When members of Shelby Women for Progress drove to Raleigh, NC for the Reproductive Freedom Advocacy Day on February 21, 2023, the goal was to meet with State Senator Ted Alexander to let him know that maintaining reproductive freedom in North Carolina matters to his constituents in Cleveland County. We were met with a lot of resistance that day, and though we chatted with many legislators or their staff, Ted Alexander was not one of them.
Fortunately, SW4P founding member Stevie Brooks is nothing if not resourceful, and she followed up and managed to schedule a meeting with Senator Alexander on Monday, March 6, 2023. I joined her and … we said a lot of words, y’all.
What follows is a recap of that conversation in two parts – my version and Stevie’s. We hope this will be the first of many conversations with Senator Alexander (as well as our other elected officials); the voices of the women and men of Cleveland County matter.
Before Ted Alexander was my senator, he was someone’s dad. A dad who to the local teens, hilariously happened to be the Mayor of Shelby.
As a Mayor, Ted was kind and not obviously partisan like most people in the pre-Trump era. Ted worked tirelessly for the historical preservation of Shelby and had his own special on the menu at Shelby Cafe. In fact, when I imported my husband from Michigan, I proudly suggested “The Mayor’s Special” with a warm familiarity of Ted and his time as Mayor of the City of Shelby.
As an adult, I discovered Ted and I both have an appreciation for Mid-Century Modern architecture.
This is why when we met with the now Senator Alexander, the two of us eagerly seemed to pick up where we left off, gushing about houses around town.
It was disarming for both of us, harkening back to a time before partisan divisions were rewarded and encouraged. Niceties were exchanged. Niceties we often take for granted. “How old is she now?” “How are your parents?” “How much did that house end up selling for?”
Niceties that remind us of home and humanity. We were of course standing in a room in a small town in the Southeast.
We settled in. I nearly forgot the three women, including Ted’s wife, I was initially surprised to see at the table until Mrs. Alexander insisted that we not record any of the conversation. Something my fellow SW4P member and I had no intention of doing.
With that remark, the niceties started to get diluted with the looming task at hand. Somewhere between me hanging out in Ted’s garage apartment as a kid and the present moment we were standing in, times had changed. The shift was not subtle. It was abrupt. No longer was Ted a warm community paternal figure. Ted was a man in power.
Ted was also a man attempting to strip me of my own power for political gain.
How we got here
A couple of weeks prior to our meeting with Ted, over ten members and allies of Shelby Women for Progress ventured three hours to Raleigh with the intention of speaking with Senator Alexander about the inevitable restrictive abortion legislation coming down the extremist pipeline. On my ride with my daughter across the state, I assured her that Ted would most certainly speak to us, if only for a moment. We are all from Cleveland County after all.
When we arrived at Ted’s office, he could be heard talking with his legislative assistant. We took that as a promising opportunity. However, Ted’s legislative assistant saw our arrival as a completely different opportunity.
The opportunity she saw was one to berate and belittle a group of Ted’s own constituents. Spewing all kinds of abortion misinformation. This behavior was not surprising. Many women and I have heard these kinds of hateful things while trying to receive the healthcare we are entitled to in parking-lots across the country. What was surprising however, was that this woman was treating people from Ted’s own community this way within earshot of Ted himself.
Representatives, particularly at the state level, face very little accountability from their constituents.
While their constituents busy themselves with concerns at the federal level, dirty work is happening right under their noses by people from their very own communities. People like Ted.
The ability for even just 10 constituents all from Ted’s hometown to make the trek directly to his office was a significant undertaking, and a powerful indication that our organizational efforts in Cleveland County are building momentum and strength. Direct accountability makes all the difference on a local level, and making your voices and presence heard is as simple as a three-hour dive.
Your state level representatives are usually the devil you know.
Representatives at the state level face very little accountability from their constituents.SW4P Board Member and founder, Stevie Brooks
So those niceties we exchanged? Included an update about my daughter, whom I had at 19 years old.
Local politics are PERSONAL.
A familiar story to Ted, and half the town thanks to the gossips and Baptists.
I came home from my first semester of Western Carolina University pregnant with a choice to make. A choice I had time to make. A choice that was thoughtfully made.
Restricting gestational limits will do nothing but restrict that time needed to decide, and force motherhood on women who ran out of time. Despite knowing my story, Ted was clear on his stance that “life begins at conception…When the sperm meets the egg.”
This would indicate Ted’s goal is to facilitate a complete ban on abortion. Currently North Carolina has a 20 Week Gestational limit that is already more restrictive than South Carolina and Virginia.
Ted offered up the age-old adoption option. Ted’s stance on adoption is clear too.
The Alexanders proudly adopted, however, not from the foster care system. An international adoption was a better fit.
The pride in Ted’s own adoption story made me wonder if he was aware that around Christmas right next door in Rutherford County, children in foster care were forced to sleep in offices because of the already overburdened system.
We knew each other’s stories like the back of our hands. This is how things work in small communities like the ones speckling Cleveland County. Lives tend to intertwine, and people are woven into your own story, sometimes without you realizing it. This leads me to question why Ted would want to limit both myself and my daughter’s ability to decide for ourselves; knowing our struggles of unplanned motherhood and unplanned childhood.
Ted suggested adoption despite having at least some awareness of the struggles our overburdened foster care system faces locally. Ted is not performing his duty to the people of his district with a lack of awareness, but it is even worse, he is acting against the people and children he represents with a full awareness of their plight. There is cruelty in that. A cruelty masked by familiarity. A patriarchal familiarity all too familiar to women.
I left this meeting with more questions than answers.
How can a man held on such a pedestal of kindness with his own special at the Shelby Cafe, be so committed to taking away my own personhood? Ted spoke about dignity. Specifically, the dignity of the fetus while forgetting the dignity of the two mothers sitting across the table from him asking for it.
I’ll start by saying that I think I might be exactly who Senator Alexander expected to show up when he heard the words “reproductive freedom”. There’s a pretty common misconception about who actually advocates for abortion. If the stereotype you have in your mind is a secular, loud-mouthed woman, absent a southern accent, who has definitely never accepted “her place” and is generally bad at following directions, that stereotype is me.
But the truth of the matter is that 80% of US citizens support abortion in nearly all instances. 49% of North Carolinians feel the same
- 32% of those people identify as evangelical
- 54% identify as Black and protestant
- 58% identify as protestant
- 65% identify as not religious
(But I think if you asked the segment of the population actually capable of becoming pregnant, NC would look A LOT different).
So anyway, I came to talk to Ted armed with statistics about the economic impacts of limited reproductive freedoms, and a lot of questions about periods.
Because I think that if you are going to legislate bodies, you should at least understand the basics about how they work.
Ted came armed with his wife.
He also brought two other women that I recognized, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get their names. Ted never explained the point of the lady-panel, but I can say that I have only ever interacted with Senator Alexander twice, and both times he wanted a woman to defend his position.
Which I find ironic since he clearly has no intention of defending us.
… I have only ever interacted with Senator Alexander twice, and both times he wanted a woman to defend his position.
Which I find ironic since he clearly has no intention of defending us.SW4P Board Member, Heather Tullos
The needs of the community
The conversation started out nice enough, and after some niceties and basic introductions, Ted asked how he could help us. We talked about preventative measures first. Leading with sex education seems like the best, most affordable and common sense way to reduce abortion (though I will reiterate over and over again here that there will always be a need for abortion as a form of reproductive health care).
Me: [gestures to everyone in the room] “We can all agree that teaching abstinence is nonsense, right? Telling kids not to do a thing does not mean they are not going to do it.”
Stevie and I both leaned into the fact that we are uniquely qualified grown-up teen moms that put life on hold to raise babies. Are we successful adults now? Yes. Was it hard as hell to get here? Also yes. Did we have support or options as young single parents? NOPE.
Did anyone hold men accountable for their part? Also no.
So our asks were simple:
- Comprehensive sex education
- EASY FREE access to contraception
- CHILD CARE
- Accessible resources
Ted wrote them in his lil notebook.
Senator Ted Alexander advocates for churches filling the needs of the community.
When we talked about the lack of resources, Ted asked about local religious institutions filling the need.
“Isn’t it true that the churches help?,” he asked as he rattled off the name of religious institutions that do not pay taxes and also do not collect tax dollars. I said, “It’s not enough.” I also made it clear that I am 100% not interested in people peddling religion in exchange for formula, diapers, child care, and other basic needs that are completely available in other countries that make much less per capita.
Arguing semantics on babies and science
We really got in the weeds here, and my recollection is a mish mash of blind rage and moderate annoyance whereupon Ted insisted that life begins at conception and “doesn’t the dignity of that life matter?” while completely disregarding the dignity of MY LIFE. One that is fully formed with three adult children, seven rescue dogs, two cats, a mortgage, and a healthy contribution to the overall economy.
I was mad. I’m still mad. We should all be mad.
GET MAD, Y’ALL.
We leaned in on the healthcare
In retrospect I think Ted was already planning to vote to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. Based on the leading questions and all of the things he was writing in his little notebook, I think Ted already knew how his vote was gonna go, and he wanted to say “OKAY GOOD ENOUGH!! YOU ALL SAID HEALTHCARE WAS NEEDED TO FORCE YOU INTO BIRTHING MORE CHILDREN” when we ask for our next meeting.
Ted doesn’t actually care about your children; only legislating our bodies.
With the ratification just this week of Senate Bill 41, I can say with full confidence that Ted’s take on “life” is bullshit. More on that to come.