100 YEARS AFTER THE ORIGINAL PROTEST FOR SUFFRAGE, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL REVIVES THE SILENT SENTINEL VIGIL OUTSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE
November 13, 2017 thru January 21, 2018.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL’s 2017 Silent Sentinel campaign was launched as an homage to the original Silent Sentinels who organized for women’s suffrage (the right of women to vote) one-hundred years earlier. The original Silent Sentinels were led by Alice Paul (January 11, 1885-July 9, 1977), the founder of the National Woman’s Party and a major figure for both the 19th Amendment and co-author and fiercest of all advocates for the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT.
“DO YOU RECOGNIZE THIS IMAGE?”
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL asked its members on October 14th of 2017.
“In 1917, 2000 women protested silently, day-in, day-out for two and a half years until they achieved suffrage.
In 2017, how many women today will again protest silently, for just ten weeks, until we achieve equality?
Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. We are facing civil and human rights rollbacks in the United States unlike anything we have seen in recent history.
AND WOMEN STILL DON’T HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS.
So, sometimes you just need to take a stand.
Will YOU take the Silent Sentinel Challenge?
Will you stand with us to stand up for our rights, now?”
And with that challenge, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL began organizing its members to sign up to take shifts to stand outside the White House in protest; providing the materials necessary (posters, signs, costumes, etc.) to recreate the visual image of our Silent Sentinel sisters in suffrage that stood here a century ago. EME members wore long black coats, big hats, and purple and gold sashes to bring attention to the enduring lack of women’s equality in the United States and the urgent need to complete the ratification of the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT.
THE 2017 SILENT SENTINEL CHALLENGE
The official launch of the Silent Sentinel Challenge took place on Sunday November 12th 2017, as part of Catharsis on the Mall, an annual event dedicated to showcasing performance art centered around social and political activism.
At Catharsis, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL produced a dedicated performance piece called “Shatter the Silence” on the National Mall in Washington D.C. EME’s performers were outstanding, including Patricia Wirth from the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial Project, actresses Suzanne Whang & Ann Mahoney, musicians Patricia Bahia and Ali Handal, who wrote and led the crowd in an ERA anthem and EME activists Amanda Krause, Linda Smith, Elizabeth Croydon, Rachel Donlan, Natalie White and Kamala Lopez who read from the Congressional testimony of the women arrested on that night one hundred years ago.
Composer Paula Franchesi created a musical soundscape using the names of the 32 Silent Sentinels who were arrested and tortured, using bells and gongs to bring the ghosts of our Suffrage Sisters to life.
EME Equality Warriors created a performance art piece not easily forgotten.
The following day, exactly one hundred years after “The Night of Terror”* November 14th, 1917, when the original Silent Sentinels were jailed, beaten and force fed, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL officially commenced the 2017 Silent Sentinel Vigil outside the White House.
EME member Dr. Brigitte Alexander scoured the DC Thrift shops and bought dozens of long black coats and all the period hats she could find. EME’s Creative Director, Tom Martin, designed the banners and rally signs to replicate the original 1917 signage. EME’s Thilagavathi Siva enlisted her mother and sister in India to sew and paint the banners and sashes by hand. And then dozens of women and our allies signed up to take shifts in the bitter cold remind people that the fight was not over.
Over the months of the Silent Sentinel Challenge, the protest was seen by Washington DC visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. EME activist Elizabeth Croydon, who called herself “Jane Snow, the Guardian of the Silent Sentinel,” met and organized the volunteers each day; kept track of all the hats, coats and rally signs and kept a daily blog where she detailed the participants, visitors and events of the day: https://equalmeansequal.org/silent-sentinel-blog/
Just as Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party demonstrated for the right of women to vote, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL members and allied organizations from across the nation took shifts to stand in front of the White House to push for the ratification of the ERA every day from Monday November 13th until Sunday January 21st from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday – rain or shine.
The 2017 Silent Sentinel Campaign served to commemorate the policy accomplishments of a historical women’s movement, highlight the continued need to ratify the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT and educate, activate and mobilize Americans around the issue of women’s equality.
When our time outside the White House was over, the Silent Sentinel Campaign would continue, moving to Virginia where ERA activists from EME and other organizations stood outside the Virginia State Capitol buildings in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and in other states where activists took up the fight.
The original Silent Sentinels were the first group to protest directly in front of the White House, outside the gates. Their protests spanned a course of over two years, from January 10, 1917 to June 4, 1919.
As the U.S. entered World War I, the Silent Sentinels were accused of being unpatriotic and even “pro-German”. The Silent Sentinels held up banners advocating for women’s suffrage and criticizing President Wilson, with one banner referring to the President as “Kaiser Wilson”. The protesters would regularly be physically attacked by anti-suffragist mobs. White House police would frequently arrest the protesters.
Beginning in the summer of 1917, Silent Sentinel demonstrators were placed under horrific conditions as prisoners in the Occoquan Workhouse detention facility. Alice Paul herself was arrested on October 20, 1917.
Alice Paul then led a hunger strike. As a result, Alice and the other prisoners were force-fed. The events of November 14, 1917, in which the prisoners were tortured and attacked by forty guards on the order of Occoquan Workhouse Superintendent W.H. Whittaker, came to be known as the “Night of Terror”. https://www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-woman-occoquan-20171112-htmlstory.html
News coverage in print media brought the abuse to light. Greater awareness of the suffering of the protesters lead to greater public support for both the Silent Sentinels and their cause.
Wilson reversed course on January 9, 1918 declaring his support for a suffrage amendment. While U.S. House passed the Amendment ratifying the right of women to vote, the Amendment failed in the Senate by two votes. A proposal ratifying the right of women to vote in the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified by the House and Senate in 1919. Paul and her National Woman’s Party then switched focus to campaigning for the state legislatures to ratify the Amendment. A year later in 1920 the 19th Amendment ensuring women’s right to vote became the law of the land.
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL is dedicated to the memory of Alice Paul and all the millions of women and our allies who have fought alongside her to see basic human rights and ordinary equality for women recognized by the U.S. Government by amending the Constitution to include the ERA.