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I N S P I R I N G * Q U O T E S

WOMEN OF WISDOM

 

DEMOCRACY


"Proud to be an American" is a phrase that's been sung louder and more often this past year than in the past ten put together. The tragedy of September 11 had a sort of tribal impact on us citizens of the United States, arousing a feeling of unity that we have not experienced as a people perhaps since World War II. Sad, indeed, and ironic, that it is so often the tragedy in our lives that brings us together. But--here we are. So it is a good time to ask ourselves what it means to live in a democracy. When Agnes Benedict reminds us that "A democratic home is the foundation of a democratic state," I am reminded of my own upbringing.

My parents were not particularly interested in politics, but they were fair-minded folks who believed in democracy. Family discussions abounded at the dinner table throughout my youth. The older my sisters and I got, the more we were involved in family decision-making. We got to vote on where to go for our vacations, whether or not we should dine at the Chinese or Italian restaurant, and if we wanted a dog or a cat (we got both). In grade school and junior high, I became politically aware at the dinner table of my best friend's house. Her parents had been union activists in the 30s and 40s, and I was fascinated by the intellectual ideas we munched on while eating Baubbi's pot roast, kasha and banana cake.

A child of the Fifties, I wondered why certain books were being banned in our school library (and elsewhere), including those of pro-communism activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. "If communism is so awful" my ten-year-old self wondered, "why can't we read about it and find out for ourselves?" The political awareness I'd begun to devlop at my friend's house and the fair-minded democratic practices in my own began shaping my own approach to home and country.

The sense of pride and affection one takes in one's family and home, one's work and workplace, one's nation and its institutions, is marvelously rewarding. But for me, it doesn't come about as a matter of course, but as a matter of examination and application. The varying viewpoints found in this quarter's selection of women's quotations have stimulated me to further examine my thoughts on democracy. I hope they do the same for you.

In sisterhood, Elaine Bernstein Partnow, Editor



QUOTATIONS ON DEMOCRACY

The Pavlovian view of women voters -- plug the words in, and they will respond -- sends a chill down my spine because it sounds like an adaptation of something I have written about communication between the sexes: When a woman tells a man about a problem, she doesn't want him to fix it; she just wants him to listen and let her know he understands. But there's a difference between a private conversation and a presidential election, between what we want from our leaders.
Deborah F. Tannen (1945- ), American nonfiction writer, linguist, The New York Times, 20 January 2000

If you have a sense of purpose and a sense of direction, I believe people will follow you. Democracy isn't just about deducing what the people want. Democracy is leading the people as well.
Margaret Thatcher (1925- ), English MP, 1959; prime minister of Britain, 1979-1990; first woman to head a major government in modern Europe; took up lifetime seat in House of Lords, 1992; also scientist, chemist, attorney, tax, leader, political, Quoted in Twentieth-Century Women Political Leaders by Claire Price-Groff, 1998

We who are members of the Communist Party repudiate the exclusive identification of democracy with capitalism. We declare that democracy can be widened, take on new aspects, become truly a rule of the people, only when it is extended to the economic life of the people, as in the Soviet Union. As far as women are concerned, the U.S.S.R. is a trailblazer for equal rights and equal opportunities.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), American writer, Communist leader, civil rights activist, from The Trial of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn by the American Civil Liberties Union, Corliss Lamont, ed., 1968

I think the democratic movement will be repressed for now, only to erupt again somewhere down the line.
And more blood will be shed, just like it was when Americans fought and died to bring independence, democracy, and freedom to the United States. It's not something you can sit back and wait for someone to give to you voluntarily.
Nien Cheng (1915- ), Chinese American political activist, author, Quoted in "China Hears a Voice of Experience" by Judi Hunt, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10 June 1989

Majority rule rests on numbers; democracy rests on the well-grounded assumption that society is neither a collection of units nor an organism but a network of human relations.
Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), American organizational manager, writer, sociologist, lecturer, from The New State--Group Organisation, the Solution for Popular Government, p. 7, 1918

Our rate of progress, then, and the degree in which we actualize the perfect democracy, depend upon our understanding that man has the power of creating, and that he gets this power through his capacity to join with others to form a real, whole living group.
Ibid., p. 105

"You had faith, and now you don't have it any more?"
ANo, my son, democracy is losing its followers. In our country everything is weakening. The money is weak. Democracy is weak and politicians are very weak. Everything that is weak dies one day."
Carolina Maria de Jesus (1923?- ), Brazilian diarist, Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, 1962

Let's face it: however old-fashioned and out of date and devaluated the word is, we like the way of living provided by democracy.
Éve Curie (1904- ), French American writer, pianist, lecturer, war correspondent; daughter of Pierre (1859-1906; physical chemist) and Marie (1867-1934; physicist; Nobel Prize, 1903, 1911) and sister of Iréne Joliot-Curie (1897-1956), chemist; Nobel Prize, 1935); Address, American Booksellers Association, New York, 9 April 1940

Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Marian Wright Edelman (1939- ), African American lawyer, children's rights advocate, nonprofit administrator; founder, Children's Defense Fund, 1973; Gandhi Peace Award 1989; MacArthur, 1985; NAACP Roy Wilkins Civil Rights Award 1984; Rockefeller, 1981; from Families in Peril, 1987


Establish democracy at home, based on human rights as superior to property rights. . . .
Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), American politician, suffragist, pacifist; U.S. Congresswoman (R-Montana), 1917-1919 and 1941-1943; first woman elected to U.S. Congress or to any national government; cofounder, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 1918; NOW Susan B. Anthony Hall of Fame, 1972; only person in Congressional history to vote against U.S. entry into World Wars I and II; quoted in Jeannette Rankin: First Lady in Congress by Hannah Josephson, 1974

We're nowhere near democracy. I've been released, that's all.*
Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- ), Burmese peace and human rights activist, politician; daughter General Aung San (activist and hero; assassinated, 1947); married to Khin Kyi (ambassador to India); co-founder, National League for Democracy, 1988; Nobel Peace Prize, 1991; quoted in Twentieth-Century Women Political Leaders by Claire Price-Groff, 1998
(*Message to crowd gathered to welcome her from six years of house arrest.)

Pero, mi señor! But sir -- we are a beginning democracy. If there were not strikes, this would not be a democracy.
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (1929- ), Nicaraguan leader, political, newspaper editor; wife of Pedro Joaquin C- (d. 1978, assassinated; newspaper publisher); first woman president of Nicaragua, 1990-1995; quoted in Parade Magazine, 17 February 1991

I believe that it is essential to our leadership in the world and to the development of true democracy in our country to have no discrimination in our country whatsoever. This is most important in the schools of our country.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), American lecturer, humanitarian, First Lady, government official, writer; wife of Franklin D. R- (1882-1945, politician; 32nd U.S. President, 1933-45); niece of Theodore R- (1858-1919; war hero, politician; 26th U.S. president, 1901-09); U.S. delegate to United Nations, 1945-53, 1961; United Nations Prize, 1968; quoted in Eleanor: The Years Alone by Joseph P. Lash, 1972


Since the time of the ancient Greeks a democracy has depended on its philosophers and creative artists. It can only flourish by continuous probing, prodding, and questioning of the social conditions under which man exists and tries to better himself. One of the first moves of a dictatorship is to stifle the artists and thinkers who have the ability to stir up dissent from any prescribed dogma which might enslave them. Because the artist can arouse the curiosity and conscience of his community, he becomes a threat to those who have taken power.
Uta Hagen (1919- ), German American teacher, actor, author; wife of Herbert Berghof (1909-?; Austrian-born American actor, director, teacher); co-founder, Herbert Berghof Studios, New York; Tony, 1951, 1963; London Critics Award, 1963, 1964; from A Challenge for the Actor, 1991

Democracy in the contemporary world demands, among other things, an educated and informed people.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), American poet, writer; Guggenheim, 1947; AAP. 1955; Pulitzer, 1956; Rockefeller, 1967; NBA, 1970; NBCCA, 1977; from Brazil, 1962

We are thus brought to a conception of Democracy not merely as a sentiment which desires the well-being of all men, nor yet as a creed which believes in the essential dignity and equality of all men, but as that which affords a rule of living as well as a test of faith.
Jane Addams (1860-1935), American social worker, author; founder of Hull House, Chicago; Nobel Peace Prize, 1931; Hall of Fame, 1965; from Democracy and Social Ethics, 1902

Courts are an aristocratic institution in a democracy. That's the dilemma for an institution that has the function of reviewing the will of the people. We're bound to be "anti-majoritarian."
Rose Bird (1936-1999), American lawyer, jurist; quoted in The New York Times News Service, 23 October 1986

A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over a long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected.
Eleanor Roosevelt, op. cit.; from "Let Us Have Faith in Democracy," Land Policy Review, Department of Agriculture, January 1942


My belief in the growth and permanence of democracy is undimmed. I know that the people will cast off the new dictatorship as they did the old. I believe as firmly as in my youth that humanity will surmount the era of poverty and war. Life will be happier and more beautiful for all. I believe in the GOLDEN AGE.
Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), English suffragist, social reformer, editor, historian, newspaper publisher; daughter of Emmeline P-, sister of Christabel and Adela P-; from Myself When Young, Margot Asquith, ed. 1938

A democratic home is the foundation of a democratic state.
Agnes E. Benedict (1889-1950), American educator; from The Happy Home, 1948

Every democratic system evolves its own conventions. It is not only the water but the banks which make the river.
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984), Indian politician, leader, political; daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964; Indian prime minister, 1947-64, assassinated); president, National Congress Party, 1959-60; minister of information, 1964; prime minister, 1966-77, 1980-84; first woman prime minister of India; assassinated; quoted in Speeches and Writings, 1975

It is subversive to set up inquisitions like this, state or national, into the thoughts and consciences of Americans. . . . It is subversive for commissions like this to spread hysteria and intimidation throughout the land that Americans are afraid to sign petitions, afraid to read progressive magazines, afraid to make out checks for liberal causes, afraid to join organizations, afraid to speak their mind on public issues. Americans dare not be free citizens! This is the destruction of democracy.
Florence Luscomb (1887-?), American organizer, pacifist, architect, suffragist; statement to Commission to Investigate Communism in Massachusetts (7 January 1955), Quoted in Moving the Mountain by Ellen Cantarow, 1980

Democracies have been, and governments called, free; but the spirit of independence and the consciousness of unalienable rights, were never before transfused into the minds of a whole people....The feeling of equality which they proudly cherish does not proceed from an ignorance of their station, but from the knowledge of their rights; and it is this knowledge which will render it so exceedingly difficult for any tyrant ever to triumph over the liberties of our country.
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), American writer, editor, poet; first woman magazine editor in U.S.; established Thanksgiving as national holiday; established Mount Vernon as national shrine; from Sketches of American Character, 1829

"There's absolutely no discipline in the democracies. The other day our propaganda minister said that the democracies strike him as being a collection of comical old fogies. But I've got to say it myself; they're rotten and corrupt to the marrow."
Erika Mann (1905-1969), German writer, lecturer, journalist; daughter of Thomas C (1875-1955, writer), wife of W.H. Auden (1907-73, English American author); from The Lights Go Down, 1940

The idea that each individual has intrinsic, God-given value and is of infinite worth quite apart from any social contribution -- an idea most pagans would have rejected as absurd -- persists today as the ethical basis of western law and politics. Our secularized western idea of democratic society owes much to that early Christian vision of a new society -- a society no longer formed by the natural bonds of family, tribe, or nation but by the voluntary choice of its members.
Elaine Pagels (1943- ), American educator, historian of religion, author; National Book Award, 1980; from Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 1988

When women are pessimistic about their political strength and feel hopeless about changing the conditions of their lives, it is almost as if they do not believe that democracy means the country belongs to them. But it's true.
Naomi Wolf (1962- ), American feminist, nonfiction writer; Rhodes Scholar, 1986; from Fire With Fire, The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century, 1993

"We must make democracy the popular creed...If we should fail to do this, our people are bound to suffer..." That is what my father* said. It is the reason why I am participating in this struggle.
Aung San Suu Kyi, op. cit.
(*General Aung San, activist and hero; d. 1947; assassinated.)

. . . democracy must first be safe for America before it can be safe for the world.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940), Russian American lecturer, political organizer, editor, anarchist, political agitator; founder of Mother Earth, 1906; from Mother Earth, July 1917

Our real battlefield today is Asia and our real battle is the one between democracy and communism. . . . We have to prove to the world and particularly to downtrodden areas of the world which are the natural prey to the principles of communist economics that democracy really brings about happier and better conditions for the people as a whole.
Eleanor Roosevelt, op. cit.; quoted in Eleanor: The Years Alone by Joseph P. Lash, 1972

The paradox of American democracy has been that its slogan of equal opportunity has meant, often, equal opportunity to get power over your fellows.
Mary Parker Follett, op. cit.; from Creative Experience, 1924

It is obvious that the most despotic forms of social organization would be suitable for inert men who are satisfied with the situation fate has placed them in, and that the most abstract form of democratic theory would be practicable among sages guided only by their reason. The only problem is to what degree it is possible to excite or to contain the passions without endangering public happiness.
Germaine de Staël (1766-1827), French Swiss feminist, novelist, literary critic; daughter of Suzanne Chardon and Jacques Necker (1732-1804, financier, statesman; minister of finance for Louis IV); wife of Baron Eric Magnus de S- de Holstein (1; Swed. ambassador), mistress and wife of Lt. John Rocca (2); from De l'influence des passions sur le bonheur des individus et des nations [A Treatise on the Influence of the Passions upon the Happiness of Individuals and of Nations], 1796

You see few people here in America who really care very much about living a Christian life in a democratic world.
Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987), American writer, feminist, politician, diplomat, playwright; wife of Henry Robinson L- (2; publishing tycoon, 1898-1967); U.S. Congresswoman (R-Connecticut), 1943-47; U.S. Ambassador to Italy, 1953-57; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1983; from Europe in the Spring, 1940

For our democracy has been marred by imperialism, and it has been enlightened only by individual and sporadic efforts at freedom.
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), American activist, children's, novelist; Pulitzer Prize, 1932; Nobel Prize, 1938 (first American woman); Speech, "Freedom for All," New York, 14 March 1942

Chinks in America's egalitarian armor are not hard to find. Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism.
Florence King (1936- ), American author; from Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, 1989

We have forgotten that democracy must live as it thinks and think as it lives.
Agnes Meyer (1887-1970?), American translator, social worker, writer, journalist; from Journey Through Chaos, 1943

. . . the first step toward liberation of any group is to use the power in hand. . . . And the power in hand is the vote.
Helen Gahagan Douglas (1900-1980), American lecturer, politician, actor, writer; wife of actor Melvyn D- ; U.S. delegate to United Nations, 1946; U.S. Representative, 1945-1951, D-Calif.; quoted in Ms. (New York), October 1973


The great majority of women are more intelligent, better educated, and far more moral than multitudes of men whose right to vote no man questions.
Lucy Stone (1818-1893), American editor, abolitionist, suffragist, lecturer; wife of Henry Brown Blackwell, sister-in-law of Antoinette Brown and of Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell; probably the first woman ever to speak on women's rights in public; co-founder, American Woman Suffrage Assoc. (AWSA), 1869; publisher of The Woman's Journal, 1870; quoted in Women Suffragists by Diana Star Helmer, 1988


Return to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page


Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years, Elaine started working on the first edition, way back in 1974, she was making the transition from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition. The Quotable Woman has become the standard book of quotations for women's studies programs and organizations all over the English-speaking world. She also wrote The Female Dramatist a few years back, and has just came out with a new collection, The Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine has marveled at how her work in women's history has changed who she is and how she is. Ever eager to share that experience with others, she merged her two passions - acting and women's studies - and began, in 1984, to present living history portraits of notable women to civic and educational institutions. To date she has given more than 400 such presentations to upwards of 50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A., but in Mexico and even China! You can find out more about Elaine by visiting her web site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.


 

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