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B.I.C.-Ballentine Irmo Chapin Democratic and Progressive Group aims to educate area residents on the

Organization founded by four Dutch Fork area residents in wake of 2016 presidential election

Irmo, SC (James Bowers) - Dale Baer, Annette Bethel, Phyllis MacQueen, and JoAnn Sheler did not know each other on November 9, 2016. Their reaction to the election of our sometimes-controversial businessman Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States was unanimously devastation . “I was so depressed,” Bethel said. “It felt like a tragedy.” The other three BIC founders expressed similarly gloomy reactions to the result of “Decision 2016.” The four women, who were complete strangers to one another, decided that the only solution to their worries about the future of the United States was to actively participate with the Democratic Party as well as other political groups such as Invisible Midlands and Our Revolution (Bernie Sanders).

Both MacQueen and Bethel had extensive experience in political activity; MacQueen was an active protester of the Vietnam-war as a young woman, though MacQueen did not continue to participate in outward demonstrations in the four decades between the Vietnam War and the 2016 election. She did continue to follow political happenings and exercise her right to vote. Bethel has a theological, historical, and political perspective of causes such as Civil Rights and Women's Rights, thus her interest in serving as the 2nd vice chair with the newly formed SC Black Caucus and participates in the recently formed Black Women's Caucus within the Democratic Party.

Baer and Sheler are politically conscious due to personal circumstances in their lives. It was because of these trials that they realized the views they once held did not align with the situations in which Baer and Sheler found themselves. Since that realization, both Baer and Sheler became active protesters as well as supportive of causes such as women and education.

The ladies’ shared desire to make a difference politically led them to a downtown Columbia rally in 2017, where they met and began discussing their political ideologies. The foursome discovered that they all lived in the Ballentine-Irmo-Chapin area and decided that their area needed an organization which encompasses Lexington and Richland counties. BIC is an outgrowth of the Irmo/Lexington Democrats which meets at Zorba's Restaurant in Irmo.

BIC held its first meeting at Chapin’s El Poblano Mexican Restaurant in October of 2017. The first meeting was attended by a small few, but as word of mouth grew, so did attendance; the group now draws around 15-20 for their monthly meetings. They have now moved to Irmo’s Tonella’s Pizza Kitchen with bigger crowds for notable speakers. Recently, notable speakers such as Phil Noble of punditry site Politics Online, SC Representative Nathan Ballentine, and South Carolina gubernatorial candidates James Smith and Mandy Norrill drew fairly large groups. The BIC also includes other viewpoints of the democratic process such as Elaine Cooper of Our Revolution and Brett Bursey of SC Progressive Network or educating the group on voting with Laura Woliver from the League of Women Voters.

While many conservatives dismiss socialism as a promotion of welfare abuse, Baer argues that it is instead the concept of every citizen “paying their fair share” and contributing to services and resources such as healthcare. Baer notes that socialist practices are already in use in South Carolina; as education, public safety services such as law enforcement and fire and rescue agencies are funded by taxpayers, so healthcare should be no different. She says that Republican politicians often try to convince their constituents that single-payer healthcare would lead to fraud and “hard-working” people paying for the needs of “freeloaders.” This is one of what they consider misconceptions her group aims to combat as they discuss their views with potential members.

The members are also passionate about women’s rights and the access to proper women’s healthcare, including safe abortions and birth control. The four executives agree that a ban on abortions would not end the practice and would instead lead women to terminate their pregnancies in non-medical settings, a dangerous predicament that was prevalent before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Other issues where the ladies find common ground are a desire for environmental protection and equal pay for women.

Almost all of Lexington County and larger portions of Richland County are historically a Republican stronghold, with very, very few Democratic candidates winning offices of any sort within either county. This has happened since the ideological shift between the two parties in the 1950's. The BIC is not discouraged by this fact however, as they recognize the presence of some "Rockefeller Republicans" and "Eisenhower Republicans;” the Republicans according to this group that understand civil rights, education, wage increases, and free healthcare for the betterment of society. Otherwise, the group relies on those in Lexington and Richland Counties who are Democrats; however, the group is open to all those who espouse democratic ideals.

In addition to their monthly meetings where notable figures in the local Democratic community speak on important issues and policies concerning the movement, the members try to organize participation in various events such as campaigns and rallies for like-minded candidates during the election and primary seasons. The group also distributes literature to its followers, such as that published by the South Carolina Progressive Network and the Richland County Democratic Party. Chief among the goals of the group is to foster and maintain strong communal ties in the BIC area, as well as have a platform to educate, update, and foster an understanding of how the Democratic Party operates on national, state, county, and regional levels in terms of what its policies can do for them. The group also participates in the Get Out and Vote Initiative and works to communicate with local leadership about their concerns and values. They also work to aid candidates such as James Smith (Governor), Sam Edwards (SC House District 85), and Dick Harpootlian (SC House District 20) in winning offices in the area.

Edwards, a native of the area and graduate of Irmo High School and the University of South Carolina, will be the guest speaker at SC BIC’s next meeting, to be held on Tuesday, September 10 at Tonella’s Pizza Kitchen. This is located at 1349 Dutch Fork Road, Irmo. For more information, visit the organization on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Ballentine-Irmo-Chapin-BICDemocrats-Progressives-178012966083693/.

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