Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Iron Jawed Angels" and seeking shalom

I watched "Iron Jawed Angels" last night, the film about Alice Paul and the Women's Suffrage movement.

It is a poignant film, oddly relevant to the world I normally live in, the world of the Palestinian struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation, and the ambivalence of Arab and Muslim countries to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and talk about exporting freedom and democracy to the rest of the world.

To me, there were several powerful themes in this story:

How those in power resist change to the status quo, even if such change seems obviously in line with their values.

 How bringing about change takes massive and sustained effort and sacrifice on the part of those seeking it. It would have been much more “comfortable” for the suffragettes to simply accept and work within the status quo. To be willing to push the confrontation to the point of arrest and being sent to the work house, and pursuing a hunger strike, took incredible courage and commitment.

That those seeking to change injustice must act now and not wait. President Wilson kept telling the women to “be patient…”  We see the hypocrisy of those in power knowing that something is right, but maintaining somehow that “this is not yet the time” (made me think of the slave owner founders, who could see that one day slavery would be done away with, but “not yet”). There comes a time when you can’t “be patient,” if you believe in human dignity and rights.

White House protestThat significant change requires a disruption of the social order. It takes making people uncomfortable.

How easy it is for those in power to be duplicitous – the women were quoting President Wilson’s own words, which he was trumpeting to Americans and to the world, but refusing to apply to half of his own population.

How easy it is for the majority (in this case men, and many women), who have their rights or at least basic comforts, to sit back and do nothing on behalf of those who do not have those same rights.

How a government can participate in the hypocrisy of proclaiming values abroad (democracy, freedom, etc.) while denying them to people at home.

Hilary Swank as Alice PaulHow easy it is to abuse power – arresting the women for no good reason, finding them guilty under sham pretenses, sending them to the work house for 60 days (for “blocking traffic”!), mistreating them in the workhouse, psychiatric exam for undertaking a hunger strike (and the President’s men wanting to have Alice proclaimed crazy because of that), forced feeding, etc. And this was against law abiding, upstanding citizens, whose fault was that those in power hated what they were doing to try to bring about change.

So what does working for social change, for freedom and equality and basic rights, have to do with “peace”? I can imagine some (at least those in support of the status quo) arguing that this kind of movement disturbs the peace, works away from peace. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is a comprehensive word meaning completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. I would argue, then, that although it might temporarily disturb the “peace” to work for rights and justice, the work (especially if done nonviolently, which the women’s suffrage movement was) is toward a greater peace; because as long as members of society, members of humanity, are deprived of basic rights and dignity, there is no true shalom, not for them, and not for the rest of us.

1 comment:

AmelMag said...

I love this post.

And I think, for me, this is one of the significant reasons, as a peace-pursuer, to be a women's studies student. Because you can't compartmentalize, can't choose which portion of the population deserves to be viewed as human, can't define conflict as that which includes bullets and guns.