This being important business, Sadie wrote notes in ink on her best business paper, telling the ladies in her library goup they would begin at the corner of Houston and Rivington, ten o’clock Sunday, August 19, and finish in Union Square, two, maybe three miles, good exercise, no boots with high heels, no tight corsets, better comfortable than thin. A friendly tip: no tea, no coffee for breakfast. Clean public bathrooms don’t grow on trees. After, stay to hear the speakers, two lady writers just now out of the Canal Street Jail. Bring clean underwear and pajamas, in case of an emergency overnight stay in jail. Jail fine, maybe ten dollars, to be paid by the New York City Women’s Suffrage League.”
The sheet to hand out to spectators took special thinking. Sadie rejected a long message – people didn’t have reading time – or an accusing message. Something angry could close up minds before they even opened. In the end, she decided on a short history pointing-out. Printed inside a rectangle edged in black, a few simple lines in bold, italic letters, a message Sadie had not fully understood when she’d first read it, but now believed when explained by Mrs. Pomerantz. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Meaning, who couldn’t understand how true these words are: “All men and women are created equal.”
The words were written when America was being born, Mrs. Pomerantz told her, in a paper called “The Declaration of Independence,” by a man named Jefferson, his first name, Thomas, like Yivvy’s friend. Only he didn’t include women. That word was added sixty five years ago, when the first brave ladies began demanding the vote.
The weather on the day of the march was what Sadie called, beshert. Meant to be. Enough, but not too much sun, no threat of rain. Timmy Hogan, and two friends, each boy bribed with ten cents and two bags of Sadie’s home-made chocolate toffee, a cherry baked into the top, wheeled the banners and paper handouts from Ludlow Street in their wagons, along with the popcorn, soda pop, bandages.
All the marching ladies arrived on time, both excited and wary. Sadie counted fifty four, everyone carrying small bags packed with underwear, pajamas, water bottles, smelling salts, and, in some cases, peppermint candies for sucking.
Lining them up, she put two women in the front row: Hattie Milligan, mostly young, red hair, a punim populated with freckles, with a strong voice like a street car conductor, new to America from Ireland. Hattie had brought her flute and wanted to play “Yankee Doodle” as they marched. “An American song,” she said, “to show we’re patriotic.” Sadie shrugged, thinking, flute, trombone, what’s the difference, it makes look-at-me noises. She’d had a special affection for Hattie since the girl told her she heard God telling her to keep fighting.
“Your God talks in Irish?”
“Yeah, and even Jewish, if you know how to listen.”
Next to Hattie, Sadie put soft, round Fagele Rabinowitz, mother of six boys —-“Call me Frances, we’re in America now.”–- with her oldest son’s drum, explaining, “I don’t know from reading notes, but for sure I’ll get us plenty of attention.”
Sadie, congratulating herself for not having one minute of thinking who was and who wasn’t a good prospect for buying a love knot, passed out pink satin banners emblazoned: ‘New York City Women’s Suffrage Association,” lining up the women side-by-side, eight in a row, every fifth row carrying signs; “Women For The Vote,” on some, “Women Marching for Women’s Rights,” on others.
At two minutes past ten o’clock, Sadie blew a whistle, hand in the air, and shouted, “Ready, set, going,” stepping out of the way to let the women pass, then brought up the rear waving an enormous American flag, thinking first, “Thanks God Fivel can’t see, then, what if Herschl is watching, letting that worry melt before it took hold. Too bad, this is me, blame it on too many books, too much thinking. Blame how I hate, more than I hate the Cossacks, anything that says, Sadie, you are not one thousand percent a good enough person.
After the first block, the crowds on the sidewalks grew thicker, toddlers waving, women calling out to them, dogs barking, a few men booing. So far, Sadie thought, so good. In her first march, two, two and a half years ago, nobody clapped or waved or hollered, “Hurrah for you!” Today she felt a faint whiff of “We’re in this together, keep on.” Or was she imagining?
The street intersections were the hardest part. The women, tangled up with cars and buses and taxis and dogs, the police, directing everyone to slow down or hurry up or get out of the way, blowing, blowing their whistles, until somehow the marchers made it to the opposite side, regrouped, and moved on. For several blocks, a small clutch of boys, twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, tagged alongside, shouting, “Go home, do the dishes, your kids are calling you.”
Sadie, moving, always moving, front to back, then back to front, shouting, “Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t talk back, make like they aren’t there, keep up, march, march.” Close to Union Square, Fagele began walking backwards, beating her drum, then broke into “My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty,” until the women sang along, waving their hands, their signs, hesitantly at first, then louder, louder, then on to “O Say Can You See,” until arriving at Union Square and a gathering crowd of men, women, children eating ice cream cones and drinking soda pop.
Everything was in place: folding chairs, several young girls borrowed from the high school handing out soda and popcorn, and at the front, the two speakers, Olga Kitzoff, and Maggie Riley, school teachers, fresh out of The New York City Work House on Roosevelt Island, where they’d been sent for chaining themselves to the fence around City Hall while carrying placards demanding votes for women. For ten days, they’d eaten oatmeal and soup crawling with worms, then refused to eat, and were force fed, and put into solitary confinement.
When the crowd was seated, Sadie clapped for attention, and introduced Olga and Maggie, adding where they’d been, why they were there, and how they’d been treated. The young women spoke about how the warden and guards at the Work House treated them like they were criminals, worse than, and brought in other prisoners to beat them. A husky man in the front row, straw hat, handle bar moustache, holding a bottle of beer, called out, “Stay home, where you belong, you won’t get beaten up.” As though pinched, the young woman sitting beside him jumped up, a small child clinging to her hip and, stopping long enough to make humphing sounds at him, turned, her child now howling, and left.
For a moment, silence, as though everyone had been struck dumb. Then an older man sitting at the back, stood up. “Whatta you expect, lady, going to jail? You are a criminal,” followed by angry shouts from the crowd, for and against. A rabbi, sitting in front in a keepa, called out, “Ladies, ladies, if God wanted women to vote, He’d have written it in the Ten Commandments.”
A pretty young woman in a red straw sailor hat and polka-dotted jacket stood up and hollered, “Sell your religious stories somewhere else, grandpa!”
Sadie, standing at the back, felt a strong taste of trouble about to happen, and hurried to the front, where, summoning a smile she didn’t feel, she thanked the speakers, thanked everybody for coming, and invited them to mingle, talk out their ideas, that’s what’s good about America, have more popcorn, plenty of soda pop left.
The crowd was leaving the park slowly, as though expecting a final act that hadn’t been played out, trailing empty bottles and candy wrappers. Sadie heard a loud noise, like fire crackers, then saw the men. Ten, no, more, maybe twenty, coming up fast, from God knows where, carrying paper bags.
The man in front, tall and strong looking, like a fireman, maybe a policeman, but no uniform, was beating on a drum, rat ta tat tat, not music, exactly, more like noise. The men mingled with the dispersing crowd, then surrounded it, and turned into a wall, a wall of men, looking angry, everyone with a bag. Gottenhimmel, what is, Sadie wondered. Who? How?
She got her answer when a skinny man in a yellow vest opened his bag, shook it, put his hand in and pulled out a handful of what looked like garbage, which he threw, then did it again, until all the men were pitching coffee grounds, soggy lettuce, rotten tomatoes, empty tin cans and milk bottles, at the ground, into the air, and then at the people who had broken away from the circle, and were now screaming, running, pulling small children behind them.
“Garbage, for the garbage you just heard,” the drumming man hollered after them.
Sadie stood to one side, watching, stunned. Fivel, for sure, would say, Sadie, you asked for trouble, marching around, for what, to vote? Who voted in Luvel? And Herschl would say…”
“Stand to one side, lady.” The drummer was talking to her, scattering leftover popcorn over the foul mix littering the ground.
As far as Sadie could see, the grass was in ruins, folding chairs flung everywhere, empty bottles, so many bottles. A garbage can smell, seemed to be rising from the ground like a foul fog. This man was one time someone’s little boy, loved, played with, and could be now someone’s husband, even a father to girls. Why did he hate so much, to make him get dressed in maybe a nice bathroom in a nice flat, eat his breakfast, kiss his wife, his children goodbye, and come down here to spill trouble? “Mister, mister…” He stopped, looking back at her.
“Why do you have to do this, this…” Empty hands gesturing to the rubble, blinking back tears. “We gotta be telling the truth, you’re so afraid from us.”