‘Deeds not words’. The powerful motto of the Suffragette movement. Would I have followed that call if I was around 100 years ago? Would I have done anything that made a difference to people’s lives today? I have been thinking today about the 100 years since some women first got the vote. To be very honest, I have mixed feelings about it all.
On the one hand, I am in awe of the sacrifice, resilience, radicalism and bravery of our foremothers who fought for our rights. Without them, I could not take for granted the right to vote and the right to carry on fighting for rights for all.
On the other hand, as inspired as I am by that victory, I can’t help but feel saddened that 100 years has passed and there is still so far to go. I myself could do more for starters. We are still marching, campaigning and petitioning and it looks like we will be doing so for decades to come. What else can we do?
Some people ask, what is the point of trying? They say things won’t change and see ‘the system’ and external forces as inevitably keeping them back. But what also keeps you back are the powerful internal forces within. This hidden self-sabotage is perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome. As humans, our ‘last freedom’ as Viktor Frankl put it, is the ‘ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances’. Even in a concentration camp, you have the freedom to choose how to respond and how to change your response. But we don’t always give ourselves that freedom. As Vicktor Frankl also said, ‘when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’. Sometimes we don’t want to take up that challenge and make those changes.
When the women in the suffragette movement decided to do something though, they had to change. They had to change their response to what other people thought of them and what they thought of themselves. They were hated as a movement, their members were shunned in their communities. They were mistreated, harshly prosecuted by the authorities for making their case. None of this stopped them from keeping on and carrying on. For Emily Davison she carried on and fearless as she was, she paid the ultimate price, dying after being run over by King George’s horse at the Derby in 1913.
To achieve change, we have to change our response to fear and then take action. No individual and no group has ever been given ‘permission’ to make change happen or just handed their rights without a fight. They had to first give themselves permission to fight their own fears, to change their own way of thinking and doing things. Deeds not words. Only then could they begin to change anyone else’s mind.
Some people ask, what is the point? Why should they try to do anything etc. They say things won’t change and see ‘the system’ and external forces as keeping them back. But what is also true is there are powerful internal forces that sabotage you. This hidden self-sabotage is perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome. Because we always have freedom to think and consider our choices and change them. But we don’t always give ourselves the freedom to do so. As Vicktor Frankl said, when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Our mindset, our beliefs, our commitment to ourselves. Changing these with action makes us see and believe in the freedom that we can give ourselves and the freedom we can help give to others. That struggle continues today. It’s part of the human condition. We have to fight for every new freedom we want. We also have to fight to preserve every small freedom that we already have. Starting with ourselves.
But no one is truly free until we are all free. In the U.K. in 2018, millions of people are not free. Amongst other limits, they cannot choose who they really want to be, where they want to live and work, who, where and how they worship.
Women, men, people of colour, disabled people, people who are working yet poor, the unemployed and many other disadvantaged people are struggling every day to maintain and gain their basic rights. We may not always hear about their struggles, we may not know anyone who faces these struggles. But that doesn’t mean they are not there. People across the country are still not really free.
100 years on from when some women were given the vote, it’s critical to ask, who is still not free? Who is still disenfranchised and why? What can I do to free myself and others today, tomorrow and the day after that?
‘Deeds not words’, is a compelling answer to those questions I think. Last night that answer was projected onto the Houses of Parliament itself. A place of full of many many words…and often no action! Deeds not words applies no matter what the struggle: the personal or the political. We have to DO things differently to know that things can change, that things can be different. And change starts here with myself. Let’s DO this!
Do you want change but don’t know where to start?
Are your fears holding you back from what you really want in your life?
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