When the social media campaign #ShoutYourAbortion first emerged September last year, it was a powerful effort for which I felt a certain gratitude and awe — but still treated with cynicism. I wondered would it grow into an impactful movement with real, lasting affects, or would it tragically fizzle out like other forgotten hashtags?
I got my answer last Saturday at #ShoutYourAbortion’s vibrant first birthday party called the Stomp the Patriarchy Ball during which hundreds of people packed Washington Hall to dance, share their stories and celebrate a movement that has become much more than just a social media campaign.
#ShoutYourAbortion was founded by Seattle activists Amelia Bonow and Kimberly Morrison and writer/activist Lindy West.
It started in response to Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood after the controversy that followed undercover videos. When the U.S. House of Representatives suspended funding of Planned Parenthood for one year last September, Bonow defended the organization by posting a story of her own abortion and adding hash tag #ShoutYourAbortion. The post exploded.
Bonow didn’t intend for her words to lay the groundwork for a grassroots movement. But the energy surrounding the topic of reproductive justice has since led to art shows, speak outs, public art, dance nights and a zine called “Dear Doctor,” which is a collection of letters of gratitude to abortion care providers.
Bonow considers that zine as one of the best examples of the good that #ShoutYourAbortion can do — providing people a place to process their experiences.
But #ShoutYourAbortion has also done so in the spirit of healing and dignity. These experiences also include other reproductive justice issues, such as the experience of being forced to keep a child, dealing with abusive partners or lacking the access to sexual education or birth control.
“SYA is about choosing to love yourself in a society that has told you that you’re not supposed to,” Bonow said.
And the movement has also dealt with the challenge of inclusivity and intersectionality with care and intentionality — where some movements lose credibility.
Too often I have attended Seattle events for a cause only to find conversations dominated by white, cis-gendered men and women and those with the most privilege. This wasn’t the case on Saturday. The line-up for speakers and performers included powerful women of color, including artist and activist Hollis Wong-Wear, writer Ijeoma Oluo, politician Pramila Jayapal and artist DoNormaal.
Bonow said that the people who were brought on stage “are the women that we need to listen to. It’s really time that mainstream America listens to the issues that affect women of color.”
I left the lively event with a free button, two zines and a t-shirt of Dr. Willie Parker, but most importantly with a revitalized hope that the conversation about women’s autonomy is continuing with the most disenfranchised voices at the center. The performances and speakers reminded everyone that #ShoutYourAbortion would not slow down in its efforts to bring light to women’s nuanced stories and issues.
Jayapal, the State Senator for the 37th District and candidate for Congress in the 7th District, focused on abortion as a political issue. She said because men can’t have wombs, controlling the womb or the dialogue about what women can do with them is a means to control the whole person.
“Every single one of our stories about whether we have an abortion, how we have an abortion, when we have an abortion is part of who we are and if we can’t bring our whole selves to this country then it is not fully a democracy, Jayapal said.
Jayapal said movements for important causes must be built from the ground up to encourage policy change.
#ShoutYourAbortion must, “convince people with all sorts of tactics that is it time to make that change happen,” she said.
Wong-Wear, an artist and community advocate, presented a spoken word piece that was her “proclamation against the patriarchy.”
Her piece compared patriarchy to warfare and the resistance to patriarchy as creation and nurturance. Her piece touched on the issue of feminism not being true feminism unless it is accessible to all.
“It is our right to decide what blooms from the soil of us.”
Oluo, Editor-at-Large of the Establishment spoke about the abortion she didn’t have. She shared the same story through a series of Tweets last year amidst the attack against Planned Parenthood.
Oluo was about to graduate from school and was offered her dream job when she found out she was pregnant for the second time. She was unsure about whether she could handle being a single mother again, especially since her then-boyfriend and friend told her that she wouldn’t be able to handle it. Her doubts led her to a Planned Parenthood clinic for the first time.
The crying Oluo was terrified, but her nurse told her just what she needed to hear — that Oluo was a smart, capable woman who would make the right choice because ultimately, whatever decision she made would be the best decision.
“That was the first time in my life as a woman where someone had told me that I had control and I knew what was best for my body and my future,” Oluo said. Oluo chose to continue her pregnancy.
Oluo said the Planned Parenthood nurse listened to her without pushing an agenda, unlike others in her life. She says she considers herself lucky to even have the option.
“As a woman of color, I come from a long legacy of women who were told that they could not choose if or when they could become pregnant, they could not choose whether or not they kept their children,” Oluo said.
She also pointed out that reproductive justice cannot be achieved without economic and criminal justice. As abortion rights will do no good if people don’t have access nor if incarcerated pregnant women aren’t given the same rights, she said.
Movement co-founder West said she recently realized the forces that shame people for not looking a certain way also deny women the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion.
“It’s the fucking same,” she said. “It’s alienating people from their bodies, it’s telling people that their bodies do not belong to them.”
And when people do not fit the arbitrary standards that society has set, then they are ultimately punished through violence, stigma, alienation and marginalization, West said.