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Q/A with The Clinic Vest Project

5 Feb
Image via The Clinic Vest Project

Abortion Gang (AG): What’s the Clinic Vest Project and why was it started?

Clinic Vest Project (CVP): The Clinic Vest Project is a project started by Clinic Escort Organizer and Pro-Choice Activist Benita Ulisano. The purpose of the project is to provide free escort vests and training materials for escort groups in need. It was started in response to escorts emailing me and asking if our program in IL had spare vests. Since our vests are Illinois Choice Action Team specific we could not give them ours, so I thought, why not have a whole bunch of generic vests printed up to give away to anyone who needed them.

AG: Why are clinic escort vests important?

CVP: They differentiate us from anti choice protesters when clients arrive at the clinic. The vest itself is a symbol of compassion, support and comfort for clinic clients.

AG: How do you get the word out about your project?

CVP: I get the word out through social media and word of mouth. You can find us at our Facebook page.

AG: Is there a part of the country that requests the most vests?

CVP: So far, no. I have sent vests to seven groups, MS, NJ, IN, PA, VA, MN and Toronto Canada. Hoping to send lots more!

AG: What advice can you give to folks who want to start an escort group in their area?

CVP: Go for it! Once a relationship and need has been established with the clinic, the best thing to do is to get a group of like minded activists together for training and dive in! If activists are interested in starting a group and need training materials and vests, they can contact The Clinic Vest Project at


How do you talk to your family about your work?

8 Jan

Whether it’s over the holidays or on an unexpected phone call, talking to family members about the reproductive health, rights, and justice work you do can be difficult.  Our bloggers give some tips, tricks, and strategies for navigating these sometimes challenging conversations.

Peggy: My suggestion to anyone navigating talking about abortion/reproductive healthcare/sexual healthcare/etc. with family is to keep yourself safe. Only say as much about your work as you are comfortable saying, and have a plan that allows you to walk away or change the subject when it gets uncomfortable – unless you are cool diving in. You don’t owe anyone a discussion, explanation or argument around your work. Be proud of what you do, for sure, but there’s nothing wrong with staying within your comfort zone when talking about it, especially around family during the holidays which is bound to be an emotionally vulnerable situation to begin with. My best advice is to set boundaries for yourself in advance and stick to them as best you can.

Chanel: I hate when people say this, but pick your battles. It often feels like there’s so much at stake, even when there isn’t, and so deciding you’re not going to keep arguing is a failure on your part. I had to end a long friendship over politics, abortion specifically, and it still haunts me, but the truth is that it was simply toxic. We have enough work to do, there’s no reason to keep that shit hanging around if we don’t have to.

Deva: My family is pro-choice; every woman I am close with in my family has told me their abortion(s) story, but talking about abortion with my family is still hard. It is hard because inevitably I am more liberal in what I think being pro-choice means. My piece of advice for discussing abortion with your family is to listen and be patient. If you listen long enough you will understand where their anger, disappointment or fear around abortion originates. Hearing awful comments about something you love, from people you love will always hurts. And that hurt is where where patience comes in. Be patient with yourself and others. Let yourself feel angry and disappointed, but try to wait those feelings out–ask calm questions and do not react from that place of hurt. Instead, breath deeply and tell them you understand where they come from (even if you don’t), and patiently explain why you believe their thought process is flawed. Some times people just need to be heard, and you giving them a chance to voice their opinion will open the door for you to voice yours. There may not be agreement, or even common ground, but I feel that if you listen and are able to be patient in your words of prochoice wisdom it will be a happier holiday for all. Also, remember to tell them you love them after a disagreement. I don’t believe in leaving or going to bed angry, and no matter how offensive their words, for me, nonjudgmental love is at the core of being prochoice.

Sara: The thing about my family is that I kind of had to create my own to feel like I was a really a part of one, but around the holidays I make an effort with the family I was born into. I come from a family that I have always thought was very progressive and liberal, but as I have become more and more active in social justice and politics, not just reproductive justice but other issues as well, I’ve questioned how my family got to where they are today. The best way to describe them isn’t just the “I’m liberal but let’s keep it a secret so we don’t alienate the neighbors” mentality, but more like “I’m liberal but I think others should do all the hard work to achieve what I believe we deserve”. It’s incredibly frustrating. I almost feel like I could handle being the black sheep liberal in a room full of conservatives better.

Now, coming from a small family, I should specify that my biological nuclear family consists only of my father and my daughter – I am the only child of two only children, only one of whom is still with us, and my daughter is also an only child. But other branches are larger, and the cousins are presumed conservative because of our environment, but who really knows? Because we aren’t allowed to talk about it.

So you can take the high road, and when your family asks what you’re doing with your life right now, you can say “I’m a community organizer” and change the subject to the weather or college basketball (because I’m from coastal North Carolina, these are the subjects we know we can all talk about with gusto – you may want to choose something else). OR, you can be me, and since I had an event prior to a Christmas family function, I drove over to the family farm to pick up my father not even realizing that I was wearing a Planned Parenthood t-shirt. Luckily I carry clothing in my car at all times for just such a situation, and I would have changed once I noticed. Except unfortunately my father saw it before I did, and he has a long history of pushing my buttons, so once he addressed it in not the nicest tones, I dug my heels in and insisted Duck Dynasty-style that I had a right to free speech and would be continue wearing the shirt I had on. Eventually the argument progressed to standing beside the car in front of the house, moving from Duck Dynasty to Jerry Springer, and whipping it off so that I was standing in my bra outside for anyone to see and announcing to my father that I AM READY TO LEAVE FOR DINNER CAN WE PLEASE NOT BE LATE.

I got to wear my t-shirt. And surprise, surprise, it didn’t start any debates and no one refused to talk to me. It was actually probably a bit of a let-down for my father as he didn’t get a chance to say “I told you so”.

I suppose the lesson here is not for you to go crazy the way I did, although if you want to know the truth, sometimes that feels like the highlight with this crew I was born into. You have to entertain yourself somehow, you know? The moral to this story is to be yourself. Don’t hide what you do and don’t hide what you feel, but do it respectfully. Okay, maybe the episode with my father doesn’t scream RESPECT, but sometimes crazy is the only way to get through to him, and it’s usually the family you aren’t quite so close to that you have to mentally and emotionally prepare for. If anyone at your family get-together chooses not to respond civilly, you can sidetrack the conversation – isn’t it wonderful that two people from the same family can have such differing viewpoints, can still love one another, and can catch up on each others’ lives every year at holiday get-togethers? Then take a slow sip from your wine (or ‘shine, if you’re from MY family – they drink sweet tea but I need something a little stronger to get through) while you let that sink in for them…and if they continue to push the issue, THEY are the ones who get the annual talking-to from the elders about their behavior, even if everyone thinks you are the one with the crazy opinions and too many hippie bumper stickers they hope the neighbors don’t notice in the driveway.

Dena: My family is mostly pro-choice, save my grandmother. My approach to conversations around reproductive rights and justice is just to be open to hearing my grandmother’s perspectives and sharing mine, even though we almost always end up respectfully disagreeing. I love having an open, safe space in my family where these debates can be had, but at the end of the day we all still love one another. And that’s what truly matters to me.

Anna: I will be the first to admit that I am overly sensitive and hate upsetting other people’s feelings, and so in the past I always went the easiest route and vaguely described the work I was doing in hopes of not ending up in a charged situation. Considering that I only see my extended family once or twice a year, this seemed like the best tactic because there was never enough time in our visits to have the space to properly talk, listen and understand each other’s thoughts and values. This worked for a while, mostly because my family is mostly pro-choice and tends to shy away from political or controversial conversations. But one day the topic of abortion came up with a close family member who is generally more conservative and I decided I needed to speak up and share my thoughts. So I listened, I asked thoughtful questions, explained my views and responded in a way that showed that I wasn’t pushing my agenda but rather curious to share our thoughts in hopes of getting to a place where both of us could try to understand where the other was coming from. And in the end while no opinions changed, we both learned something from each other because we love and respected each other enough to thoughtfully listen and have a constructive dialogue.

That experience made me realize that I need to talk openly about abortion and reproductive rights because I am proud of the work that I am doing and want to share that with my loved ones, and I also hope that if I do, more people can learn and be aware about why this work is important. So my main tactic is to do so in a way that acknowledges that it’s okay if opinions differ and that these conversations are meant to share the happenings in my life, not to directly change the views of those around me. The first way to do this is to read the situation in a “pick your battles” sort of way to make sure that there’s the space in your relationship to respectfully disagree. If there is, then listen, ask questions and take the time to explore together. And don’t be afraid! Sometimes people can surprise you and have actually been looking for a space to share their thoughts. Most importantly, always say thank you at the end because to have the chance to talk deeply with your family is a beautiful and special thing.

Emily: Since I’m on my way to medical school, I get the ‘which specialty’ question very often. My immediate biological family is very small and very close to me, but my partner’s family is huge, and many of them I don’t know very well. I feel better about myself in these interactions when I am open and honest about my interests in abortion provision and family planning, and that response usually starts the conversation. If folks want to know more, I try to highlight how incredibly varied people’s experiences with reproductive self-determination are. Every person’s choice to have or not have an abortion is as complex and individual as that person and their circumstances are. When I’m able to communicate that, it seems to break down some barriers.

What advice would you give? What are your experiences sharing your work/views with your family?

Building a Racial Justice Movement

20 Aug

By Rinku Sen. Crossposted with permission from Colorlines.

This week, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with events in Washington, D.C., and many other cities. A hot summer of race news—Moral Mondays to preserve voting rights in North Carolina, the efforts of the Dream 9 to expose the vagaries of our immigration policy, and those of the Dream Defenders to undo Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—have led many to speculate on whether we are at the start of a new civil rights movement.

We are definitely at the brink of something. I hope that it is a racial justice movement, one that builds on the legacy of civil rights while bringing crucial new elements to our political and social lives. We have a chance to explore fundamental questions like the nature of racism, what to do with the variety of racial hierarchies across the country, and how to craft a vision big enough to hold together communities who are constantly pitted against one another.

Using the racial justice frame allows us to fight off the seductive, corrupt appeal of colorblindness, which currently makes it difficult to talk about even racial diversity, much less the real prize of racial equity. Such language also allows us to move beyond the current limitations in civil rights law to imagine a host of new policies and practices in public and private spaces, while we also upgrade existing civil rights laws at all levels of government. Finally, the modern movement has to be fully multiracial, as multiracial as the country itself. The number and variety of communities of color will continue to grow. If allof our communities stake out ground on race, rather than on a set of proxies, we will more likely be able to stick together when any one of us is accused of race baiting.

The Need for Plain Speech

We cannot solve a problem that no one is willing to name, and the biggest obstacle facing Americans today is that, in the main, we don’t want to talk about race, much less about racism. Our societal silence makes room for inventive new forms of discrimination, while it blocks our efforts to change rules that disadvantage people of color. Unless we say what we mean, we cannot redefine how racism works or drive the debate toward equity.

Americans define racism as individual, overt and intentional. But modern forms of racial discrimination are often unintentional, systemic and hidden. The tropes and images of the civil rights era reinforce the old definition. People taking on new forms constantly look for our own Bull Connor to make the case. We can find these kinds of figures. But there’s inevitably debate about whether they truly hit the Bull Connor standard, as we can see in popular defenses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Rick Scott. Politicians, employers and public administrators have all learned to use codes for the groups they target.

The notion that all racism is intentional and overt is a fundamental building block of the false solution of colorblindness.

The obsession with examining the intentions of individual actors in order to legitimize the existence of racism undermines efforts to achieve justice. This is because the discussion of racism in the U.S. is devoid of any mention of history, power or policy. The person who notices racial disparities in health care, for example, is vilified for so-called race baiting, while someone like Rep. Steve King is virtually unchallenged when he puts up a sign referring to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as “Socialized, Clintonesque, Hillary Care for Illegals and Their Children.” Hey, he didn’t say Latino illegals, so that’s not racist.

Fifteen years of brain research have revealed that ignoring racial difference is impossible, and that most human beings are unconscious of their biases. Thus getting people to acknowledge and change their biases voluntarily is often very difficult, and if it does happen, is insufficient to address the institutional problem.

Even people who don’t dismiss the need for race talk entirely often have the wrong end goal in mind. They encourage respect for diversity, or multiculturalism. Those are both good things. But neither one is the same thing as justice. It is entirely possible to have a diverse community, city or workplace that is marked by inequity. In restaurants I’ve worked in and observed, the white workers in the dining room get along perfectly well with black and Latino workers confined to the kitchen and dishroom, but they are not in an equitable situation. In being explicit about working on racial justice, our modern movement has a chance to push past the diversity goal and define justice.

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#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen Tweets and Posts to Help You Shut Up and Listen

16 Aug

The big news in online feminism this week is the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag, created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), by which the frustrations and righteous anger of women of color is being directed, with a side of (justified) snark, at Big White Feminism. The catalyst for this eruption may have been the latest Hugo Schwyzer flounce off the internet and subsequent fallout, but the wounds go much deeper, as 65,000+ tweets will attest.

Here at Abortion Gang we – white folks and people of color alike – are struggling to put words to our varied reactions. In the interest of being allies we wish to amplify the voices of women of color who have spoken out through this hashtag by highlighting some of their work on these topics in the past. Here are some #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets with links to relevant writing on race and feminism by the tweeter:

Sydette @Blackamazon / My Machete Never Faltered








Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk / An Open Letter to Eve Ensler







Grace @graceishuman / 10 thoughts…on mental illness, abuse, and survivors









Flavia Dzodan @redlightvoices / Yes, this is about race









Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek / 40% Of White Americans Have Zero Non-White Friends










Aura Bogado @aurabogado / A tale of two best friends










Angry Black Fangirl @TheAngryFangirl / On Hugo Schwyzer’s defenders










Shanelle Matthews @freedom_writer / On #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen; Feminism Is Not Black And White










Child of Zora @EvetteDionne  / The Burdens of Black Motherhood










Ayesha A. Siddiqi @pushinghoops / You, Me, & Chris Brown










Feminista Jones @FeministaJones / While My Sisters Gently Weep

Feminista Jones








For brief background on the hashtag and on the history of racism in the feminist movement, see this great HuffPost Live segment with Mikki Kendall & Tara Conley. For more on the history of racism within online feminism, see brownfemipower’s tumblr.

Everyone is fighting a hard battle

15 Jul

A guest post from a writer who wishes to remain anonymous. 

On the 4th of July, walking to the metro to catch a train home, my coworker was hit by a drunk driver. She passed away on Wednesday.

What I mean to say is, over the course of the last week, some drunk asshole killed a young woman who was dedicated, funny, fierce, hard-working, loving, and utterly beloved. I hardly know how to begin to grapple with what has happened. My world and my every day have turned inside out. The most ordinary things can leave me panicking, or gasping for breath, or crying, or just plain sad, or utterly grateful.

“Everyone is fighting a hard battle,” my roommate often says, a reminder that when someone shoves into me at Penn Station and mutters under their breath, or criticizes what I’m eating or wearing, or tells me they would never do a thing I do – “Oh I could never do that…” – in a way that passive-aggressively implies that what I’m doing shouldn’t really be done – in short, when people are rude, and ordinary, and difficult, that we are all struggling internally with so much more than anyone outside of us could ever see. We battle moment by moment with our demons, our experiences, our identities, our heartbreak, our subject-positionality; we spend every day of our lives battling and reconciling our own reality. Everyone is fighting a hard battle. It is so easy to forget.

I thought of it this morning as I made room in my aching chest for the grief I feel over the George Zimmerman verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin. This verdict sits in some of the space in my mind and heart and body not occupied by my anger at the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, my eagerness over Alison Lundergran Grimes’ nascent campaign to unseat Mitch McConnell, my still-present sadness over the shooting of the children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, my rage over the Texas state legislature’s decision to discount the voices of the people their policies will directly impact, my ongoing joy over the defeat of DoMA, and, in this moment above all else, my seemingly infinite heartbreak over the loss of my coworker.

I am allowed to be sad and angry at everyone in the world for not grieving as I am right now. I am allowed to be sad and angry that everyone isn’t feeling my precise feelings, that everyone isn’t preoccupied with the memory of a bright and beautiful young woman, but it won’t do any good. I could be angry that people think the death of a young celebrity is more important than utter lack of justice for a young black man, but I’m not. I don’t get to decide what is important for other people, or judge how they spend their love or their grief or their energy or their time or their devotion. I can understand anger and frustration over other people’s priorities, but I won’t support it. I won’t condone it or tell you it is right. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.

Grief, anger, political will, activism – these are not zero-sum games. Making room for one or the other or three at a time is neither a failure nor a success. Grappling with multiple identities that simultaneously exalt in victory and fall to their knees in defeat within you is everyone’s reality: everyone is fighting a hard battle. Your battle is unique and you – and only you – fight that battle, and it is lonely as fuck. But you are not alone.

I support you and I love you. I do. I want you to experience your grief, your anger, your joy, your need and your reality on your own time, in your own way. I want you to heal; I want you to do whatever you must do to heal. I hope when you heal you can pick up and continue your fight; I understand if you can’t. There are days – and god, friends, yesterday was one of them – where I think I can fight no more. But I trust you. I trust that when I can’t fight, you will. I trust that when I can’t talk about structures of racism that are killing children, or the violence killing young gay men in my city, or the ignorance and hate tearing women’s lives and bodies apart, that you will do it for me. And when you can’t, when you’re too tired, I will do the same for you. Trust me.

When you can’t run you walk. When you can’t walk you crawl. And when you can’t crawl…

You find someone to carry you.

Where do I come from?

10 Jul

I have been thinking about where I come from, who has come before me, and how that has impacted who I am. When I went to write the piece, it wasn’t working. The ideas flowed from me in images, so I stopped writing and started with those instead, and this is what I came up with. An aviatrix is a recurring theme in my work because I am fascinated by the idea of flying over barriers, which many of those women literally did, and I like twisting an image that was once so iconic and making it more modern so that the viewer isn’t sure exactly what it means or where it comes from. The piece is more of a collection of ideas than a full narrative, but I hope it resonates with some of you.


We Love You, Texas

26 Jun
Texas Feminist Army! Image via.

Texas Feminist Army! Image via.

Last night, hundreds of pro-choice Texans and a badass Senator stood for over 13 hours to make sure that a terrible anti-abortion bill DIDN’T PASS the senate. AND THEY WON. They fucking won.

If this has got you feeling inspired, support the local Texas organizations working every day to make abortion access a reality:

The Lilith Fund

The Texas Equal Action Fund

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas

Whole Woman’s Health

And of course, the inimitable Senator Wendy Davis.