Why I brought Ida B. Wells flowers
As anyone paying a teeny bit of attention to this year's Presidential campaign knows we are now one week away from election day. Much has been written about taco trucks, emails, sexual assault, and adorable old (mostly white) ladies who were born before or around the time women's suffrage was written into the US Constitution. No matter what the outcome is, November 8, 2016 will be a historic day as it took 96 years from suffrage to having a woman as a candidate of a major political party. Many women have run before, but Hillary Clinton is the first to be steps away from being the first woman to be elected to the highest office in the USA.
This means for many women we are reflecting back. Reflecting on our grandmas and mothers who were our first women's studies teacher, who role modeled strong womanhood, and who could critique Hillary while still sporting a "I'm with her" button. It also means reflecting on the countless women who fought for suffrage including the most recognizable suffragist in the USA is Susan B. Anthony.
Anthony has been memorialized on the dollar coin and since at least 2014 had women voters visit her grave after they have cast their vote. The image of her grave full of "I voted" stickers has gone viral. The fact that I have seen that image frequently in the build up to election day made me stop and think.
First of all, I'm in Chicago. Even if I wanted to say thanks to SBA I can't.
Second, being a Chicago feminist means I know our history is chock-full of kick ass feminists and maybe there's someone here to visit. OF COURSE THERE IS!!!
My first thought was Ida B. Wells.
Wells famously gave the suffrage leadership a big middle finger when she refused to walk at the back of the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, DC. She was also a journalist, anti-lynching activist, and all-around bad ass. I said a quick prayer and searched for her grave. JACKPOT!!
According to "Find a Grave" her resting place is on the south side of Chicago near the Museum of Science and Industry at the Oak Woods Cemetery. Now to find someone to go searching for Wells. I enlisted Natalie Moore of WBEZ and author of The South Side (go get it now!).
On Monday we met up at Oak Woods, went to the office and asked how to find Ida B. Wells. After some navigating with a paper map*, we found her headstone. I left her some flowers as a thank you. I haven't voted yet, so I couldn't leave my "I voted" wristband** for her.
It is nice when my ideas pan out so well. Feminists of color continue to fight for our place within the movement, call out "white feminism" when it rears its head, and create spaces that center our lives and experiences. Natalie and I stood there for a bit having a great conversation about racism in the suffrage movement, racism in the campaign, how we need to still have a much needed conversation about racism in the USA, and even swapping stories about our daughters. I haven't studied her work close enough to know for sure, but I'd like to think that Wells would be hella proud of so much of our work, from Donna Brazile to Opal Tometi, Alixia Garza and Patrisse Cullors. Wells would be proud of each of us who have been told to "stand over there" only to show up anyway. Some of us will cast our vote for Clinton, some won't. My visit there wasn't about who you we vote for, but to remember and mark this historic moment by saying thank you to a suffragist who was also a woman of color.
Instead of only thanking Susan B. Anthony for our ability to vote on the 8th, take a moment to do some research to find out who your local suffragists were and thank them too.
* We also got a packet of the Who's Who of Oakwood. Jesse Owens one of the many amazing people laid to rest here. It is also the future resting place of Roland Burris.
** Chicago voters don't get stickers cause too many people put them on walls, so this year we are getting paper wristbands.