Jamie Stiehm is a Creators Syndicate columnist.
Donald Trump, meet Woodrow Wilson.
Unlikely bedfellows, the brash New Yorker and the posh Princeton man each inspired a mass political outpouring by women on the cusp of his presidency. The audacious 1913 suffrage parade bends in an arc toward the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.
In each event, a convergence in the capital aimed to serve notice to a new president of something stirring: Yes, women are a political force.
The 1913 street spectacle, the first of its kind, distracted the public eye from Wilson’s arrival at Union Station the day before his swearing-in.
The story, handed down, goes like this: Peeved that no throng was there to greet him, Wilson demanded to know where his supporters were. The answer: “Everyone’s watching the woman suffrage parade, sir!”
Literally true or not, that’s how Alice Paul, the 28-year-old architect of the movement, planned it: as a signal that a long-dormant campaign had risen anew. A calling card to the new man in her life. Thousands in the parade, led by a striking woman on a white horse, Inez Milholland, made waves on the streets and front pages across the country.
There are such hopes for a rebirth, a gathering for the storm cloud the Trump presidency may bring to American women. Defending reproductive rights is the start, but perhaps not the end, of the story.
Trump’s rude and lewd ways of talking about women galvinized a multitude to board buses for Washington this week. No one leader is in charge.
Washington is the seat of major women’s organizations — such as Emily’s List and the National Organization for Women — but the beauty of the event is that ordinary women came together on a tide from the outside.
Shared sorrow over Hillary Clinton’s loss ailed us, and the march may be a tonic for tears from the fall. But no social cause rests only on times past.
From one woman’s proposal on the Internet in the wake of Trump’s victory, the Women’s March blossomed and took hold. It felt like it had to happen. Like Shakespeare’s Henry V before the battle of Agincourt, you want to say you played a part. Or as Henry put it, “[They] Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”
To wit, my mother, my sister and her son are flying in. A close friend and her daughter are traveling 500 miles to attend.
Actually, Washington is ideal for a teach-in on women who expanded democracy. The Woman’s National Democratic Club is holding an open house on the days leading up to the march. Eleanor Roosevelt made the club’s mansion her home away from home.
The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, the townhouse where Paul and National Woman’s Party members spent much of their lives, will be open to all Saturday.
We need to know about unsung heroines such as Paul, a Quaker at the vanguard of the first generation of 20th-century college women. The Swarthmore College graduate led the “Votes for Women” movement to victory in 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Women won the passport to citizenship.
Paul’s political debut began, with brilliant timing and messaging, on the streets that winter day in 1913. The army she organized was visible and vocal, especially toward Wilson, standing sentry outside his White House windows and gates. They were there every day for years.
As president, Wilson was the sole target of Paul’s freshly minted federal strategy: forget conventions in Cleveland, petitions in Kansas, methods of the late Susan B. Anthony.
In fact, it was the first time a mass movement focused on the president, according to historian Jean Baker. Wilson hated the revolutionary blueprint and did nothing when Paul and others were arrested and force-fed during hunger strikes in squalid jails. That moved the nation’s conscience toward suffrage. After World War I, Wilson changed his stance on suffrage , praising women’s work in the war effort.
Women marching Saturday have found a perfect opportunity to likewise bend the arc of justice toward their common ground. Of course, men are expected, too — just as whites walked in the famous March on Washington in 1963. After years of few advances, women have reached a point where a new awakening is ready to happen.
Some women in the 1913 parade were assaulted by men, even by city policemen. Hopefully, nobody gets hurt in 2017, with children and elderly in the ranks.
A century and four years ago saw the first great nonviolent street resistance in U.S. history. That shows us movements have to move and march on to stay together. A good lesson for right now.
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