Commentary on “Freedom or death” by Emmeline Pankhurst
We are in 1913 in Hartford, Connecticut, the USA, where a woman, at a fundraising speech, announces that she is not there to defend the right of women to vote – as “American suffragists could do that very well for themselves” –, but instead to explain why the movement, in the UK, had turned to a more aggressive and violent means to achieve its end. This woman was Emmeline Pankhurst (15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928), a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement that helped women win the right to vote.
This speech, considered by The Guardian as one of the ten most important speeches of the 20th century, tried to gain some support from the other side of the ocean for the suffragette movement on this side of the ocean. And to do so, Pankhurst used different strategies:
On the one hand, she shows how unfairly women are treated, not only in her country, where she has been imprisoned for speaking out her ideas, but even in this very speech she is uttering, where she had to justify why women are using revolutionary methods (an unnecessary justification for a man).
On the other hand, she explains why this movement has become violent. And to do so, she adapted her speech to the audience:
- First, she asked them to imagine what it would mean for them to be unable to remove an unfair government because they did not have the right to vote.
- Second, she asked them to remember that they (the Americans) also had to resort to violent means when they could not convince the British government about their legitimate demands. And, at the end of the speech, she reminded them that their Civil War was also bloody in order to reach the “negro” emancipation.
Emmeline Pankhurst also tries to justify the suffragists’ methods. And to do so, she gives an everyday example: they need to be like the baby who cries and annoys everybody until it is fed....