by MIA McLEOD
This July 4th – and for the last few months leading up to it – I’ve been re-examining what it means to live in the “land of the free, home of the brave.” This year alone, our “freedoms” are being rolled back in record time.
For South Carolina’s women and girls, “freedom” means we’ll no longer have bodily autonomy because a government controlled by men will make our most intimate healthcare decisions for us.
Just last week, I stopped by the S.C. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the second six-week abortion ban that passed right after my Sister-Senators and I fought to defeat the SCGOP’s total abortion ban.
When the Supreme Court struck down the SCGOP’s original six-week abortion ban as unconstitutional, we had one female Justice on the Court. Now, the SCGOP controlled legislature has stacked the Court by replacing her with a male Justice, making SC the only state in the country with NO women on its Supreme Court.
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South Carolina is ranked among the most dangerous states in the country for women when it comes to maternal mortality rates, domestic violence, sexual assault and soon…abortions, as more women and girls become destitute and desperate, with no help or support. Relegating us to second-class citizens who are forced by our government to become gestational surrogates…irrespective of our capacities, conditions or circumstances.
How’s that for freedom?
While celebrating Juneteenth this year, I was reminded that most South Carolina students only learned about July 4, 1776, and were taught that this was “Independence Day” for all of us. Truth is…freedom didn’t come to enslaved black people until June 19, 1865…and our government has now passed book-banning and history banning bills to ensure that SC students never learn the true history of our state and nation because topics like slavery may make some white students uncomfortable.
So if our freedom is contingent upon their comfort, are we really free?
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Fourteen-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton wasn’t. On Memorial Day weekend in Northeast Columbia, he was chased, shot in the back and murdered by a convenience store owner who said he thought Cyrus had stolen some bottled water. He hadn’t. And even after one of our nation’s most heinous hate crimes that took 9 precious lives at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, hate still isn’t a crime in South Carolina. Yet, these are the stories of black men and women across the nation who would still be with us if they were “free” to just be.
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Meanwhile, mass incarceration has led to the modern day enslavement of many of our most vulnerable…the poor, those with mental health challenges and disproportionately, people of color.
Last week, the US Supreme Court dealt two more back-to-back blows when it ended Affirmative Action in college admissions…and student loan debt relief…knowing that a vicious, oppressive cycle is created when a student’s race impacts his or her ability to get into certain colleges and universities and compete for jobs that pay enough to stave off mounting student loan debt that compounds interest daily.
Add to that the intentional, strategic marginalization of black and brown people through gerrymandering, diminishing access to quality, affordable healthcare in a state that refuses to expand Medicaid, defunding and dismantling public education while giving the wealthy taxpayer funded “scholarships” to send their children to private schools, paying too many South Carolinians slave wages at $7.25/hour, while workforce development, diversity, equity and inclusion languish…and it’s easy to see that state and national efforts to rollback the rights of certain people, including our most vulnerable, are ushering us back to a time when freedom for some meant absolute bondage for others.
True freedom and independence are God-given rights and should be supported by our state and federal laws. Sadly, that’s still not a reality for many of us. Let’s work together to stop partisan political rollbacks of certain freedoms that continue to cause us to regress.
Your independence and mine are not mutually exclusive. They can and must co-exist. One can’t be rhetoric and the other reality. They must be equitable in theory …and in practice …in spirit and in truth. Let’s make those shared goals our shared reality so that all of us can enjoy true independence everyday!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Mia McLeod is a communications consultant and independent elected official who represents District 22 (Richland and Kershaw counties) in the South Carolina Senate. A native of Bennettsville, S.C., she resides in Columbia.
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