I’m pushing myself through the thick folds of darkness. My heart shuddering a war-drum beat. There is no silence, the air is holding too much, each furry thick atom catching in my throat . I reach for the rough stone to my left and use it as an anchor, following the stone round and down the steps. Now, into the cavernous belly of the beast, space that has held centuries of words, words that have undone lives and built lives.They cannot keep us out, our whisper will grow into a shout that can’t be ignored. The door creaks, the sudden noise in the thick air pushing the breath out of me like a bellow. I slip through the gap and I’ve made it. I sink into the corner and feel the coldness of the stone floor seeping into my skin and I wait.
Emily Wilding Davison
Emily Wilding Davison was hiding in a cupboard at the back of the chapel underneath the Palace of Westminster. Her aim was to stay there undiscovered all night on 2nd November 1911, so that in the 1911 census it would be recorded that her address was The Houses of Parliament. It was to be a somewhat ironic record seeing as women had no positions or rights there, in fact all women were banned from most of the Houses of Parliament for a period in 1907, she was making a point. The point being that women may have been denied the right to vote but that was not going to stop them from claiming their place in the symbolic home of politics.
The conviction and belief to make a point, even if the price is yourself.
A year and a half later she would die pursuing the same cause, when she walked out in front of the King’s horse at the Derby.
The plaque placed on the cupboard door where Emily hid.
It is an unremarkable cupboard, out of the way in a quiet part of the building that people rarely go to. But when I go there, I feel the history of it palpably, I can imagine Emily Wilding Davison in the darkness, alone spending the night there.
I work with different groups of young people and sometimes I ask them if they intend to vote. The outcome usually is that less than half of them plan to vote. Each time I ask, I feel a little dread and sadness at the indifference. Democracy dies a death if more and more people decline to participate in it. As the ability to vote has become an assumed right, so the significance of what it means has diminished. Imagine if that right were taken away …all of a sudden people would care. Perhaps our ability to fully appreciate a right can only be realised when it is removed from us.
In the past year or two I have had to think of all the moments in time where our rights and representation have developed, when somebody has been so bold to step out from the backdrop of history and speak up over the norm and ask for more. Moments where normal acceptance has been challenged; where an individual has felt the power of injustice burning from within until it is spilling out of them and can be kept in no more. People who couldn’t take the injustice of the slave-trade anymore, or that men had all the vote, say and power, that everybody despite their wealth, class or race were entitled to healthcare and education.
Injustice is always a feeling that has wrangled me, I can’t abide it, it is one of those emotions that sits very uncomfortably, I can’t quite settle when I feel it. It’s all very well to feel injustice but the real mettle of a person is those rare individuals who take action on it and bring about change, would I be so bold if I ever needed to be?
Voting if nothing else for me, is a celebration of them. It is my one moment in this sweep of us all, where I acknowledge the past and all those who were willing to take action, to put themselves in the line of real danger so that I can live in the type of free society I do where I have a say. It maybe a very small and insignificant say but the point is I have the liberty to say what I think and believe . There’s a reason people fought for the vote because they knew how it felt not to have it. How would we feel if that say was taken away?
Election day is one week away. Five years ago in the last election, only 65% of people who could vote did (this means 16 million people who had the right to vote chose not to, 16 million votes could have very much changed the result of the election), only 44%of young people voted.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting ‘why you should vote-because of the present’ and ‘why you should vote- because of the future’.
The first image is taken from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/may/31/my-hero-emily-wilding-davison
The second image is taken from http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/case-study-emily-wilding-davison/ewd/tony-benn-plaque/