The best protection any woman can have…is courage.
~from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Fighting Together for Women’s Rights
Hot. Too hot. I wiped the sweat from my face with a bandana already soaked with sweat. My brain didn’t want to function. I’d slept poorly. To be honest, since I’d been on the line I’d slept poorly. Too cold at night. Too hot during the day. Bright lights and horns all night had worn us out.
I shuffled in line behind the woman in front of me and thought better than in there. I glanced at the enormous warehouse. There were no windows, so the migrants weren’t getting a breath of air. I could see that the air-conditioning unit was too small for that huge interior space. This is Texas, for God’s sake. What were they thinking?
Three trucks drove up, skidding to a stop and dousing us with dust. The men piled out, laughing at us. Let them laugh, I thought, until I saw that one truck was a tanker. Hoses began to be unrolled. Fire hoses. I’m too tired for this. Too tired. The woman in front of me, Gail, wiped dust from her face, already gone pale. We all knew what was coming. Every day it was something different. Dogs, a few days ago, barking and snarling, led right up to us and snapping at our legs. Then it was smoke—smoke grenades tossed at us over and over us until Gail collapsed, choking.
We moved into several lines, arm-in-arm, bracing for the water. “At least we’ll wash the dust off.”
The others chuckled but it was a grim sound. Some of the women had been on this protest line for five weeks. Five weeks of constant harassment was incredible to me. I’d only been here two weeks and I was about at the end of my strength.
The men laughed as they hauled the hoses forward. The media closed in but not too close. They didn’t want to get blasted, but they did want to get the shot. I wondered, as one man called out orders, if anyone was paying any attention. Were we making any difference at all?
“Hose ‘em down, boys!”
The blast of water hit us in the heads, knocking us over and into the line of women behind us.
We fell like dominoes. As soon as we were down and the water off of us for a second, we stood back up. My head ached. The water was like getting hit with a rubber bullet. I tried to push back the memory of a protester a few years ago who’d been killed by a rubber bullet. Not today, I thought to myself. Not today.
I braced again as I saw the stream of water come back my way. Weaker, we tumbled into those behind us. It wasn’t long before we were all up against the chain link fence, arms over our heads, knees to chests, backs to the water if we could manage to maneuver it.
Eventually the water stopped. Most of us were crying. Arms went out to offer comfort. We helped each other up, hair dripping, covered in Texas mud. Our tormentors found that hysterical. They laughed and pointed and made nasty remarks about clothes clinging to female bodies.
I found my sign – torn, broken, against the fence – and picked it up. I walked toward them. “What would your mother say? Would she be proud of what you’ve done today?” My throat hurt from the water blast, and I could barely croak out the words.
A few men had the grace to look ashamed, and they quickly turned away, but not many of them. It was disappointing. They tired of their harassment and left. Other protesters hurried over with more signs and towels.
What am I doing here? I miss my husband. My kids.
A journalist approached. “Can I talk to you?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
Not more than twenty-five, she looked at me with giant brown eyes. There were tears in them. “You all were the bravest people I’ve ever seen. Thank you for doing this. It’s making a difference. Really.”
Then I had tears. We hugged despite the mud. She showed me the polls. I told her why I was there. When she left, I thought maybe this will make a difference.
I trudged through the already drying mud to take my place on the line.
Connie Cockrell is a storyteller, a 20-year Air Force veteran, a manager at a computer operations company, a wife, mother, sister, and volunteer. She’s published 20 books, has been included in five anthologies, and her work has appeared on EveryDayStories.com and FrontierTales.com. She can be found at www.conniesrandomthoughts.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ConniesRandomThoughts, on Twitter at: @ConnieCockrell, or on Amazon at amazon.com/author/conniecockrell
About the image: On Dec. 3, 1909. six women, including Mary Dreier, Ida Rauh, Helen Marot, Rena Borky, Yetta Raff, and Mary Effers, linked arm in arm in their march to City Hall during the shirtwaist (garment-makers) strike, demanding an end police abuse. Other shirtwaist strikers follow behind carrying a union banner.