The Power of the Pen

The Power of the Pen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Power of the Pen

Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that within her which struggles for expression.

~Margaret Sanger

The very first speech I ever had to write changed my life more than I could ever have imagined. I was a third-grader when I chose Susan B. Anthony to be the topic.

When I got the assignment, I went to the library and began researching the Women’s Fight for the Right to Vote. I learned that Susan B. Anthony led the fight to give women a say in our society. She overcame a lot of obstacles in order to do that. I never really thought about a time when women had no voting rights and that their opinions didn’t count.

It was sad that Susan fought so hard for women’s rights and never got to vote. She died fourteen years before the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. But she knew that her goal would be achieved. She said that “failure is impossible,” and she was right.

About a week after giving my school speech, my mom read a newspaper article about “The Group Portrait Monument,” a statue honoring Susan B. Anthony and other early women’s rights leaders. The problem was that few people ever got to see the statue. It was dedicated in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1921, but within twenty-four hours it was taken down to the Capitol basement and stored where it had remained for nearly eighty years.

When I read that article, I was furious! This statue belonged in a place of honor. I felt that it should be in the Rotunda, along with the statues of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington. Do you know that there are no statues of women there?

The article asked for donations because it would take $74,000 to move the thirteen-ton statue out of the basement. I decided to write a letter with a self-addressed envelope asking my relatives and friends to send a Susan B. Anthony coin or a $1 bill to me to contribute to the Women’s Suffrage Statue Campaign. I really wanted to help get that statue moved out of the basement.

Every day I ran to the mailbox after school. Every night, after my homework, I wrote more letters at the kitchen table. Pretty soon the whole family got involved in the project. My seven-year-old brother, David, licked stamps and envelopes. My mother and grandmother found addresses for people I wanted to contact and my dad drove me around and gave me tons of encouragement when I spoke to big groups. I passed around a piggy bank for donations at the end of each speech. I sent more than $500 to the fund in the first three months. Pretty soon, I had raised $2,000. I began visualizing that statue up in the Rotunda next to the greatest Americans in history.

I was discouraged when I heard that four other times, in 1928, 1932, 1950 and 1995, people had tried to get the statue out of the basement and had failed. I learned that the House and Senate would have to vote on relocating the statue. More determined than before, I spent three weeks writing to every representative and senator in the United States, urging them to vote yes on the bill to relocate the statue. This was not about politics. It was about respect and responsibility. Susan B. Anthony fought for my rights, and now I was fighting for hers! The Senate unanimously voted to restore the statue to the Rotunda, but Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House, didn’t want to use any tax money to pay for the cost of relocating the statue. Even if we raised enough money, the statue couldn’t be relocated without a unanimous vote in the House.

There was only one thing to do… write more letters! I wrote a letter to Mr. Gingrich every other week for an entire year! Boy, did that try my patience! I sent about twenty-five letters to him before I got a reply. He finally wrote a letter saying that a committee would study the issue.

At that point, I figured that I had better write to every member of the House again. By now I had mailed more than 2,000 letters!

My grandmother helped with postage costs by getting her friends and church groups to donate rolls of stamps to help me with the battle. I got writer’s cramp from writing letters and discovered that it takes a lot of work to bring about change. But if you believe in something, it’s worth the hard work.

My biggest boost came when I was interviewed on radio and TV shows. Then, a bunch of newspaper and magazine articles came out telling thousands more people about what I was trying to do. As a result of all that attention, I was invited to speak at a fund-raising event for the Woman’s Suffrage Statue Campaign in Washington, D.C., in July of 1996. I had never flown in an airplane. My whole family got to go and my brother had a great time. He thought that was a pretty good reward for licking all those stamps!

But the best part was getting to see the statue, even if it was in the smelly old basement. I thought it looked really beautiful. I’ve heard people say that they think that the statue is ugly. To that I say — it was an ugly time! The three women in the statue have their arms pinned in marble because they were trapped by “slavery!”

I spoke from my heart when I talked to all those people and received a standing ovation for my speech!

After I got home, I continued to write letters. I wouldn’t give up! It took women seventy-two years to win the right to vote, but they didn’t give up until they reached their goal… and neither would I!

On September 27, 1996, House Resolution 216, the bill to get the statue moved, passed unanimously. My mom and I jumped up and down in our living room when we heard the news. We just kept screaming, “We won!”

The statue stayed in the Rotunda for a year and then was moved to another place of honor in Washington, where everyone can see it. It will never go back to that awful basement again!

I’ve learned a lot from this experience… mostly about respecting people who fought for rights that too many people take for granted. I’ve learned to have more patience. If there is a problem, don’t say “someone else will fix it.” You have to do it yourself.

I’ll turn eighteen in a few years and will be able to vote in the year 2005. When I vote, I’ll silently thank Susan B. Anthony for her fight and for helping me discover the power of the pen.

~Arlys Angelique Endres, 13, as told by Carol Osman Brown

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