Rally at South Carolina State House in Columbia
June 28, 2022
As Yogi Berra once said, it was deja vu all over again. As I stood with my sisters on the lobby floor, I looked straight up to the massive false dome of the Capitol and heard the whispers of power floating in the galleries above me – the same whispers I heard 50 years ago when I stood in this space rallying for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA had passed the SC House of Representatives unanimously in 1972 but was blocked in the Senate. Sound familiar?
I was a member of the Columbia Chapter of the National Organization for Women in the early 1970s when we sold hot dogs at the Okra Strut as one of several fundraisers to raise money to bring two lobbyists to Columbia from the national NOW office for three weeks to help us move the Senate leadership. Unfortunately, I discovered my crock pot did not cook the hot dogs fast enough for the hordes of underage customers. I did, however, successfully volunteer to house one of the women from DC in my home. She was a black lesbian named Cappy. I wanted to be her when I grew up.
Everyone was naively optimistic at the time; the Almighty Most Powerful in charge of the Senate was an old white man who promised us if we would just be quiet and not stir up any trouble, the ERA would go forward in the Senate. The two NOW lobbyists went home to DC with that promise in hand. However, the bill remained blocked in Committee. South Carolina became one of 15 states that never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment for women.
Fast forward 50 years to June 28, 2022. My good friend and fellow activist Francie picked me up at my home, drove us to the State House where we joined 200 other women (and a few men) to march with our pink Planned Parenthood Together We Fight for All signs to the lobby to protest the US Supreme Court ruling last week that overturned a fundamental right for women guaranteed in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Women’s bodies in South Carolina were now in the hands of mostly old white men who had offices in this building.
A young white man in a lovely beige summer suit and tie ushered us into the lobby area and asked us to “move back, make room for the next group.” Since I am super short with very white hair, Francie found a place for us near the front and told me we wouldn’t be moving. Young mothers with babies in strollers and toddlers holding Our Bodies, Our Choice signs came through. Older women holding the same Pink Planned Parenthood signs we held streamed in alongside us. A wide spectrum of humanity poured into the lobby while we watched. Soon we were packed together like Uncrustables in a 10-pack box as we held our signs high to face the large media contingent opposite our positions in the small area.
We stood chatting among ourselves when a tall older white man holding a very large black sign with the words Abortion is Murder began walking in the open area between our contingent and the media – strolling slowly back and forth in front of us. I looked for the pleasant young man in the beige suit who had asked us to move back and make room for more people. I didn’t see him, so I turned to Francie and said in my very nicest loud voice, my goodness, what is that guy doing parading back and forth in front of us with the sign? (Not exactly what I said, not exactly my nicest voice.) The young man in the beige suit appeared immediately. With the sweetest smile, he told me we’re not allowed to interact with the other protesters. Please stand back.
Luckily Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter (Dem Orangeburg County District 66) arrived and began to speak to us. She thanked the marchers for showing up, for making our voices heard, and promised to continue the fight for women in South Carolina to have control over our bodies. She is a black woman who was joined by two black men, but no white male representative welcomed us to the people’s house.
Unluckily, the older white man with the big black sign resumed strolling in the supposedly off limits area which made my blood pressure rise. I told Francie we needed to leave before I got us arrested. She sensed danger and said let’s go now. Wouldn’t you know the man with the Big Sign happened to walk directly in front of us when we began to break ranks. Hey, I said, in my not so nice loud voice, you can’t just walk back and forth with your sign in our faces in a space where no one else gets to even stand with their sign. He replied in a cold even tone “you’re not allowed to talk to me.” At that moment I heard the voice from 50 years ago telling me to be quiet, to not make trouble. I was so angry I was about to hit him with my pink sign.
Francie sprang into action running interference by sticking her pink Planned Parenthood sign in his face – that’s what tall people can do. They can rescue short ones. She proceeded to tell him he was in a danger zone, but the man with the Big Sign stood his ground. Francie then shuffled me out of the lobby right past the Jesus people who had also appeared out of thin air, who had brought the same tired signs I’d seen all my life at every march I’d made on any social justice issue. I wondered if they were thinking to themselves there’s that old white woman still going to hell, flames licking around her.
A woman was arrested at the State House that day, but thanks to my friend Francie that woman wasn’t me. Good thing – Pretty picked me up outside on Sumter Street at exactly 1 o’clock so that we could give our five month old granddaughter Molly her bottle on time. May the voices she hears throughout her life assure her she’s allowed.
Congratulations to newly sworn in Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her journey for full equality for women continues today – onward.