The franchise is a product of struggle that dates from the time of the American and French Revolutions. It has rarely been an isolated demand. Social movements of every kind have challenged discrimination and privilege well beyond the denial of the vote, fiercely contesting exclusion, repression, and inequality in all of their forms. Britain’s stone-throwing suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century were part of a proud lineup that now includes participants in 2011’s ‘Arab Spring,’ and Noble Prize winners Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and Shirin Ebadi of Iran, who today challenge totalitarian regimes. In June 2011, Canadian parliamentary page, Brigette DePape, mounted a silent but powerful protest in the House of Commons; in October 2011 thousands of Canadians in towns and cities across the country joined the original ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters in protesting global injustice in all its forms.
Historically, social movements, for all their frequent shortcomings, have often nurtured linkages and diverse agendas. The Political Equality Leagues that championed suffrage for Canadian women in the early 20th century were named just that because connections were possible. Some earlier anti-slavery activists extended sympathies to women and indigenous populations. Modern unions often agitate for a fair deal for everyone.
To be sure, movement politics can be narrow. Some feminists have been racist, homophobic, and limited in their vision of equality, unable to see beyond their personal situation; some nationalists have discriminated actively against women and other disadvantaged groups; some anti-racist crusaders have been blind to women’s oppression. Feminism, like other movements, is, however, far from static. Over time and at different rates, it has extended claims to full humanity. Some suffragists were allied to or also campaigners for workers and other oppressed populations. Opponents of women suffrage feared possible linkages among disadvantaged communities. Such alliance politics promises afterall the real solution to the democratic deficit and inequity more generally. The vision of what Canadian suffragist, Nellie L. McClung (1873-1951) called a ‘fair deal’ is ultimately unlimited.
This section explores the relationship between suffrage movements—the struggle to get women and the variously disadvantaged, sometimes but not always minorities, the vote—and social movements oriented towards larger goals including feminism, anti-racism, socialism, and social justice.
More specifically, the articles analyse:
- The key victories and legislation won by activist struggles in various contexts;
- Tensions between militant and/or violent and less confrontational elements of suffrage-oriented activist movements;
- The possibilities and challenges of movement politics, particularly the role of alliances and diverse agendas, as well as racism and homophobia, in struggles for suffrage.