Advocates for women’s rights rallied Republican Delegate Ben Cline’s law office in Lexington on Friday. They were protesting bills he introduced, to defund Planned Parenthood and to designate January 22 a “Day of Tears” to encourage Virginians to mourn abortion. Three Rockbridge County High School girls organized the action; One of them, a rising country music star who plays in the heart of Trump country.
Lulu West, Emma Worth and SaraJane McDonald, all 17, aren’t your average high school girls.
Lulu, a diehard jazz fan, plays the trombone.
“Playing the trombone as a woman... even in high school band. I mean, I can deal with it because I like the pushback.”
Emma wears a gold locket with a picture of Hillary Clinton taped inside. She canvassed hard for the candidate in the run-up to the election. “Everyday, every weekend I was knocking doors and making phone calls for Hillary Clinton,” she says.
And SaraJane McDonald -- or “SJ,” as she’s known, that’s her strumming in the background -- is a well-known country music singer in Republican heavy Rockbridge County. Sixty two percent of voters here voted for Trump.
“I was born on a farm,” she says. “I grew up with that all around me…tractors….Dad will be listening to country music. And Carrie Underwood….a lot of Carrie Underwood….her voice. I really overplayed her first CDs.”
She and her band SweetFire play fire department BBQs, county fairs and community festivals, functions where Delegate Cline himself mingles with conservative constituents. So it was somewhat unexpected when SJ, joined by her friends, teamed up with the activist group 50 Ways Rockbridge to spearhead a rally in protest of Delegate Cline’s policies.
“We’re rallying because we don’t agree with Mr. Ben Cline’s vote recently to defund Planned Parenthood,” says SJ. “That really raised some awareness and just sort of woke us up. We have to do something to let him know we really don’t like this.”
Governor McAuliffe vetoed Cline’s bill last month. The House voted to override it but failed by three votes. But the “Day of Tears” bill, which calls for the state flag to fly at half staff every January 22nd, the day the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade, passed the House of Delegates.
“I think the Day of Tears is just ridiculous,” says Emma. “A Day of Tears really is a way to shame women who had to make that choice to have an abortion.”
Lulu and Emma both have liberal parents. They consider themselves loud and proud Democrats. But for SJ, tipping her hand politically is a little trickier. She sometimes feels tension between her rural roots and a budding activism.
“It’s actually really hard sometimes,” she says. “People are harping on me with these questions—SJ this, and SJ that. ‘Why do you want to keep Planned Parenthood? You’re killing babies.’ There’s gotta be some place where we can all meet in the middle and just talk.”
She says putting herself out there in this way has opened her eyes politically.
“I’m reading bills now,” she says. “Well, trying to read bills. I’m actually checking my sources when I read things online. I don’t need bogus things in my life. I need the facts.”
On the day of the rally, the protestors who’d gathered in front of his law office wanted to know, “Where’s Ben? Where’s Ben?”
“I’ve just been informed that Ben is not here because of a pre-scheduled meeting in Harrisonburg,” SJ told the crowd of roughly 150.
Delegate Cline in a written statement said he doesn’t agree Planned Parenthood should receive taxpayer dollars, but he is “confident we can work together to find solutions to the important issues that women raise with me across the 24th District.”