I gave up Diet Coke in the late 80s, not for reasons of health or to quiet the nagging of my friends, nor did I give it up to save money. I stop buying Diet Coke because Nelson Mandela was being unjustly held in a jail in South Africa where Coca-Cola still marketed and sold their products without regard for the political system of segregation based on race, the definition of Apartheid.
Those who don’t know me will laugh off this gesture as an overinflated sense of personal power or pure fantasy that my self-sacrifice was going to win me the love and admiration of, and a possible marriage proposal from Sting.
Guilty as charged on all counts.
Despite the likelihood that the money spent on my annual consumption of Diet Coke could have fed Mississippi I didn’t really believe that the financial hardship on the Coca-Cola Company by my boycotting their product would make enough of a dent in their bottom line to bring about any change.
“American Redneck White Girl Stopped Drinking Diet Coke and Nelson Mandela has been Set Free, film at 11…”
What mattered was that when people asked why, and, trust me, they asked why, I was given the chance to say, “Because Coco-Cola still operates in South Africa while Nelson Mandela is incarcerated”.
It made people think.
Mostly it made people think I was as crazy as a shit house rat but some got it. Some asked more questions. Some stopped drinking Coca-Cola. Eventually, they let Mr. Mandela go free and elected him president and when he died old of mine friends said, “Do you remember when you stopped drinking Diet Coke…?”
It was still making them think.
The land that is my home, North Carolina has gone and elected a governor and enough sorry state representatives who have decided that I needed to be protected from having to pee in a public restroom in a stall next to someone who was born with a penis. They have deemed this to be an immediate threat to the American way of life and my personal security. They believe that if my grandson, Jack, at five years old, goes into a bathroom and sees someone dressed as a man, appearing to be a man, but not anatomically a man that somehow Jack will sense that he is in the bathroom with a woman and be scarred for life or brutally attacked. They are, of course, ignoring that Jack, like most five year old boys, has been going into public restrooms with women since birth and will continue to do that anytime he is out in public with his mother and has to pee.
Except now Jack can be arrested for that.
This is what they’ve been worrying about in Raleigh as the furniture trade that sustained my state for decades takes their jobs to China and 135,000 miles of North Carolina rivers are threatened by pollution.
They’re worried about who’s a Sitter and who’s a Stander.
And they are hoping that enough people will worry about that, too, that they won’t have to talk about all the other ways discrimination has been made legal by this hateful law.
Charles Barkley wants the NBA to move the All Star Game from Charlotte. I could kiss him right on his bald head for saying so. More boys need to see someone as macho as Sir Charles as a champion of what is right and unfazed by issues of gender and sexual orientation. The possibility of losing their $27 million dollar investment might could make a State Senator wonder how long he will keep his job when the next election rolls around.
The Boss will not bring E Street to Carolina until this bill is repealed. No one will yell “BrUUUUUUUUUUUce”. No one will hear him ask Mary, Queen of Arkansas, “How can you hold me so tight and love me so damn loose?”
But the elected officials are hearing him, now.
I’m a writer. It’s not only what I do, it’s who I am. Words matter. I’ve taken a stand for as many reasons as there are issues; so that teenagers would see a white women in a small rural Southern town in opposition to racism, so that the parents of gay children in that same town would know that they weren’t the only ones who wanted their babies treated equally. And, I have always thought my most important role was as a voice for the rural South, a gatekeeper, not allowing the stereotypes of Hollywood and the jokes of Charleston cocktail parties to define us.
Writers have long been the voice of protest whether in song or on the page. That’s how it should be. But this week we have missed our chance to do the most good and have forgotten who we are.
Authors are boycotting North Carolina bookstores. I can’t imagine a worse thing to do. My daddy would call it throwing out the baby with the bathwater and he’d be right.
Bookstores are where The Thinkers are. Book people want to be moved, to feel, to be enlightened, to learn. That’s why they buy books. The economic impact, if authors stop coming to Carolina bookstores, will only result in there being no Carolina bookstores, nowhere for The Thinkers to go. The loss of those book sales will have no impact on the North Carolina legislature. The book store will close and they’ll move in a Supercuts and get more tax dollars than they did from the wonderful bookstore where a teenager who spent her childhood hearing her grandfather scream racial slurs at the television picked up her first copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and learned from Atticus that she was right to be sickened by what she heard. There will be no place to find Larry Brown’s stories of good men in bad situations, no tales of Miss Eudora’s long friendship with Reynolds Price, of Miss Nelle’s defense of Truman. The state won’t lose money. It will lose information, the very thing we are supposed to be providing. As for the authors of children’s books who signed the petition, bless your heart for wanting to do something but come here instead and read your stories to the children who need to hear them, who need to hear them. If you don’t they will have no where to roar their terrible roars, say goodnight to a Carolina moon, or help Stellaluna learn that it’s okay to be a bat when everyone else seems to be a bird.
And isn’t that the point?
Authors have egos as big as their hearts. We have to. It’s pretty arrogant to think you have something so important to say that people will pay good money to read it. It comes with the job, that sense that we matter. But let’s believe we can change this hateful law by being here and helping sustain the places where The Thinkers go. Let’s make sure our bookstores stay in business. We have the power to do that. We absolutely have that power.
But, I hate to be the one to break it to y’all, ain’t none of us Charles Barkley or Bruce Springsteen. Not a one of us. Let them fight for good in the best way they can. Let’s us fight the same fight in our own good way.
I’m asking my beloved author friends to take to social media or this post and say that we will come to Carolina to fight against this ugliness and for the bookstores…
And for The Thinkers.