Yesterday I went to see the film "Suffragette" which was an enjoyable endeavour. There was a lot in it that gave me pause for thought.
The civil disobedience, beginning with smashing windows and escalating into blowing up pillar boxes and even attacking a residence was such a clear parallel with so many other similar acts that history declares to be wrong. Kristallnacht, the targeted smashing of the windows of Jewish shopkeepers in Germany clearly motivated by xenophobia. The 1980s letter bombs and blown up pillar boxes by Irish paramilitaries frustrated to the point of violence at not achieving their desires. The arson of Welsh holiday cottages. Or, indeed the IEDs and suicide bombers of our own time.
Huge questions about when (if ever) such actions are justified.
How did the suffragettes appear to ordinary, decent people of their time?
Huge questions about how history is told - always from the point of the 'victors'... how might the story of the suffragettes be told or seen had the outcome been different?
Do the ends necessarily justify the means?
The suffragettes were arrested, beaten, imprisoned and force-fed. I can't imagine ever being ready to face that. Partly because I'm a rule-follower, I don't 'do' disobedience, fear of shame and embarrassment for others, as well as for myself, would dissuade me from actions likely to lead to such consequences. This is a far cry from the people of our day who sit in the middle of the road and let the police carry them into vans, deliver them to clean police stations and either caution them or detain them overnight before letting them go. These were women who lost their jobs, their families and their homes. Not nice middle-class peaceful protests, ugly, violent, sacrficial suffering.
I find it hard to imagine any cause that could inspire me to do that... to lose everything and everyone that matters to me.
I'm all for freedom of speech, in favour of rallies and marches... just not so sure about people who set out to get themsleves arrested almost as a badge of honour, whilst creating huge amounts of work for an overall over-stretched police service.
I grew up very aware of the significance of what the suffragettes had achieved, and was regularly reminded of my democratic duty: "people died to get you the vote". I have no doubt that the cause espoused by the suffragettes was good and right. I would never, knowingly, not vote. So for all my questions about method, I am glad they did what they did.
But what of other causes? How do we discern which are motivated by 'good' and which are not? How will history tell the story of our time? It's easy enough to say that xenophobia, homophobia, islamophobia or whatever it maybe is wrong... but that doesn't make it any easier to determine a healthy response. Easy to say what governments should or should not do, less so for them to act.
Definitely more questions than answers! Glad I went to see the film. Didn't really learn anything new in terms of facts, but it did give me lots to ponder.