It's an election year, so you're probably feeling pretty smug about how politically active you are. You're registered to vote, you signed a petition or two, maybe even attended a rally. You're using all the right hashtags on Twitter. And that's all great, don't get me wrong. I'm just saying that by the end of this article, you might feel the need to step up your game a little bit.
5The "Iron Lady of Manipur" Went On The World's Longest Hunger Strike
Plenty of people have gone on hunger strikes to protest before, but they rarely last very long. Either the person dies (that is some serious dedication, and we don't recommend it), they give in, or the institution they're protesting gives in. Even Gandhi went back to noshing at some point. But one of his countrywomen took the hunger strike idea and ran with it ... and then ran some more and some more. Irom Sharmila, also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur," finally ended 16 years without food in August, making it the longest hunger strike on record. Her first "meal" was some honey she licked off her hand in front of reporters.
Whoa, slow down there, piggy.
It's not like Sharmila figured out how to exist without nourishment, or that she was ridiculously obese when she started and is now really, really skinny. She began her protest in the year 2000, after 10 innocent civilians were (allegedly) killed by Indian soldiers. Her issue was with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, which, among other things, lets soldiers shoot people on sight. And you thought the Patriot Act was sketchy.
Since governments think it looks bad if you die while peacefully protesting their policies, Sharmila was arrested and had a feeding tube stuck up her nose. They gave her an out, though: All she had to do was agree to start eating again, and she would be released. But she was all, "Nah, I'm good." Her actions were impressive enough that after five years without real food, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She didn't win, but that's maybe for the best, since the stuff at the awards dinner would probably be hard to resist.
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"We poured the champagne in her nose and she was like 'Stop! It burns!' So ungrateful."
So why did she call it off? Basically, "lady is still being force-fed" was becoming old news at this point. Sharmila realized she could more effectively make a difference by running for office and changing the laws herself, without relying on other lazy, full people to do it. Let's just hope they manage to get off their big butts and vote.
4Suffragist Emily Davison Threw Herself Under The King's Horse
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Speaking of voting, remember when we didn't let women do that? Yeah, that was crazy. 100 years ago, women in the UK were fighting hard for the right to vote, just like they were in America. There are plenty of women who deserve mention, but Emily Davison was in a class of her own.
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Spoiler alert: This doesn't end well.
Born in England in 1872, Davison was not your average Victorian lady. She worked as a governess to pay her way through Oxford and got the best grades possible in her final exams, yet didn't earn a degree because the school didn't give them to women, because of our feeble brains or whatever. She became a teacher, but in 1908, she left to become a full-time suffragist, joining the most militant group, the Women's Social and Political Union, run by Emmeline Pankhurst. Davison took "militant" a bit too literally, to the extent that even the WSPU was like, "Hey, tone it down" and backed off from her actions.
Davison was arrested 49 times for crimes ranging from disrupting men's meetings to throwing stones to friggin' arson. While she was in jail, she went on hunger strikes, like many incarcerated suffragists, and was subjected to force-feeding. She even threw herself down the stairs, not once but twice, in the hopes that her suicide might draw attention to a cause that she thought was going nowhere.
Couldn't she have just worn a more flamboyant hat?
Then came the Epsom Derby in 1913, a huge race in a horse-crazy country. Everyone was there, including the king and queen, who owned one of the horses that was competing. Davison and a friend got right at the front of the crowd with a clear view of the track, and as the king's horse came past, she ran out in front of it. Oh, and since this was around the start of newsreels, we have the incident on film.
Davison died from her injuries four days later. 50,000 people lined the streets of London for her funeral. Historians debate to this day whether she meant to kill herself or if she was just trying to disrupt the race. Still, she ran in front of a horse; she must have known that wasn't going to end well. It caused the sensation she wanted, though, and she goes down in history as one of the great badasses whom we owe our rights to.