“Like I always say: In Asheville, there’s no such thing as just a cup of coffee,” says Molly Sara Rosch. If you’re regularly downtown, you may have seen Rosch around. She’s hard to miss, often wearing just a bra in hot weather — a personal statement, more-or-less — while hanging out at places like Izzy’s Coffee Den. On Sunday, Aug. 28, she was doing exactly that, when an friend mentioned something he thought relevant.
“He said that Carl Mumpower was protesting boobs with a bunch of preachers.”
“I was kind of just upset in general about the bizarreness of that,” Rosch says. So, she decided to check it out.
That protest — the “Asheville Rally to Protect Our Children from Abuse” — was organized by former Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower and former Buncombe County Republican Party Chair Chad Nesbitt. The protest was a response to the previous Sunday’s GoTopless rally, which advocated that women have the same rights as men when it comes to what parts of their bodies can be exposed in public.
The “anti-topless” protest was, by most accounts, relatively small and quiet in comparison to its inciting predecessor, the GoTopless event. Instead of a lively crowd of well over a thousand chanting, drumming and gawking, with some of them revealing their flesh and most generally celebrating, this Sunday there were a couple dozen folks, mostly dressed in church clothes, holding signs and praying. As Rosch recalls it, the rally was “the lamest protest ever.”
“All I saw was lots of really bad polyester suits, a few bored people smoking cigarettes and someone rambling on a microphone,” Rosch says. “But I at least wanted to see what was up with these people.”
But she adds that one “wizened, old church lady,” who commenced yelling at the newly arrived Rosch about having “no shame” — presumably mistaking her for a pro-topless activist, given her attire — did provoke Rosch to cross the line from observer to participant.
“I walk up, and this woman is assuming that just because I don’t have shirt on that I’m affiliated with the counterprotesters,” Rosch recalls. “I was met with some really odd hostility. I realized that these shenanigans might actually change things, and that I might not actually be able to walk around with just a bra on.”
So — Rosch took her bra off. But now firmly associated with the pro-topless counterprotesters, the exchanges with some of the anti-topless protestors became more heated. From there, things escalated quickly, with one of the anti-topless protesters trying to cover her up with his jacket.
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Mumpower’s protest was already being counterprotested by local GoTopless organizer Livienne Love. Rosch says she doesn’t know Love, and knows very little about the GoTopless group’s platform. By the time she met Love and the other counterprotesters from GoTopless, Rosch says she was already being interviewed by members of the media.
“[Love] didn’t come near me until I was already on camera,” Rosch claims. “I think I stole her press. I didn’t realize I was crashing someone else’s protest.”
And the more Love began to talk, the less comfortable Rosch started to feel being associated with her.
“I realized that the topless lady was really odd,” she says. “I didn’t really agree with either side.”
Things might have de-escalated from there, but, as things happen, another anti-topless protester’s taunt got under Rosch’s skin, she says. As she recalls it, a woman called out to her and said, “You filthy Pagan animals ain’t fit for clothes anyway.”
Rosch’s response? “I dropped my skirt. I pretty much flashed this lady. It was kind of like, ‘If I’m an animal, I don’t need clothes.’”
In that moment, Rosch says she knew she was going to jail. “At that point, I was ready to kill that lady. I needed to be protected and served to jail.”
And here is where a key element of the story comes into play: By her own admission, Rosch has a long history of mental illness. In fact, she describes herself as being “severely mentally ill,” and adds that she “should not have been allowed to have been egged on like that.”
In talking with Rosch, she seems to have very little to say about the overall topic of bared female breasts in public areas. She seems ambivalent about the GoTopless group’s agenda, as well as somewhat sympathetic to the idea of respecting “other people’s boundaries” when it comes to what one wears. And while she does have some problem with how she was treated once she was in custody — largely relating to her being mentally ill, and how that was dealt with in her short incarceration — she seems to think the arrest itself was valid.
“The police were just trying to keep the peace,” she says.
Photo provided by Max Cooper at A Dark Topography.