There have been many activities this month related to protesting the 40 Days for Life. Beyond the Friday pickets hosted by the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition, there have been several Chalk for Choice events. There have been two “Chalk for Choice” events thus far, with another planned for 7pm on October 27th. The events have been so successful that even after the 40 Days for Life has ended, we would like to continue chalking for choice on a monthly basis. Here is a report on the event!
Across the country, abortion providers have been accosted by pro-life activists. To counter this, some of the clinics have chalked their sidewalks to create a more welcoming environment for the women who use their services. For instance, in 2015, feminist volunteers went to the Founder’s Women’s Heath Center in Ohio at 5:30 in the morning to chalk the sidewalk before anti-choice protestors arrived. The anti-choice protestors had already been chalking the sidewalk in the past, so this was a way to beat them to the punch. The chalk is a way of expressing support for women who use the clinic and the workers therein. It also attracted the attention of activists and volunteers who wanted to get involved with chalking and volunteering at the clinic.
Other clinics have also hosted chalking events, including the Red River Women’s Clinic and Preterm Cleveland Ohio. The Red River Women’s Clinic is the only abortion provider in North Dakota. They also began hosting chalking events in 2015 and are currently hosting Chalk for Choices events to coincide with the 40 Days for Life. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the 40 Days for Life is a yearly international 40 day anti-abortion vigil that mobilizes up to 10,000 volunteers to stand outside of clinics in prayer and protest. North Dakota is an extremely hostile state to women’s reproductive choices. North Dakota women must endure biased counseling, then wait 24 hours for an abortion. If Roe v. Wade was ever overturned, abortion would automatically become illegal in North Dakota. Abortions are illegal after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in danger. Furthermore, since the Red River Women’s Clinic is the only clinic in the entire state, women must travel long distances to obtain services. For instance, a woman would have to travel over 4 hours to go from Minot or Dickinson to the clinic in Fargo. In smaller communities, travel might be six or seven hours to Fargo. The long distances and restrictions are not unique to North Dakota, but should highlight the importance of pro-choice activism in that state.
I was not aware of these clinic chalking events until this fall. Over coffee, someone familiar with them suggested that the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition should host chalking events. She showed me some images of the chalking that had happened at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo and I agreed to help organize this kind of chalking locally. Thus, that is how the event was born! It is just another addition to the activities going on for the 40 days of Choice and hopefully a mainstay in local pro-choice activism.
Our first event had a turn out of about twelve people. It was held on a Thursday evening at 7pm. The forecast called for rain, but we decided to host the event anyway. Even if the rain washed away our work, we would have the photographs. Sure enough, the rain destroyed our work before the clinic opened the next morning. However, it was great to create art and at least beautify the sidewalk for a few hours. Furthermore, by creating art that night, we showed the anti-choice activists that we are an active and visible part of this community. We also showed this to the community. A few pedestrians even joined us in chalking!
Our second event was held the following Thursday. This event had about ten attendees and much better weather. Once again, there was some participation from interested pedestrians. The artwork survived the night and welcomed women to the clinic. Several staff at the clinic and organizations hosted in the Building for Women also told me that seeing the bright colors and positive messages brightened their day!
Perhaps the most powerful testimony was from a woman who shared that had an abortion in the past. She shared that years ago when she went to the clinic, it was a very hard decision for her. She did not feel supported in her choice. She shared that seeing the chalk art made her wish that someone had chalked for her. Rather than feeling ashamed, she might have felt empowered. So, the art was very meaningful for her.
Choice is beautiful. It is the cornerstone of equality. Without it, we are beholden to the power of men who might rape or abuse us. Without it, we are blocked from careers, education, our dreams, and livelihood. With out it, we are relegated to becoming tired breeders. Without it, we are denied healthy and full lives. Without it, we live in fear. Creating lovely chalk art is just one way to affirm women, the choices they make, and the choices deserve to make. A better world is possible. We can begin by drawing it in chalk.