing has much to do with rewrites and editing. Don’t become too attached to old ideas, for better ones may be on the way; and, for God’s sake, be careful about soliciting, or even worse taking advice. 


This is your story; you need to make your own mistakes – that’s the only way you’ll really learn. In other words, you Paddy Murphy are a star in the making, and the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue! 


This might sound egotistical – and it’s better you don’t trumpet it about - but it’s one of the keys to survival and ultimate growth.


By all means read your story aloud to some empathetic people – Irish American Writers & Artists salons are a wonderful, non-competitive resource in New York City where you can meet and chew the fat with fellow workers of the word.


But writing is a solitary business, paranoia and despair are always lurking.


On the other hand, you’ll never be bored or lonely again. Your characters will soon be teeming around in your brain driving you to drink and distraction. 


Your friends may worry about the new faraway look in your eyes, but as you belly-up to the bar, rest assured you and your characters will take up the same amount of space as a James Joyce, an Edna O’Brien or even the dashing, debonair Frank McCourt who continues to inspire.