Thoughts on the Moment

I have been working on and off for the last several years on a book project that I hope to complete after finishing Living in the Future. It is a microhistory of Eroseanna Robinson, an African American radical pacifist and civil rights activist in the post-war era. I've given several papers about her life, including one on her hunger strike after her arrest for tax evasion in 1959, and the excruciating force feeding she endured. In order to understand hunger strikes as a resistance tactic and the torture of force feeding I began to research its history, from the horrific speculum oris used to force feed captured African slaves during the middle passage to the force feeding of English and American suffragists. Upon election day I've naturally been thinking much about the suffering of American activists, like this description by American suffragist Doris Stevens of her imprisonment and force feeding:  “Yesterday was a bad day for me in feeding.  I was vomiting continually during the process. The tube has developed an irritation somewhere that is painful.  Never was there a sentence like ours for such an offense as ours, even in England. No women ever got it over there even for tearing down buildings. And during all that agitation we were busy saying that never would such things happen in the United States. The men told us they would not endure such frightfulness.” The women endured the frightfulness. To understand what it meant to be force fed in 1914 the feminist journalist Djuna Barnes had herself forcibly fed and photographed for the New York World Magazine. After the experience she stated that she “shared the greatest experience of the bravest of my sex." Below is a photo of Barnes along with the force feeding chair that the American military designed for Guantanamo inmates who have persisted in their own hunger strikes. I realize that both the history of suffrage and the election of Hillary Clinton are fraught with complex racial and class dynamics, not to mention the militarism that has led to the horrors of Guantanamo. All of this is swirling in my head as Tuesday approaches. But I want to express gratitude to Doris Stevens and all the other women who did truly suffer for suffrage.

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