Social Justice Activism and the Power of Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience

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Social Justice Activism and the Power of Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience
Anthony Ambrosius Aurelius

“Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Moss Side Manchester, England to parents who were politically active and had campaigned for the abolishment of slavery. Because of this, Pankhurst started campaigning for women’s suffrage and other women’s rights at just 14 years of age.

In 1908, British Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone stated that women would never mobilize in numbers sufficient to demonstrate they desired the right to vote. Pankhurst saw this as an opportunity, distributing a rallying cry across England, and gathering women from all corners of the country, arranging for them to be brought into the capital by train car. Although Pankhurst was ultimately not successful with this endeavor, the operation itself set the tone for what all future political protests of the 20th century would come to appear as.

Pankhurst later gave a speech at the Royal Albert Hall in 1912 to nearly 10,000 sympathizers. In this speech Pankhurst stated, “be militant, each in your own way. Those of you who can break windows, break them. I incite this meeting to rebellion!”. That same year, on March 1, 1912, 150 women smashed windows in the West End of London, England, followed by the bombing of the Chancellor of the Exchequers home, and finally on June 4, 1913, Emily Davidson made the ultimate sacrifice after having been trampled by a horse once having stepped out onto a horse race track to pin a suffragette ribbon onto King George V’s horse during a race.

Authorities fought back by imprisoning suffragettes including Pankhurst and subjecting them to forced feeding regimes, 3x per day, day after day, until the women relented or were released, with most often the latter occurring. This practice was tantamount to torture but had been largely accepted within the judicial system as it had been argued that Pankhurst’s behavior was equivalent to terrorism, beating authorities into submission through the use of violence and force. Imprisoned suffragettes would often hear the woman beside their cell being force fed which heightened the experience of prison in a negative way as it acted as a precursor of what was to come for the next cell and the women imprisoned within it.”

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