Hands Upon the Plow (download)
Singers love this anthem, full of strength and resilience and inspired by Alice Paul, the suffrage movement, and popular music.
Excerpt performed by The Peninsula Women’s Chorus under the direction of Martín Benvenuto.
Voicing: SSA choir, piano, opt. alto sax solo
Program Note from the Poet:
Although I have tremendous respect for all three of our Trailblazers women honorees, I feel the greatest gratitude and personal empathy toward suffragist and women’s rights champion Alice Paul. I have voted in every election since 1968, and doing so is a right I’ve taken for granted. Of course, I was aware of “the Movement,” but until I researched the life and work of Alice Paul and other women’s rights pioneers, I didn’t realize how long they had labored nor how deeply they suffered to obtain this gift of rightful participation in the democratic process for American women! Alice never married or had children. She organized, marched, confronted for decades—she was even painfully force-fed through a nose tube while on a hunger strike. She knew exactly how difficult it was to wield that heavy plow through the muddy fields of prejudice, distrust and ignorance women faced as they tried to obtain even the most basic rights in a democracy. And that is why she entreated women to never stop pushing for equal rights until we reached the end of each row, or obstacle. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet…
Some of the lines of my poem are quotes from Alice herself—e.g., “the movement as mosaic” and “no new worlds without female power.” Other original lines were inspired by her incredible bravery and persistence, ending (as any poem or song about Alice and her fellow suffragists must) with an exhortation to lift our voices and VOTE!
Hands upon the Plow
for Alice Paul
She likened our Movement
to mosaic tiles: more vibrant
and stronger when linked by the mortar of women,
our undaunted will.
She placed trembling hands
upon the true plow,
told us not to let go,
to push hard till we reached
the end of each row.
She claimed No New Worlds
without female power—
peace, progress, discovery all grow
in our hearts, our wise voices,
~ Barbara Saxton (2019)
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