Today, at a feminist meeting, we were asked what we hoped for in four years. I felt very emotional when asked this question. I angrily said that I hope that in four years both parties tremble at the power of the mobilized masses, whose anger they cannot contain. Unfortunately, I am very alone in my socialist feminism and this wasn’t met with raised fists and denouncements of imperialism. I got carried away. Oh well. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that women’s liberation is not a question of electing more women to power. Women do not benefit from simply electing other women to office if these women are not committed to ending such things as poverty, homelessness, climate change, environmental destruction, racism, war, ableism, and heterosexism. Working class women do not benefit from more women who are CEOs. Women of color do not benefit from more female police officers and prison guards. Just as the world is not a better place with more women on firing squads, we are no better when women win access to the tools of capitalist oppression.
Queen of Hearts- a female with power does not equal feminism.
In the foggy days of figuring out politics, I remember that I was a fan of Madeleine Albright. At the time, I admired her because she was a woman in a powerful position. I admired that she was tough and stood up to men. As a young woman, I wanted to see what women could do anything men could do. It was only after becoming a socialist and seeing feminism in an international and class context, that I could see that Madeleine Albright did nothing to dismantle patriarchy. She affirmed patriarchy by promoting U.S. foreign policy, even justifying the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to UN sanctions as “worth it.” She affirmed patriarchy by supporting the NATO bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia and by supporting right-wing guerillas in Colombia. In the same way, Hillary Clinton offered vocal support of dismantling welfare, calling welfare recipients “deadbeats” and justified the Crime Bill by calling African American youth “super predators.” She encouraged a coup in Honduras, supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and regime change in Libya. Women’s liberation should not come at the expense of women elsewhere in the world or at the expense of oppressed groups in our own country. I don’t want war criminals who menstruate. I don’t want war criminals period. (Word play intended).
On a local and state level, it is not much different. I am disappointed with our female mayor’s support of more “professional housing” developments when the city sorely needs more low income housing and her less than enthusiastic support of the Homeless Bill of Rights. Amy Klobuchar supported PROMESA, a bill that granted an un-elected board control over Puerto Rico’s finances (enforcing a colonial relationship upon the island). Although she was against the Iraq war, she supported the war in Afghanistan and sanctions on Iran (even though we are the only country who has actually used nuclear weapons in combat). I am not aware of Klobuchar supporting Palestinian rights, rather, she supported Israel’s right to “self-defense” against Gaza. In 2014, in the interest of “self-defense” Israel bombed Gaza, killing over 2000 civilians and destroying over 20,000 homes. These may not seem like feminist issues, but my feminism is anti-colonial. My feminism is against apartheid in any state. My feminism does not think a U.S. war will liberate women. Women must organize to liberate themselves.
I understand that this leaves women with choiceless choices. There are Republicans, who very clearly want to end reproductive rights and who often don’t even give lip service to ending racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and climate change and Democrats, the kinder gentler capitalist party. It is sad that women are often left with choiceless choices. For lack of socialized day care, they must often choose to have children and put their employment and education on hold. Sometimes they must choose to stay in abusive relationships for lack of money and lack of housing. They historically have had to choose to get married, exchanging sex and unpaid labor for economic stability. The two parties seem like another choiceless choice. Yet, I believe that other choices do exist. And, at the very least, by participating in mass movements and fighting like hell on the streets and in the workplaces, both parties can be temporarily forced to the left. Women can be leaders. They can be leaders in social movements. They can be leaders in their community. They can be leaders in their unions. They can be leaders in speaking out against war. They can be leaders in demanding social programs. They can be leaders as allies to oppressed groups. They can be leaders in parties that truly work for workers for – parties that actually fight patriarchy rather than coddle it through war and oppression. Women can be leaders in fighting the power of capitalism and patriarchy.
This past fall, the Twin Ports Women’s Right Coalition began doing small events called “Feminist Frolics.” These events were meant to educate our participants about feminism while enjoying the outdoors. The very first frolic was entitled “Patriarchy in the Parks.” This talk explored how patriarchy shapes women’s relationship to nature and participation in outdoor recreation. The original talk discussed how history, gender roles, safety, and leisure influenced how women participated in nature. Since that talk, I wanted to connect how racism, classism, ableism, and other “isms” shape how individuals participate in the outdoors. As such, this talk puts a special focus on race and recreation. In particular, it explores racism and winter recreation. In my own experiences, when I spend time outdoors in the winter, I don’t often see racial minorities participating in skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. This talk hopes to shed some light on why this is.
The Myth of Geography:
When one considers the racial composition of winter recreational activities, the whiteness of these activities seems almost a given. In our racist imaginations, it seems natural that white people would participate in winter activities. Afterall, Europeans live in the northern hemisphere, where there is snow and cold. Thus, one might argue that geography plays a role in why winter sports tend to be more popular among white people. But, arguments about geography ignore larger issues of racism and classism. It is true that many parts of the earth do not receive snow and that these warmer regions are inhabited by darker skinned ethnic groups. However, geography does not entirely account for participation. For instance, some parts of Africa actually have ski areas. Algeria has two ski resorts and Morocco has three. Morocco has participated in six Winter Olympics, but has never won a medal. Algeria has competed in the Winter Olympics three times, but again, has never won a medal. South Africa has one ski resort, which operates three months out of the year. Lesotho also has a ski resort, which is open during the winter months and is located about 4.5 hours away from Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa. Despite having one ski area, Lesotho has never participated in the Winter Olympics and South Africa has never participated in ski events. In 2014, Sive Spielman, a black South African teenage skier was denied entry into the Sochi Olympics. He qualified to compete in slalom skiing, but the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee disqualified him on the grounds that they did not think he was good enough. Considering he came from a poor area of South Africa, was black, and learned to ski through a ski club at his public school, his participation would have been remarkable (South Africa withdraws only athlete, 2014). Even more remarkable considering that blacks would have been barred from ski clubs and the single ski area until apartheid ended in 1994. Because under apartheid black athletes could not compete alongside white athletes, South Africa was barred from competing in the Olympics between 1962 and 1992 (they were allowed to return to the Olympics before apartheid had ended). Thus, four South African figure skaters competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley and the country did not compete in a Winter Olympics again until 1994.
In contrast to South Africa, Zimbabwe has no ski areas, but had a skier compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Their skier, Luke Steyn, was white. Unlike Spielman, he was quite privileged, as his family moved to Switzerland when he was two years old and he attended college in Colorado. Furthermore, he was provided financial support by the Zimbabwean government (Blond, 2014). It is odd to think that Zimbabwe’s athlete was a white skier who left the country around 1995. Although he was celebrated in the media, the celebration was oddly colorblind. While many Americans adopt colorblindness as a way to avoid the sticky issue of racism, it actually perpetuates racism by skirting around issues of oppression and invalidating the continued racism in society. While I am not sure about Luke Steyn’s history, his race in contrast to his country of origin seems like an elephant in the room. His family would have been among the 120,000 whites living in Zimbabwe in the mid 1990s and likely left, like many did, because the political situation was not favorable for white people. That is, his family probably left because of land reforms which sought to turn white landholdings over to the largely black population. This was done to rectify a history of colonization, wherein white farmers were offered large tracts of land in exchange for the conquest of the country in the late 1800s. It was also done to dismantle the economic foundation of apartheid in that country. While I don’t know his family’s history, judging by his Dutch surname and his family’s ability to move to Switzerland, I can only assume that they were privileged if not landowners. The stories of Steyn and Spielman make for an interesting juxtaposition, as it shows how a white man can still succeed in a black country whereas a black man struggled for recognition even though he was part of the majority population in South Africa. One was privileged by race and class, the other disadvantaged.
All Olympic athletes are to some degree privileged, but in Africa, and when it comes to winter sports, this is more pronounced. For instance, in 2014, Togo sent its first athlete in the winter olympics in Mathilde Petitjean Amivi, a cross country skier who grew up in France but has a Togolese mother. In the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Lamine Gueye was the first black African to compete in the Olympics. But like Amivi and Steyn, he grew up outside of Africa. He went to live in Switzerland after the death of his grandfather, also named Lamine Gueye, the head of Senegalese Party of Socialist Action. Gueye has been an advocate for changing the rules of the Winter Olympics to allow more countries to compete. In fact, 96 nations have never participated in the Winter Olympics.
While tropical climate is certainly an impediment to participation in winter sports, there are many countries which have snowy areas which have not participated in the Olympics to the same degree as European countries. For instance, India has eleven ski areas and Pakistan has nine. Iran has almost twenty ski areas. Kazakhstan has four ski areas, Kyrgyzstan has three, and Lebanon has six. Ski areas indicate that the countries have elevations high enough for snow, which lends itself to skiing, along with snowboarding and sledding sports. Iran has participated in the Winter Olympics ten times, but has never won a medal. Kyrgyzstan has never participated in the winter olympics and Kazakhstan has six times. Kyrgyzstan is 94% mountains and has 158 mountain ranges. The Soviet Olympic skiers trained in Kyrgyzstan Karakol Mountain Ski Base (Krichko, 2016). Pakistan has participated in two winter Olympics and Nepal has twice. Chile, which has eight ski resorts, has participated in sixteen Olympics, but has never won a medal. Argentina has ten ski resorts, has participated in eighteen Olympics, and has never won a medal.
The trend is not so much that a country has to have snow to earn medals, as there are plenty of countries with snow, mountains, and wintry conditions which have not won medals. Instead, it seems that the countries with the highest medal counts are European and high income countries. The top ten countries for medals are Norway, United States, Germany, Soviet Union, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Finland. China, South Korea, and Japan each make the top twenty. These countries have more money to devote to developing sport programs and more citizens with income required to compete at a higher level. Thus, high income countries tend to be more competitive in the Olympics and high income individuals have more opportunities to participate and compete. This explains why diverse countries like the United States do not have more athletes of color in winter sports. Athletes of color have excelled in baseball, basketball, soccer, running, and many other sports. African Americans have long participated in the Summer Olympics. For instance, George Paoge competed in the 1904 summer Olympics and won two bronze medals in the 200m and 400 m hurdles. In contrast, the first African American to compete in the Winter Olympics was almost 80 years later in the 1980 Lake Placid games when Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley competed as part of a four person bobsled team. The first African American woman to win a medal was in 1988 when Debi Thomas won a medal in figure skating at the Calgary games(Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010).
Rather than geography, the reason why few African Americans participate in winter recreation is because winter sports require more money for equipment, training, and coaching. Facilities to practice winter sports are often far from urban centers where African Americans might live (Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010). While I could not find any recent statistics, as of 2003, 2% of skiers in the United States were African American, 3% were Latino, 4% were Asian, and 1% were Native American. Among the membership of the National Brotherhood of Ski Clubs, an African American ski organization, 74% of the members are college graduates and 60% live in households with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 a year (Rudd, 2003). Thus at an international level, but also at the level of individual local participation, access to resources shapes these sports. This is a barrier to participation among racial minorities. So, even in places with wintry conditions, there is still the barrier of cost of participation. On the low end, a beginner snowboarder would expect to pay $500-$1000 for a board, bindings, and boots. Adult skis can range from $200 to $1200. A winter season ski pass for Spirit Mountain costs over $400. Since 27% of African Americans live in poverty, compared to 11% of the general population, these kinds of expensive outdoor activities are beyond the reach of many in their community.
The Role of History:
Another reason why winter sports are white is because of the history of these sports. After all, when an individual imagines winter sports, they might imagine their white ancestors participating in some form of skiing, hockey, or skating. However, this version of history ignores that some cultures may have their own winter sports. For instance, Pakistan hosts a Baltistan Winter Sports and Culture Festival wherein participants play Ka Polo and ice football. Pakistan actually has the highest concentration of glaciers outside of the poles (“Traditional Winter Sports festival and ice sporting in GB,” 2016). Likewise, every two years, various circumpolar regions compete in the Arctic Games. Participants from Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Sami areas of northern Europe, and Northern Russia compete in snowshoeing, snowboarding, volleyball, futsal, skiing, and traditional Dene games like finger pulling, pole push, and stick pull. Additionally, while there is evidence that skiing originated in Finno-Scandinavia with the discovery of rock drawings in Norway and a 4,500 ski in Sweden, Iran also has a long history of skiing. In 2000 BC ancient people in Iran produced skis made of hides and boards (History of skiing, 2005). Cree women would play a marble came, wherein marbles carved from buffalo horns were slid towards holes made in ice (Christensen, 2008). Snowshoeing originated in Central Asia 6,000 years ago, then migrated across the Bering strait to the Americas. Anishinabe, Cree, and Inuit invented sledding. The word toboggan comes from the Algonquian word odabaggan. Sled dogging was an indigenous invention and the Jean Beargrease sled dog race was named after an Ojibwe postal worker who delivered mail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais in often treacherous conditions. The Iroquois also invented a sport called Snow Snakes, or snow darts. In this game, the players must underhand throw a smooth stick along the snow to see whose stick rolls the furthest (“Winter workout: Enjoy traditional native snow sports,” 2011). Thus, many cultures have robust histories of winter games and sports. However, these winter games were either lost and diminished by colonization, appropriated by colonizers, or simply not promoted as mainstream winter activities.
Colonialism continues to play a role in winter sports. The Ktuanaxa tribe of Canada has been fighting the construction of a ski resort for 25 years. The tribe has argued that the site is sacred to them as it is a place called Qar’muk, where a grizzly bear spirit resides. The Canadian Supreme court is reviewing whether or not the resort will impinge on their religious rights, as the tribe has argued that the resort will scare away the spirit and render their rituals meaningless (“Skiers v the religious rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples,” 2016). Even Spirit Mountain in Duluth, was one of seven sacred sites to Anishinabe people. It was a place for burials and worship and development of the ski area and subsequent golf course and hotel. Spirit Mountain was a meeting place for Anishinabe and had historical significance as place on their western migration route (Podezwa and Larson). Environment and culture did not stop a ski resort from being built in Arizona. In 2012, the Navajos and twelve other tribes appealed a judge’s decision to allow Arizona Snowbowl to use wastewater to make snow for their ski resort. The Navajo argued that the land was sacred and that the use of wastewater to make snow was a threat to human health. Navajo people collect medicinal plants from the mountain, which have been contaminated by the wastewater. Using only natural snowfall, the resort would have a nine day ski season. However, the artificial snow extends the season to 121 days. Once again, geography is not necessarily an impediment to winter sports if there is money involved. As of 2015, the issue was not resolved (Finnerty, 2012). While it would be unheard of to construct a skating rink in a cemetery or cathedral, the religious and cultural practices of Native Americans have been ignored, suppressed, and mocked. It is little wonder why they would not be interested in participating in high priced, environmentally destructive leisure activities on sacred land.
While the lack of Native American participation in some winter activities could be attributed to a different relationship to land, it doesn’t account for why Native Americans do not participate in snowshoeing. Rudimentary snowshoes originated in Central Asia 6000 years ago and moved across the Bering Strait to the Americas with the migration of aboriginal peoples. Differing snow conditions resulted in various designs, with longer snowshoes developed by Cree people, who faced warmer, wetter snow conditions and shorter snowshoes were developed by Iroquois people (Carr. n.d.). Snowshoes were developed as a matter of survival, as they allowed indigenous people to travel and hunt during the winter. The construction of snowshoes themselves was a traditional craft undertaken by both men and women (Boney, 2012). As with many things, European colonizers adopted snowshoeing for their own uses, eventually converting them to something used for recreation. Snowshoeing first became a sport in Canada, then the U.S. By the 1970s, they began to grow in mainstream popularity. During the 1980s, aluminum snowshoes grew in popularity (King, 2004). In the advent of manufactured snowshoes, the craft of snowshoe making has been declining. This has also rendered snowshoeing a profitable industry to companies who make snowshoes. Companies such as Red Feather, Tubbs, Atlas, and Yukon Charlie are not owned by Native Americans nor do they specifically seek to benefit them. While Tubbs boasts about inventing the first snowshoe for women in 1998 and donating money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, there is no mention of how their snowshoes might benefit anyone other than white women. Likewise, Redfeather snowshoes based in La Crosse, Wisconsin mentions on its website that it hires people with disabilities, but does not mention anything about helping Native Americans, even if its name and company logo invoke Native American imagery. It is no wonder that a simple google image search of snowshoeing features hundreds of pictures of white people, but no images of Native Americans partaking in the activity. It has become a thoroughly white pastime. It is an example of cultural appropriation that is so normal and commonplace that the historical and cultural meaning of snowshoeing is almost entirely invisible.
The Role of Racism:
The lack of participation in winter sports may seem trivial, but in many ways it is a microcosm of the larger racial issues in society. For instance, in 1997, Mabel Fairbanks was the first African American woman inducted into the U.S. figure skating hall of fame. She was 82 at the time of her induction and was never allowed to skate competitively. Because of segregation, she was not allowed to practice at skating rinks. However, she went on to do her own skating shows for black audiences and was a coach to Debi Thomas and Tai Babilonia. Thomas cited income as a barrier to competitive skating, as she was raised by a single mother and the cost of training can be $25,000 on the low end (Brown). In U.S. society, class intersects powerfully with race. African American children are four times as likely to live in poverty in the United States than white children (Patten and Krogstad, 2015). In 1967, the median income of African Americans compared to white Americans was 55%. In 2013, this had increased to 59%, but a 4% increase over four and a half decades is hardly impressive. Looking at wealth, or such things as retirement savings and house ownership, African Americans owned 7% of the wealth of white people in 2011. This was actually down from 9% in 1984 (Vara, 2013). The segregation that Mabel Fairbanks faced continues today in the form of economic segregation that relegates African Americans to poor communities and low paying service industry jobs. It also persists through the criminal justice system. After all, an African American male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail, compared to a 6% chance for a white male born in the same year (Quigley, 2011).
Aside from the racist structures that may prevent individuals to partake in winter recreation to begin with, there is racism within these sports. Surya Bonaly, a black French figure skater from the 1990s, was the only figure skater in the history to do a backflip and land on one blade. This astonishing feat actually disqualified her in the 1998 Olympics. She did the flip to flip off the judges, who she felt scored her lower because of her race. At the time, the rule was that a jump must land on one blade, which was meant to deter back flips as this would be a two bladed jump. However, she landed on one to test the judges, who disqualified her anyway (Surya Bonaly is the biggest badass in Winter Olympics history, 2014). At the time, critics called her inelegant and more powerful than graceful. Surya was accused of damaging the nerves of fellow ice skater Midori Ito, which caused Ito to fall in her performance (Du, 2016). These critiques demonstrate both racism and sexism, as she did not meet the judge’s expectation of what a figure skater should look like. To them, a powerful black woman was not only threatening to the sport, but to other skaters. The nine time French National champion, five time European champion, and three time World silver medalist now resides in Minnesota, where she teaches skating lessons.
There are many examples of more blatant racism against athletes of color. Irina Rodina, who lit the torch for the Sochi Olympics, posted an image of Barack and Michelle Obama as monkeys with bananas on her Twitter (Myerberg, 2014). The Northwestern University Ski Team, consisting of 65 individuals, hosted a racially themed party in April 2012, where they dressed as South Africans, Ugandan, Ireland, Canada, Bangladeshi, and Native Americans. The students participated in a “Beer Olympics” wherein they portrayed various nations competing with each other in drinking games. The students dressed in a stereotypical and mocking fashion. This caused a controversy on campus in which the ski team offered an apology but was also portrayed as victims of aggression from students of color who were offended by their party (Svitek, 2012). Val James, the first American born black player in the NHL, experienced racism when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres in the early 1980s. Bananas were thrown into the rink and a monkey doll was hung from a penalty box. He was born into a low income family in Florida and did not start skating until he was 13. Despite his accomplishment in overcoming racial and class barriers, mocking spectators would eat watermelons with his name on it. Even today, only 5% of NHL players are black (Sommerstein, 2015). These blatant acts of racism send the message that people of color are not welcome to participate in winter sports.
Another example of racism is evident in the story of the Jamaican bobsled team. Jamaica debuted its famous bobsled team in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. The story was made into a highly fictionalized movie called Cool Runnings. The national team appeared again at the Salt Lake Olympics and Sochi. In the Lillehammer Olympics, the team placed 13th and beat the US, Russia, and Italy. Bobsledding was easier to adapt to Jamaica since it entailed pushing a 600 pound sled as fast as possible, then jumping in. The Jamaican bobsled team crashed during their first Olympics, but were treated as national heroes. The team inspired other unlikely countries to form bobsled teams such as Mexico, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and several U.S. territories (Atkin, 2014). Nigeria wants to field its own bobsled team in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The Nigerian team of former Olympian sprinters has formed to practice with a wooden sled until they can raise enough funds for an actual sled and track (Payne, 2016).
The Jamaican bobsled team could be seen as heroic, considering the challenges of becoming a winter athlete in an impoverished tropical country. Yet, the team continues to be a joke at best and racist trope at worst. For instance, two San Diego High School football coaches wore “Cool Runnings” inspired Jamaican Bobsled costumes, complete with black face in 2013 (Walsh, 2013). In 2015, a group of UW-Stout students attended a private Halloween party as the Jamaican bobsled team, again in black face. The college made a statement that they do not affiliate with those actions (Perez, 2015). In 2014, a group of Brock University college students dressed up as the Jamaican bobsled team and won a $500 costume prize. A critic of these students wrote that black costumes represent the limit of the white imagination to envision black people as anything other than rappers, gangsters, or athletes. These costumes are also a way to control how black people are understood. The film Cool Runnings itself represented Jamaicans in a stereotypical way by actors who were not even Jamaican. Blackface dehumanizes black people. The Jamaican Bobsled costumes affirm a racial hierarchy by making the athletes a stereotype or joke (Traore, 2014).
While much of this discussion has focused on African and African Americans, other racial minority groups face similar challenges. Out of 11,000 U.S. Olympic athletes, only 14 have identified as Native American. Only two of the 14 were female. One of the two was Naomi Lang. In 2002, Naomi Lang became the first Native American identified woman to compete in the Winter Olympics. She is a member of the Kuruk tribe of California but was mocked for wearing traditional regalia at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Skating cost her family $60,000 a year. To afford this, she slept on a mattress and wore hand me down clothes as a high schooler. Lang resisted competitions, since she felt that her culture stressed cooperation and community. Aside from differences in culture and challenges such as racism and poverty, Native Americans face the added challenge of health. 30% of Native American 4 year olds are obese, which is twice the amount of any other ethnic group (Sottile, 2011). Native Americans are also three times as likely to develop diabetes than white people. These health problems can be related back to colonization, which removed Native Americans from their land and traditional food sources and created historical trauma that continues to cause stress and health problems.
The goal of feminist frolics is to enjoy the outdoors while learning. As we venture outdoors this winter, perhaps we will notice how very white the forests, trails, and hills are. Hopefully, this can be connected back to the larger racial disparities that exist in society. It is my hope that this can help us become attuned to other spaces that are largely white. For instance, one of the critiques of the recent Women’s March in Washington was the whiteness of the feminists in attendance. Many of the issues that keep racial minorities out of winter sports also prevent them from participating in politics. For instance, the media and police had an easier time imagining the protests as non-violent because it was undertaken by large crowds of white women, as opposed to Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter, which are viewed more negatively and violently by police and the media. Becoming aware of why certain groups may feel excluded or unwelcome can help us build stronger and broader movements. So, that is the larger mission of this discussion. There should be more spring times for oppressed groups than endless, white winters.
(The following was written for the University of MN-Duluth’s Women and Gender Studies Department Newsletter)
Many people may not be aware that Duluth has its own feminist activist group, so I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition (TPWRC). TPWRC was founded in September 2014 by a group of activists who were involved with ad hoc protests of the 40 Days for Life. For those unfamiliar with the 40 Days for Life, it is an international anti-choice event wherein volunteers spend forty days outside of abortion providers with the hope of ending abortion through prayer and protest. The anti-choice campaign began in 2004, is organized through local churches, and happens in the fall and spring each year. Last spring, the event mobilized 120,000 volunteers through 4,700 churches. Locally, the 40 Days for Life is held in September through the end of October outside of the Building for Women from 8 am to 8 pm. Counter protesting them is important because their presence shames women who use the clinic and seeks to sway public opinion against abortion. Because 95% of Minnesota counties do not have abortion providers, defending our clinic in Duluth is essential for ensuring that women in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to have access to abortion services. Furthermore, over the last forty years, abortion rights have been whittled away by a relentless onslaught of anti-choice legislation that mandates biased counseling, parental consent, waiting periods, and funding restrictions. With this in mind, the activists who founded the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition have hosted regular protests of the 40 Days for Life since 2010. We sought create an organization which could continue these protests into the future and organize other feminist actions in the community. This is how the organization came into fruition in 2014.
Since its founding in 2014, the group has organized a variety of feminist events. Aside from the counter protest of the 40 Days for Life, TPWRC has organized a support picket of Roe v. Wade. Last year, this involved a “glo-test” wherein participants carried signs and wore glow sticks. We have also organized “Chalk for Choice” events this fall, which entails using chalk to create positive messages and artwork in the plaza of the Building for Women. The group has also organized a feminist book club, which will resume this winter. Other events include panels for International Women’s Day and Roe v. Wade and monthly “Feminist Frolics.” Feminist Frolics combine education with outdoor adventure. For instance, in August we went for a hike after listening to a brief lecture about how patriarchy shapes our relationship to nature. In September, we went foraging for wild food while learning about the history and economics of foraging and gleaning. Another exciting project that our group has been working on is launching a radical cheerleading group. The Rah Rah Revolutionaries has participated in several local protests since their re-launch this fall. Through these various activities, the TPWRC seeks to promote feminist activism while educate ourselves and our community about feminism.
Admittedly, our activist group is modest. At many of our events, we have less than a dozen attendees. Our level of activity ebbs and flows with the work schedules of our organizers. However, the call to feminist activism has hardly been greater. Feminism is misunderstood and misrepresented in society. At the same time, women continue to be underpaid and undervalued in the economy. They continue to be sexually assaulted and abused, then blamed and shamed for the violence against them. Abortion rights are curtailed, while students are provided skeletal sex education, daycare is as expensive as rent, and we are the one of three nations in the world that does not provide women with paid maternity leave. Shockingly, denying voting rights to women has become a popular demand in some circles! It seems that even the most basic rights granted to women have been called into question. Feminism should be not feared and averted, but should be reclaimed and asserted to make the powers of capitalist patriarchy tremble with fear. If you would like to join this fight, the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition can be found on Facebook or can be contacted via email at Hbradford@Css.edu
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.