By reenacting Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech from 1851, Brenda Tindal of the Levine Museum of the New South relayed an inspiring message to Charlotte Women’s March about the power of collective action:
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it right-side up again!”
Tindal was one of four panelists at the group’s April 18 spring meeting at First United Methodist Church who urged the more than 100 women in attendance to make their voices heard.
Vote. Volunteer. Even better, run for office.
“There are more people sitting in this sanctuary than put me in office,” former state representative Martha Alexander said, referring to her first election to the N.C. General Assembly, which she won by 50 votes in 1990. “You count. Your advocacy counts and, more importantly, your vote counts.”
Your telephone calls count, too, said Marcie Shealy, director of philanthropy for Planned Parenthood in Charlotte. “The way to remain vocal and visible and protect access is to call, call, call.”
Every morning, Shealy said, she telephones N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (336-623-5210) and Speaker of the House Tom Moore (704-739-1221) about bills that will harm women.
“Please,” Shealy implored, “advocate for women’s health in North Carolina.”
The best way to do it is by electing women to public office, said Pam Hutson, chairwoman of Lillian’s List, a recruiting organization that supports pro-choice progressive women candidates.
“Ten years ago, I came to realize that, especially in this state, reproductive freedom and civil rights didn’t exist and were really at risk,” Hutson said. “We need to have more women representing our interests in the General Assembly in this state.”
Despite making up 51 percent of the population and 54 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, she said women make up only 23 percent of the General Assembly. In 44 of 100 counties, women hold no public offices. But when women do run, Hutson said, they win.
She urged women to either run themselves or recruit other women. Also, volunteer and donate money. But, she cautioned, remember self-care. “It’s a marathon,” she said. “It’s not a sprint. We want to embrace all this energy but not burn out.”
Jan Anderson, founder of Charlotte Women’s March, followed up on Hutson’s remarks by noting that a CWM member has already stepped forward and is running for office: Margaret Marshall, for School Board District 5. “I’m hoping we can recruit more members to run. The best way to have a voice is to make it yours,” said Anderson.
Tindal, the staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, captivated the audience with her portrayal of Sojourner Truth. The former enslaved black woman was a well-known civil rights orator who electrified the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 by rebuking the prevailing anti-feminist sentiment. Women didn’t even have the right to vote then, and wouldn’t for decades.
After her brief reenactment of the speech before a predominantly white audience, Tindal noted that racism, sexism and classism affect us all.
“My question to you,” she said, “is how do we ensure a clarion call for women’s human rights that is inclusive and intersectional? How do we advocate for women’s differences? Because, after all, ain’t we women?”