I spent this past weekend in Atlanta. I attended my first ALA (American Library Association) Conference, which was held in the huge Georgia World Congress Center complex of buildings in downtown Atlanta. I was excited to be there as I am rarely more happy than when I am surrounded by books and book lovers. I was a Reading Specialist for most of the 42 years that I taught school. But…I also gravitate strongly to wishing sometimes that I had become a librarian instead. The company that published the latest edition of my book (and set me up with this website AND encouraged me to do a blog) invited me to come to this conference to promote Quoting Matilda and do a book signing. Since one of my main goals is to have this excellent reference book on the life and words of Matilda Joslyn Gage and the early suffragist movement available in libraries for students from middle school on up to Women’s Studies Programs in universities, this is a gig I jumped at.
I was doing a shift at our local annual Plowshares event in Syracuse for a Christmas bazaar, working at the N.O.O.N. (Neighbors of Onondaga Nation) and Peace Council booth when I noticed the sign-up sheets in the booth next to me. Can you imagine my dismay when I was ready to eagerly sign up for a bus from Syracuse to Washington D.C. for the planned Women’s March and discovered that it was to be held on the same date that I would be at the ALA conference. Even more aggravating was having to refuse the invitation of my cousin who lives in DC and offered his home to stay at if I was coming down for the anti-Trump Inauguration Protest or the Women’s March.
I enjoyed meeting librarians from all over and garnering lots of free books, many of them autographed by the authors. I loved the presentations from famous and near-famous people. Duchess Harris was there, talking about her book about her grandmother who was one of the black women mathematicians who saved a NASA project. The movie, “Hidden Numbers,” just came out and is already garnering Oscar buzz. It stars Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson (“Empire” star). Matilda actually wrote a book about women inventors, astronomers, etc., who were lost to history. Only men could get patents back then so men often got the credit for a lot of women’s achievements. There is a term that was coined to describe this situation: “The Matilda Effect.” It was named after Matilda Joslyn Gage, of course.
I also got to hear Kwame Alexander, award winning poet who appeals to the young boys of the sort that I used to teach. They almost never picked up a book to read. Not so with Alexander’s books. In fact he won the Newberry last year as well as the Coretta Scott King Award and is on The New York Times bestseller list for his book The Crossover.
John Lewis was at a booth very near our LitFire booth! Yes, THAT John Lewis. I saw many images of him and heard his recorded voice when I visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights that was just a few blocks away from the conference center. It is right behind the World of Coca Cola Museum. (I am recommending it to everyone. It is high tech, well done and very emotional.) While I was there I learned from a museum book store employee that there was interaction between Matilda and Harriet Tubman—a link I had been in search of for a long time since I knew that both were in Upstate New York and actively volunteering for Civil War causes. Matilda helped preparing bandages and working with the sick; Harriet was a spy for the North. They were only five years apart in age. The young man I talked with said that a professor of his at Alabama State University had information about this that hadn’t yet been published in any books.
The situation that tore my heart out, however, is that my book signing had been scheduled for 2-4 on January 21st—the exact same time as the Women’s March happening in Atlanta just three blocks away. In fact, the gathering began right in front of the Museum of Civil and Human Rights that I was just touting in the previous paragraph. What irony! I yearned to share my book about this amazing suffragist, writer, abolitionist and more with librarians and others. But I also wanted to be out on the streets supporting women’s issues as suffragists like Matilda had done in order to gain the vote and other human rights.
So I decided that I would scurry over to the start of the march and hopefully hear the opening speeches, walk a few blocks with the marchers and then return to the conference center in time for my book signing.
On my way out of the building, I met a woman with a marching sign. She informed me that in a room in the basement women were gathering for the march and making signs. I found the room, put on a sign (see photo), was given a pink hat, put my rain gear on and schmoozed with others while waiting to depart en masse.
I could easily fib and say I was part of this historical march that was happening not only in D.C. and Seneca Falls and Atlanta but all over the world. But the truth of what happened is that I only marched outside one end of the building to the nearby overhang at the main entrance where everyone was organizing. I estimate that there were at least 300 librarians (male and female) and others who walked out with me. It was exciting, positive and energizing, despite the fact that rain was coming down in sheets. But…then we got the news that they had delayed the start of the event by a half hour because of the rain. That did it in for me. I filmed the long line of activist librarians as they marched past me on the way to the start of the march. But I reluctantly had to return to do my book signing. Furthermore, I knew full well that my strongest adherents to women’s rights, the main subject of my book that I hoped to introduce them to, were outside in the rain. I was inside, dry, but in a very slow hall compared to the crowds and activity that had been almost constant all the previous hours of the convention. Nevertheless, I did meet interested people who gladly acquired a free copy of Quoting Matilda and gave me the opportunity to elaborate about Mrs. Gage. I ran out of books before 3:00.
I could also pretend that I had been at the big event at Seneca Falls, as a friend of mine who did attend brought back for me an official Seneca Falls March button. Not only was there a march with about 10,000 people trying to get into the small village (many had to park outside the town and walk in), but there were many speeches lasting for several hours. Opening the event was Diane and Leah Shenandoah, sister and daughter of Joanne Shenandoah, my favorite singer. They are her back-up singers. Joanne’s health is improving and she is writing songs again, but her health is still fragile and still may need a liver transplant for her condition. Other Native Americans spoke as well. Support for Native Americans who the U.S. government wanted to force to become U.S. Citizens (thereby losing the rights they already had as part of their own sovereign nation), was something that Matilda offered support for and wrote many positive articles about the Iroquois. Here is a short quote of hers: “The world is indebted to the Iroquois.” I hope you check out the link to view the doings and glorious speeches at Seneca Falls. This link has full coverage: http://fingerlakes1.com/2017/01/21/full-coverage-women-march-in-seneca-falls-2017/
3.5 million Americans made history at the women’s marches this past weekend. Atlanta had 60,000 marchers. Washington, D.C. is estimated at over a million. Every continent on earth was represented, as the whole world joined in this protest. Yes, even Antarctica! (I console myself by realizing that I was doing my part by further introducing Matilda Joslyn Gage to the world. Writing this blog helps, too.)
Why is this important? USA Today reports that according to the first major survey on gender since the November election, by the non-partisan research firm Perry-Undem, a majority of women still feel that it is better to be a man in America, as sexism remains a problem in society. The good news is that 83% of the survey takers feel it is important that Trump and Congress work to move forward on issues around women’s rights. However, the incoming administration is the least likely to perceive gender inequality. So there is a problem when it comes to connecting action to policy. “If Republican leadership in the new administration and Congress reflect Republican men in the population, they may not see connections between several policy issues and gender equality,” the report said. Fewer than half of Republican men saw sexism, violence against women, unequal care-giving responsibilities, racism, access to abortion and birth control as factors. In fact, one in three respondents to the survey said they think sexism prevented Hillary Clinton from winning. One in four saw or heard friends or family members make sexist comments about her during the campaign. Taking it a step further, one-third of men and women who voted for Trump disagree that the country would be better off with more women in political office!
They STILL don’t get it that “Women’s Rights are human rights.”