Karin Sisk can remember the first time she got angry about the inequality in the way people are treated. She was in college applying for a bank account and credit card, and the bank required her husband’s signature.
“And I said, ‘Well, that’s not right,’” Sisk said.
“Now that changed, but there are women right now that can’t do that. To me, I have so many things that other women can’t have. And until they can, I’m still in bondage, and I don’t think that’s right.”
Sisk is an active member of the League of Women Voters, a retired English professor and an activist.
“Until we’re all treated the same, I can’t rest,” she said.
Sisk grew up a military child and has lived all over the world.
“So I had a really global education, and it wasn’t until I met my husband that I really settled down. … Tokyo, Japan, was kind of exciting after the Korean War. I went to high school in Germany, at Frankfurt American High School, and I’m still in touch with a lot of those people who’ve settled all over the world.”
She met her husband, Allen, at Emory University, where Karin was an English major. She went into teaching, and Allen is a surgeon. They’re both retired now and live in Three Runs Plantation in Aiken.
Sisk was the writing center director at Augusta University. Both she and her husband worked for the university for 30-something years until they both retired.
At Augusta University, Sisk taught English 101. There were two things they were doing in the class in the late '80s and early '90s: teaching people critical reading and thinking, and teaching computer skills.
“That was on the cusp of the computer generation ... it was just coming into being," Sisk said. "This was right at the end of the '80s and the early '90s, and what we tried to do at Augusta University was bring together the two skills of being able to read something and analyze what it was about and write about it, and do that on a computer.”
Why English? “Because I felt like it was foundational to anybody and what their life was all about,” Sisk said.
“How people say, ‘Reading, writing and arithmetic,’ I think all of those are (foundational); and if you can do those things, then you apply them to everything else you do in life, and I think that’s one of the reasons that people aren’t making good choices in their lives and good decisions, whether it’s about their personal lives or their public lives,” she said.
Sisk began engaging in current events in the 1970s, which she called a “crucial time,” and stayed involved wherever she lived. She was a member of NOW, the National Organization for Women. She marched in marches with her daughter, Allison, on her back. She was chair of a Title IX task force, went speaking all over Montgomery County schools with a show called “Free To Be You and Me,” and went to the first international Young Women’s Conference in Washington, D.C.
She and her family moved to Florida when Allen had Navy duty and was head of the NOW chapter there.
“We were doing lobbying for the (Equal Rights Amendment) and Phyllis Schlafly and I debated down there, and we did a lot of lobbying for the ERA.”
The late Schlafly was a conservative who founded the Eagle Forum and campaigned against the ERA.
Sisk said she was on the human rights commission in Jacksonville, and said she attended Eagle Forum meetings. Since she looked like the women who attended the meetings – unlike most of her friends – she could infiltrate.
Sisk has other memories and said she loves the most going to a convention or a march when she’s feeling down about things, and things feel oppressive.
“I will be feeling very, very alone and like nobody’s thinking what I’m thinking or feeling what I’m feeling and I’ll go somewhere,” she said.
She recalled attending a NOW convention in Columbus, Georgia when she was young. The convention was after an election during which the candidate she supported suffered a big loss. “Then I went to this NOW convention, and everybody was just so with me on issues and all that, and it’s those kind of things that revitalize you.”
She mentioned two events in Aiken that did the same thing – one after the Charlottesville rallies and one focused on immigrant children, which was a League of Women Voters event.
She has lobbied for issues the League cares about, which she said was very cool and a little scary, describing the sometimes intimidating process of sending a note to representatives, waiting for them to come out, and running up to speak with them about a particular issue.
Sisk mentioned recent events to explain why she does what she does.
“I think that when you have privileges, you know, you take the situation with George Floyd, with the knee on his neck. I just cried and cried and cried, but crying doesn’t help George Floyd or any of the George Floyds or the Ahmaud Arberys or the Breonna (Taylors), who were killed by the police. I mean, I am a privileged white woman, and if privileged white people don’t stand up for the wrongs of this world, then who will? Who will? And that is the way I have always felt about things,” she said.
"Until we’re all treated the same, I can’t rest," she said.
One of Sisk’s main focuses now is the League of Women Voters.
She said the League is about influencing good governance.
“We work in education, primarily. What we want to do is inform the public, and we want to get the public to get out there and register to vote, and not just register but when they vote, to vote smart. To vote informed. We are totally non-partisan. We don’t tell people how to vote; we just want them to get out to vote,” she said.
The League worked on and lobbied for the recent change that allows the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for an absentee vote. The League also offers Vote 411, a website that allows people to look up their polling place, see who’s on the ballot, and see candidate’s answers to questions.
Another job Sisk has done in a few different places is host a television show.
She hosted one show for public television called "Gripe Night," and it was the lead-in to the main news.
"I hosted a public TV call-in show, with another gentleman, and people would call in – this was right up this whole alley – people would call in about anything in the community that was bugging them and I got the job because I was so involved in the community with my regular day job,” she said.
She worked for the local university at that time.
“People could call in and they would say, ‘Oh, my neighbor's cat is on my car all the time,’ or, ‘There’s a pothole in the middle of my road, and I’ve called my commissioner a million times and he won’t fix it.’ You know, just anything. ...”
She said she and her co-host were funny and compatible, and a lot of times the mayor or commissioner would be watching the show.
"They’d call in and say, ‘I’ll take care of that, Karin,’ because it was great publicity for them and good for their elections. And it got things done in the community."
She also hosted a noon show in Minnesota.
“NBC would send me to various places to promote the upcoming lineup, and I got to go out to (Los Angeles) and New York and interview all kinds of stars, and it was so much fun.”
She had a morning show in Augusta when she moved to the CSRA.
Karin and Allen live in on a farm Three Runs Plantation with their two horses, Logan and Dreamgirl, and two cats. They have one daughter, Allison Bennett, who lives with her family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Aside from making sure people are able to vote and are informed, Sisk enjoys life on the farm, cooking and gardening.