Jill Cuervo is a senior majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies, as well as Spanish


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As depicted in Iron Jawed Angels, only a hundred years ago were women arrested and carried away by police simply for peacefully protesting for their right to vote. Now, one hundred years later, white women in the United States celebrate the anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, while people of color and their allies rush the streets protesting systematic racism and police brutality. The same cities that hosted marches and picketing for women’s suffrage now receive the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The years 1920 and 2020 reflect a clear image of each other: United States citizens exercising the rights of liberation and progress. However, each of these movements faced extreme suppression by the same government that promised to protect these very rights. Both BLM and the suffrage movement experienced media manipulation and unfounded arrests at the hands of the government.

President Woodrow Wilson utilized his power to manipulate and silence the media to push back against the women’s suffrage movement. Both Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson recognized its power and strategize against each other to use the media to help their cause. Wilson, in arresting the suffragists tried to discredit the movement while Paul recognized that their picketing was no longer being overlooked. Even bad attention was good attention. In order to stop this, Wilson moved to complete censorship. He would not let the women win. A scene in Iron Jawed Angels shows Wilson talking with news reporters asserting that there is to be no mention of the picketing in the papers. (Iron Jawed Angels). Despite the outright censorship done on the part of the President, the suffrage movement persisted. Government opposition and control of the media is not unique to the suffrage movement. News sources and presidential administrations may change, yet the same tactics to suppress social progress remain the same.

One hundred years later, explicit censorship is not a prevalent concern, however, racial bias plagues the media and manipulates public opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement. Racial bias in the media reveals itself in language used and generalizing statements. These methods of racial bias towards the BLM movement are especially evident in the tabloid New York Post. Specifically, the New York Post often uses terminology such as “blacks” when referring to Black people and claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement is responsible for “Cop assassinations.” More than the movement itself, the New York Post extends its racial bias to the African American community. Racial bias leads people to believe the misconceptions around Black Lives Matter and African Americans. Media with racially charged language is used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. An uninformed audience can easily read this article and oppose the social change that the Black Lives Matter movement attempts to bring.

Complete censorship and racial bias are different tactics to manipulate the media, however, the motivation of debilitating the movements were the same. Racial bias leads people to believe the misconceptions around Black Lives Matter and African Americans. In the same way that Wilson attempted to discredit the suffragists, media with racially charged language is used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. Thankfully, the suffrage movement and the Black Lives Matter movement persist despite media distortion and censorship.

In addition to media manipulation, the second form of suppression of the suffrage movement was arresting picketers. The suffragists peacefully protest, a right granted by the government that should not be impeded on, no matter the cause. In the movie Iron Jawed Angels, the audience watches as the suffragists become victims of police force, ultimately resulting in the conviction of traffic obstruction. The picketers insist that they did not break any laws and are sent to jail for refusal to pay the fine.  While the suffragists may have been direct and purposeful, they were not violent. The police used their force to remove and arrest the picketers regardless of their peaceful tactics. Convicting the suffragists of traffic obstruction was an easy way for the government to impede women’s rights to petition with a desire to silence and send them away

The United States government is consistent in its methods of force, even a century later, and a different social movement. Like the suffrage movement, the Black Lives Matter movement received the same police resistance in order to be forced into silence and subjected to their control. Many protesters share their experience of being forcibly taken by the police while exercising their right to petition. Those who feel strongly about the injustice done in the United States expect to protest in the street unharmed. United States citizens are taught that they have a voice in what goes on in the government without consequence. Chan, in her article on the impact of arrests on protesters, tells the story of D’Angelo Sandidge, who while protesting, was arrested for being past curfew time. Furthermore, Chan notes, “An Associated Press tally found more than 10,000 protesters were arrested in just the first 10 days after Floyd’s death on May 25.” (Chan 2020, 58). Implementing a curfew in cities where thousands of protestors are on the streets is used to assert power and control the protestors.

Traffic obstructions and breaking curfew are similar in that both instances legitimize government oppression of these movements. Similarly to the suffragists and their convictions of traffic obstruction, many Black Lives Matter protesters arrive in jail for staying out past curfew. Both reveal the ways that the government pushes back and uses terms of technicality to cover it up. The government is willing to forcefully subdue any citizen exercising their right to protest.

The year 2020 brought an abundance of surprises. However, what was completely expected was the ways in which the government would respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. In analyzing the government response to the suffrage movement one hundred years earlier, manipulations of the media and mass arrests were anticipated. The years 1920 and 2020 mirror each other in regard to their respective social movements and the similarities between the two. While the two movements have different causes, both faced similar obstacles from the government. Due to the fact that the government continued to respond to these social movements with methods to silence and subdue demonstrates that the future presents itself with many opportunities for improvement.



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