Friday, January 20, 2017

12 famous protest speeches by women

Today is inauguration day in the U.S., when a new president takes office. Tomorrow, women from all over the world will march in Washington, D.C.--where I live--and in 30 more cities in the U.S. and around the world, and I will be with them, along with a houseful of guests who are coming to join me.

In honor of the Women's March on Washington tomorrow, let's take a look at women speaking in protest. They used the streets, legislatures, bus tours, protest marches, memorial services, conferences, and farewell events to lodge their opposition, and to rally audiences to their points of view. All of these speeches are part of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, so you will find--where available--full text and audio or video of the speeches at the links below. And I've picked a quote from each to inspire you:
  1. Coretta Scott King's "10 Commandments on Vietnam" took notes for a speech found in her husband's pockets when he was assassinated, and wove them into this fierce protest speech, adding a special message on women and activism. Great quote: "The woman power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism."
  2. Emmeline Pankurst's "Freedom or Death" speech was part of her U.S. fundraising tour to support the British suffrage movement, but was no less powerful than her speeches on the street. On the violence of her movement: "You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs; you cannot have civil war without damage to something." 
  3. Sister Simone Campbell and the "Nuns on the Bus" tour brought the protest speeches to a multi-city U.S. tour shedding light on the impact of federal budget cuts on poverty, health, and education services. On the collective movement: "Our solidarity is what will keep us from slipping into isolation, loneliness and depression. Because the only time we are fully human is when we are connected to each other."
  4. Dolores Huerta at the Delano Grape strike march capped a boycott and a 300-mile march to the California state capital to protest working conditions for people working for the state's grape growers. (I'll think of this while marching a considerably shorter distance tomorrow.) On why they marched in public: "You cannot close your eyes and ears to our needs any longer, you cannot pretend that we do not exist, you cannot plead ignorance to our problem because we are here and we embody our needs for you."
  5. Texas state senator Wendy Davis's filibuster, aimed at delaying consideration of a strict anti-abortion bill, was delivered for over 11 hours while wearing pink sneakers. It's a feat of stamina and conviction. No transcript for quotes, though.
  6. U.S. senator Margaret Chase Smith's 'Declaration of Conscience' shared her opposition to the chilling anti-Communist witch hunts of her Senate colleague, Joe McCarthy, as he sat in the chamber before her. Here's a hammer of a quote: "Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others."
  7. Kavita Krishnan spoke on safety and India's rape culture at a protest march there in the wake of the brutal gang-rape of a young woman, taking the protest to the door of Delhi's chief minister. She tackled the 'safety' take head on: "All us women know what this ‘safety’ refers to, we have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, our wardens use it. Women know what ‘safety’ refers to. It means – You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way."
  8. Anita Hill's U.S. Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas was reluctantly done. But once asked to testify about her sexual harrassment by the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, she said, "I could not remain silent." And that's as good a definition of protest as there is.
  9. Rose Schneiderman on the Triangle Factory fire shook up a memorial service for female garment workers who died in a tragic and preventable fire, protesting the conditions and the complacency of the audience with quotes like this one: "I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting."
  10. Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech about equal pay used the platform of an award acceptance speech to spark a real movement in which women actors began to ask for equal pay for their work. Her forthright statement: "To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America."
  11. Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, one of the most famous women's speeches ever, may never have contained that line. But here's a powerful quote: "I am a woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?"
  12. Betty Friedan's call for a women's strike was part of her 1970 farewell speech as she stepped down as the National Organization for Women's first president. The call for a strike astonished her audience, but inspired a real strike not long after, with word pictures like this: "The women who are doing menial chores in the offices as secretaries put the covers on their typewriters and close their notebooks and the telephone operators unplug their switchboards, the waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more stop."
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