There was a postcard in the Oxfam tent at Hay which read “DON’T VOTE… IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM”. It was interesting, considering that it was up there next to feminist witticisms and Oscar Wilde quotations on social change.
It was especially interesting considering the fact that this year – today, in fact – is one hundred years since Emily Davison ran in front of the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby, while she was campaigning for women to be given the vote.
Even with the high-definition, Technicolor excellence that allows us to view Colonel Gaddafi getting executed by Libyans and Syrians execute other Syrians and Simon Cowell’s eerily plastic face perfectly, it’s hard to imagine what that event must have been like. I mean, no one likes seeing the horses fall when they jump those hurdles at the Grand National or whatever, and no one likes seeing people get knocked to the ground unconscious. Wondering what the onlookers might have thought, and wondering what Emily might have thought as she dashed onto the track, makes me uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing: violent events aren’t nice (if you want to dispute that, please go and find another website). Violent events that happened because of people campaigning for a cause are no better, although it helps if history remembers the cause as a worthy one. If, in time, it turns out that the minority group was right and that their perceived ‘extremist’ beliefs were actually the way forward in a modern democracy, then it can be possible to remember the violence with some pride mixed into the sadness.
I wasn’t going to talk about Woolwich because I haven’t come up with anything really scathing about the EDL, and I wasn’t going to talk about equal marriage because I’ve done that a few times already, and I’d like to save the glitter paint for when it’s finally legalised – I was going to link the suffragette movement with my Psychology revision about conformity… But while I’ve been writing this I’ve realised that the three events are in a way very similar.
Back in the day, the suffragettes were a bit of a terrorist group. They marched, they threw stuff, they may or may not have led a woman to suicide racetrack-ing.
In the present day, there are radicalised religious people who form quite serious terrorist groups. They preach, they attack random innocent people, they definitely lead people to suicide bombing.
Today, the House of Lords voted against screwing up the equal marriage bill. They debated, they got analysed on Twitter, they registered their vote.
There are women in the Lords, as there are in the House of Commons (not nearly enough in a ‘representative democracy’, mind you, but that’s for another post). There are women, in this country, who elected the members of the Commons. There are women, in this country, who are allowed to register their vote in every type of public election and there are women in other countries who are living with violence and war in the hope that they – along with men, in some cases – will one day be allowed to vote as part of a democracy.
Whether or not Emily Davison had any impact on the UK’s democratic freedoms might be debatable but, I’m sorry Oxfam, the idea that we should use those freedoms is not.