Think down and dirty, grass roots political action doesn’t work? Feeling discouraged about the prospects for genuine health care reform? Well, take heart. The power of the people is real.
I was there in the 1970s when a dedicated group of true patriots united in common cause to take on the corporate potty patroons—the powerful Pay-To-Pee syndicate. At stake were our most fundamental bodily function rights—rights then being literally flushed away by capitalist greed and exploitation.
Hear again the clarion call that sparked a nation to action!
“When a man’s or woman’s natural body functions are restricted because he or she doesn’t have a piece of change, there is no true freedom.”
Those inspiring and emotionally charged words, spoken by nineteen-year-old Ira Gessel of Dayton, Ohio upon the founding of the Committee To End Pay Toilets In America (CEPTIA) back in 1970, awakened a generation of Americans.
Maybe you’re a young person and don’t remember America before the 1970s. If so, you owe a debt to the men and women whose sacrifice and natural sense of urgency flung open the locked doors of public toilets for you and generations to come. Through their efforts human rights triumphed over the lock box and the almighty dime!
Those of us who have stood in terror before the locked stall door, legs crossed and praying for the feel of a ten cent piece in our pocket or purse, fearing the worst and praying for the strength to defy nature, must never forget who was responsible for our pain—the pay toilet industry, that festering dung pit of corporate greed.
Throughout the early 1970s CEPTIA volunteers strained themselves in a gut busting effort to give birth to change at airports, train stations, bus stations, ballparks and elsewhere in America where the public welfare demanded quick, quality and free access to basic potty services. While CEPTIA pressed its reform agenda at city council meetings, town hall gatherings and organized demonstrations throughout America, it met with fierce resistance from industry forces determined to keep the coin lock box between the needy and the porcelain. In Chicago, the fight was nasty.
In a media blitz launched by reform busters just prior to an important Chicago City Council vote in 1974, reform advocates were portrayed as dangerous socialists and enemies of free enterprise. “No one has a right to free toilet access,” a Pay-To-Pee spokesman proclaimed. “There’s no such thing as a free…you know…thing. A publicly run system of toilets will result in a degradation of toilet services, rationed access to urinals and toilets, and shortages of water and toilet paper. What’s more, providing free toilets in public buildings will break our economy and bankrupt taxpayers.”
“Companies that now provide their employees with restrooms will see the cost savings in just letting the government do it for them. Americans will lose the toilets they have now, the toilets that 80% of Americans like, and be forced into government run restrooms. It’s Socialism!”
In a landmark 37-8 vote the Chicago council banned pay toilets in that city and set the stage for real nationwide change. Within three years, state lawmakers had passed similar measures in New York, New Jersey, California, Ohio and several other states. Just as pay-to-pee advocates had predicted, these bans resulted in the near collapse of the pay toilet industry, and by the end of the 1970s most of the country’s more than 50,000 pay stalls had been liberated.
In 1977 the U.S. Congress finally stepped up to the plate for residents of the District of Columbia and passed sweeping toilet reform legislation. Once and for all, Congress established in law the proposition that when Mother Nature calls she should not have to call collect.
Who were these reformers? Was this change brought about by the radical Hate America First crowd? Communist agitators? Dangerous subversives hell bent on destroying our way of life? You decide.
Next time you get a chance, stroll leisurely into the restroom facilities of your local airport, step inside an empty stall, get comfortable, take a seat and relax. Take your shoes off.
It’s all free. It feels right. It feels like the American way.
Power to the people!