Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall

I saw President Obama speak today. 1.21.13 032

I voted for Obama. I pretty much skew liberal on everything. And I was absolutely blown away by his speech. 1.21.13 031

Particularly this part:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

Seneca Falls, New York, was the location of an influential women’s rights convention in 1848: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglas—and a few hundred others–argued the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that is considered one of, if not the, foundational document in the American woman’s suffrage movement. A woman’s right to vote was granted seventy-two years later with the Nineteenth Amendment.

Selma, Alabama, was the beginning point of a 1968 civil rights march. Some 600 citizens left Selma to march to Montgomery, the state capital, to protest the systematic denial of voting rights to the African-American community in Selma and other parts of the South. They were met with police violence after a mere six blocks and were driven back to Selma. Two days later, Martin Luther King, Jr, led a symbolic march to the bridge; two weeks later, with the support of the Federal District Court Judge, another march departed for Montgomery. By the time the group reached its destination, there were over 25,000 marchers. It resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensured federal oversight and protection of voting rights.

And Stonewall.

The Stonewall Inn was a club in Greenwich Village, New York, that served as the site of riots protesting the mistreatment of the gay community in 1969. After World War II, many Americans believed the way to recover from the devastation of war was a return to the pre-war social order. Women left the factory for the kitchen, birth rates exploded, white picket fences abounded. The cultural climate did not prove salutary to any minority group. The HUAC documents pinpointed homosexuals as particularly suspect, as they were “prone to blackmail.” Merely being suspected of homosexuality was enough to result in denial or discharge of a federal job or military discharge. Cross-dressing was outlawed. Universities purged tenured ranks of suspected homosexual professors. The American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disorder. All of this nation-wide social repression led to more liberal enclaves in a few large cities. Brutal police sweeps attempted to evict and exclude homosexual citizens from most gathering places. Stonewall Inn, run by the Mafia so excluded from the sweeps by paid-off police, was one of the frequently-safe places. In June of 1969, though, the police came through. Their attempt to arrest the homosexual patrons of the bar resulted in a riot that is considered the beginning of the gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States.1.21.13 002

Women have had the right to vote for almost a hundred years. There is considerable room for improvement in gender equality, but women have the right to vote.

We still have a lot of race inequality. But the first African-American president was sworn in today for the second time. This still reflects exceptionalism—the exceptional can succeed, the status quo applies to all others—but progress has been made.

And no one is arrested for being homosexual. But—and this is where I hope and believe that Obama’s comments were tending—homosexual subjects won’t have equality until they have the right that heterosexual subjects have: the right to marry the one they love.

So I absolutely loved what President Obama had to say today.

1.21.13 023

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