I read an article the other day – I forget where – trying to argue that groups such as Just Stop Everything and Exhaustion Rebellion are the modern equivalent of the Suffragettes; that is “people who are prepared to be pains in the neck because somebody has to [be]”. Like what faced the Suffragettes a hundred years ago, the argument went, the issues are too important to ignore.
I was initially sceptical of this as it seemed to me that the suffragettes targeted the political system and its workings rather than setting out to inconvenience (and hence alienate) ordinary members of the public, and certainly didn't stop ambulances getting to hospitals. However, as I’m no expert on any of this, I read around and finished up here. I was surprised at what I found.
If anything, today's militants are mild by comparison with some of the more extreme members of the Women’s Social and Political Movement (WSPU). Christabel Pankhurst wrote this in 1913:
"If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war, and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed. Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men. It is not only war we have declared. We are fighting for a revolution!"
Physical attacks (whips, catapults and hatchets) on Churchill and Asquith, putting phosphorus into postboxes which injured postmen, trying to burn down buildings (theatres, piers, railway stations, Kew Gardens, homes, churches), sometimes with the public inside them, attacks on galleries, shops and phone wires.
We should, perhaps, think ourselves lucky.
And this seems an apt comment to end on: "The impact of the WSPU’s extremism, much like the impact of political violence today, lost them many supporters."