William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, could be considered one of the most uncompromising defenders of the individual. A man ahead of his time, he possessed extraordinary intelligence, excessive work habits, and a willingness to be different. Serving on the Court from 1939 to 1975, Douglas’s experiences were drawn from his life of poverty as a youth and battles with polio.
So the question becomes, why talk about him now? Maybe it is because of the state of the county; maybe because we are continually reminded of the gross misuse of power seeping into the crevices of high public offices. Whatever the motivator may be, the multitude of reasons lie in Douglas’s small but powerful book, Points of Rebellion. Written in 1969, and read 49 years later, it is a disturbing reminder to Americans just how far we have NOT come.
Points of Rebellion was written as a somber warning to the American people. Douglas believed that the pollution of the political system would befoul freedom itself.
We can hear Douglas’s battle cry for the individual. He believed that all citizens were entitled to all the rights that the privileged, by virtue of their money, traditionally enjoyed. In 1969 Douglas wrote, “…Any tax deduction is in reality a “tax expenditure,” for it means that on the average the Treasury pays 52 per cent of the deduction. When we get deeply into the subject we learn that the cost of public housing for the poorest twenty per cent of the people is picayune compared to the federal subsidy of the housing costs of the wealthiest twenty per cent … while we spent 870 million dollars on housing for the poor, the tax deductions for the top twenty per cent amounted to 1.7 billion dollars.”
Daily the media reminds us that we are an affluent society. Ads entice us with expensive clothes, fully shelved pantries, and luxury cars. But are we any different from the society Douglas forewarned us against almost 50 years ago? “…We must subject the machine– technology– to control and cease despoiling the earth and filling people with the goodies merely to make money.”
Still the question remains unanswered, why have we not made significant changes in the laws that would be more responsive to human needs? While ideologies are being watered down by special interests, dialogue between citizens and their government is abating. It is obvious that we must reawaken this urgency which was heeded by Douglas. If our government is in jeopardy, then we must remind our leaders that the tools required for change are present but they must have the moral conviction to proceed. The forecast of 49 years ago remains today. Determinedly, we must continue to explore, to find solutions, to cry out as Douglas did; however, now there must be change.
The media can be the maker or breaker of a person’s claim to fame. It has a dramatic effect on the attention of the populous, dramatically influencing who will succeed and who may not. Yet, it is not always accurate, often giving more attention than deserved to those individuals that may not deserve such notoriety. It has the power to guide and influence in a positive way, yet regularly chooses paths that would ordinarily dismissed as follies. How often have we been bombarded by irresponsible reporting, leading us through the briar patch and around the same thorny trail… and then at the end giving the most sensational reports to those who have, shall we say, the squeakiest wheel.
And then there are those deserving souls who are never heard of, never acknowledged; ones we think of as the unsung heroes. Let us hope that those who are lead around by the media have enough sense to filter for themselves what is worthy of our time and our attention.
Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Maude Wood Park (1871-1955) born in Boston, Massachusetts. Graduating from Radcliff College, Ms. Park became a leading activist for the women’s suffrage movement, advocating for the 19th Amendment (women’s right to vote).
In 1916 her friend Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA), persuaded Park to join the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee and to go to Washington to lobby directly for the federal suffrage amendment. Thus Park led the “front-door lobby” to win suffrage. As a result of her efforts Park became the first president of the League of Women Voters, an organization which preceded the passing of the Amendment, a nonpartisan organization to educate new voters.
Upon the passage of the 19th Amendment, Park continued to advocate for women, forming and running a most needed coalition, the Women Joint Congressional Committee. With leaders from several other women groups, they lobbied for and helped pass legislation of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921 and the Cable Act of 1922, which granted protected care for pregnant women and infants and granted independent citizenship for married women
Park continued to work tirelessly for the betterment of women, advocating for social reforms. I now present from her own Front Door Lobby a passage which gives you a heartfelt view of the passing of the 19th Amendment; a journey that began so very long ago which we should without doubt continue to laud.
“… So quietly as that, we learned the he last step in the enfranchisement of women in the United States had been taken and the struggle of more than seventy years brought to a successful end. We were all too stunned to make any comment until we were in the cab on our way to the Department of State, where we almost had to stick pins into ourselves to realize that the simple document at which we were looking was, in reality, the long sought charter of liberty for the women of this country…”
Second image: League of Women Voters, Maud Wood Park 1915