WHOLE WOMANS HEALTH
Fort Worth, Texas November 2017
The mural site is one of 2 fences that run along the perimeter of the building facing the parking lot, visible from the main road. It’s 8’ tall and 8-12’ wide.
The mural will serve to comfort women and embodies the values and messages critical to women’s empowerment and reproductive freedom. The site is one of the most heavily protested women’s clinic in Texas by anti-abortionists (Read more about sister clinic in McAllen TX). Simultaneously the mural will also send the message to members of the community:
“When you come here, bring only love.”
How better to say this than a mural with glowing green leaves reading into the words; Harmony, Love, Respect & Dignity.
This project was brought together by the brilliant ladies of Shout Your Abortion who thought to combine a Call to Artists from Whole Woman’s Health, Abortion Conversation Projects, and Shift Stigma they’d started earlier this year to paint murals on their clinics. I’d been working with #SYA doing illustrations for their promotional material (La Rosa) and really wanted to contribute more the best way I know how; with art. I agreed to the trip knowing I was leaving the liberal bubble of Seattle. I had to be aware of my surroundings and be patient when confronted with ideas counter to mine. Here is a small journal of my experience in Fort Worth, Texas.
Day 1 Saturday: I flew in, got my rental, and drove right to the clinic to meet my contact Fatimah. The clinic was closing for the day so she gave me a brief tour of the mural site, space, clinic, and I met some of the nurses. The picture above is the other fence that flanks the clinic (non-mural fence). Naively when I agreed to paint, I didn’t realize what the fence represented and protected. My contact informed me they weren’t just to place property lines, these were specifically installed to protect women from protesters who would camp in the areas beyond to harass and berate them as they came and left the clinic. This particular space is the exit, where women would have to walk confronted with (mostly male) protesters attacking them with anything from racial slurs to manipulative cries of empathy. The space left between the fences (their property), was purposely made so if anyone climbed over the chainlink fence, they would be arrested for trespassing. These precautions are like a game of chess and were a stab of reality that I truly was in place that did not care about protecting women.
Day 2 Sunday: Today the clinic was closed. I was joined by videographer Brady who has worked with SYA in the past. I focused on placement and building colors for the mural. Someone must have seen activity at the clinic because a sole protester showed up mid-day and stayed. He gibberishly sang loudly to call attention to the sign he held highlighting statistics of lives lost to abortion. When he realized we weren’t there to use the clinic facilities, he came around the other side of the fence where I was and tried to engage us. He thought it was a shame I was using my god given artistic talent for such nonsense. I told him he looked liked an artist himself referencing his sign and he responded his daughter made the sign and he hoped she’d never use her talent to support the killing of lives. I told him I hope he continues to love and support his daughter throughout her life. My thought is that if she ever gets into a situation where she might need him to challenge his convictions, he’d chose love over hate, compassion over propaganda and love her unabashedly. When he left, I was told he was the mellowest of them. I made great progress on the mural and had most of my placement and color scheme laid out. That night I ate really good Fried Chicken and made the most of my Texas eating experience.
Day 3 Monday: Today was the first day the clinic would be open while I painted. I arrived after opening to not have the nurses overwhelmed with patients while simultaneously trying to set me up. In order to get into the building I needed to press the buzzer and come in like all patients.
“Do you have an appointment?”
My heart stopped. No, no I don’t.
But I realized that this entrance might be the first place a woman’s verbally been confronted with her reality, that yes, yes I am here for an abortion. In a state where abortion is a 2 day affair and is still highly stigmatized and looked down upon. This resounded greatly for me. When I walked through the door I was walking the steps many women had to face alone.
Precautions like this are standard since clinics are not only a target for verbal abuse, but for physical and sadly at times fatal.
Without Incident, I was able to work through the morning and early afternoon. Brady and I ate Waffle House which was heavenly.
Day 4 Tuesday: I finished the mural, but this was the most eventful and emotionally hard of the days. We had a second protester. His protest calls were toxic and specifically targeted the women coming in and out toned with sugar coated manipulation. Here’s a few I remember;
– “Think about your baby” He’s already given ownership to the woman.
– “I’m glad your mother gave you a chance.” He’s personalizing her actions.
– “Take a pamphlet for a clinic 2 minutes from here, there’s a better way, they can help” The clinic 2 minutes away was most likely a front for anti-abortionists to counsel women OUT of getting an abortion. They will lie and say they offer services to mislead women.
– “You’ll never be able to undo this…”
Ultimate guilt trip, matter not what the circumstances of the woman’s decisions are, these men take it upon themselves day in and day out to harass, interrogate, and manipulate these woman who only need help.
It was infuriating.
I finished the mural early and afterwards we lunched with the nurses. They planned a potluck to ease the tension of the work week and to take a break and eat with each other. As the holidays near and new scheduled hours, they are seeing a large influx of patients. I was explained daily routines of what the patients and nurses go through, asking questions and being answered with patience and love. There is’t enough staff. There isn’t enough time. There isn’t enough funding. Each room was named after a couragous woman Amelia Earhart, Alice Walker etc. The clinic’s theme the color Purple.
Observations: Both protesters tried to engage me through the fence after. The first used his daughter to fuel his argument, the second was a little more aggressive, using the phrase ‘putting pearls on a pig’. In a petty moment I sprayed paint in his direction, hoping the fumes would make him leave me alone. In my experience painting murals in communities, when viewers watch a mural being painted they walk away with a certain ownership. Both referenced my talent and that the mural was beautiful. I wonder what mindfuck will occur if someone damages it. If they will think about the small Mexican woman that worked 3 days on it and feel anger, do they think this space belongs to them?
When I asked the clinic nurse why there’s such a need for abortion her answer right away was; Education. There’s not enough reproductive education in schools on how students body’s work, how they can protect themselves from STD’s, and ultimately pregnancy. There’s so much body shaming it creates a stigma of ignorance. There’s many parents that still think their children knowing about your body is “gross” and don’t trust they’re old enough to make those decisions. The reality is that abstinence is NOT a viable solution. Knowing how your body works and utilizing ways to protect it are. Reproductive Coercion is now a new threat our youth have to face which is defined by “Any behaviour aimed at establishing and maintaining power and control by restricting a woman’s reproductive autonomy, denying her control over decisions related to her reproductive health, and limiting her access to reproductive health options.”
On the most positive of sides of this trip, I met Wildstyle, who invited me to her weekly radio show co-hosted with Embo Slice as they life coach with their listeners. So while these 2 men might have been trying to tear down women, I had the immense pleasure to build with these ladies the night before I flew out. Mark 52:30 if you’re short on time, but I suggest listening to the entire show. You can also donate from their page so they can continue their incredible work empowering women in Hip Hop.
As a closing thought, this trip armed me with the experience to fuel my dedication to my community and my convictions. Women and our allies may collectively support and love each other. Each day is another day to advocate, fight, create art, and to speak up to defend our rights and the future of our rights. In order to ensure my bonus daughter retains her own rights, I must keep painting.
I am super thankful Washington is a state with programing and legislation that protects the rights of young adults. FLASH, WA States health ed starts as early as the 4th grade. Confidentiality for our young adults at 13 allows them to take the reigns of their mental, physical, and reproductive health without parental consent. This protects them from parental political agendas and ignorance, and allows them to make decisions they’ll be in charge of for the rest of their lives. It also safeguards them from potential mental or physical abuse and allows them to get the help they need without the stigma of their parents judgement.
Special Thanks to Organizers:
ShoutYourAbortion.com | IG @SYA_206
ShiftStigma.org | IG @Shift_Stigma
Radio: Good Girls, Bad Thoughts | IG @GGBT_ | @Embo_Slice_ | @IAMWildstyle
LOVE to all the amazingly strong and dedicated woman who advocate, work, and support within this field. You have my respect, love and admiration. Stay Strong ❤