I’ve always taken a certain pride in what I view as a fairly progressive tradition here in Rochester. Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and many other progressives made Rochester a hot-bed of populist reform in the middle 1800’s. It is not common knowledge, but the lone man who voiced support for Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Women’s Bill of Rights – which contained the call for women’s suffrage that even Susan B. thought might wreck their movement – was none other than Frederick Douglass. Abolition, temperance, women’s rights. These were all of-a-peice in an effort to turn America toward a more accommodating path for human dignity.
And in 2011, we find ourselves once again in the middle of a similar struggle for human dignity. The Occupy Wall Street movement stands in opposition to the rampant, world-wide greed and avarice of the corporate elite. Once again, we in Rochester have the pride of hosting a small piece of that global effort with the #OccupyRochester protestors joining the effort. As the protestors struggle to voice their message against an ambiguously hostile City Hall, we are reminded today that in this, too, there is a parallel with those old days of populism.
Because as @Sean_Dobbin notes on Twitter, today is the anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s failed attempt to vote here in Rochester. She went to the polling station despite not yet having been granted the franchise that all Americans enjoy today. She was arrested for her efforts.
139 years ago, there appears to have been little indeed to separate the reactions to her movement and our own. In both cases, the City of Rochester was accommodating to a point – they actually allowed Susan B. Anthony to register to vote, oddly enough; they allowed the Suffragettes to march in the streets. But ultimately, when it really counted, Rochester turned then as now to its polite rules of conduct, which like it or not, did not include women at the time.
Drawing conclusions from such a gathering of facts is really more of a Rorschach’s test than a proper intellectual exercise. The facts are necessarily limited. But I do think that, as we think about Rochester politics generally, its worth noting that we demonstrate in every era a profound need for orderly conduct. As I noted when I last posted about Occupy Rochester, polite rules seem to be the great constant of Rochester history, even as the mores have changed.
I think along with that is an accommodating nature, which in the end, is a very humanist and populist nature. We have never been nor will we ever been the Berkley of New York – in fact, I would hazard a guess that Mrs. Anthony would be shocked indeed to observe our lives as we live them now. But our tradition, or present condition and our future all seem bound by a genuine compassion for the world that we ignore at our own expense.