This is the story of that one time an abortion clinic worker put her cat on a shirt and then sold enough of those shirts to pay for pro-choice ads on an electronic billboard in Downtown Columbus.
It all started with a joke between a few friends on social media: “Cats are just naturally pro-choice because they do not care what women do with their bodies.” I had always suspected that most cat ladies are pro-choice, so I started testing the theory on my cat’s somewhat popular Instagram account, @classycatincolumbus. I would post pro-choice memes featuring my moody feline Boo Radley and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
I soon realized that there are a ton of pro-choice cat lovers in Columbus and beyond. Yet somehow, no one even owned the URL ProChoiceCats.com. So I bought the domain and began brainstorming with friends about how we could channel the Pro-Choice Cats concept for something meaningful and good. A few people suggested selling t-shirts to raise money for a pro-choice cause. Then my boss asked, “What if we bought a billboard?"
“Yeah! And what if we put it right near the Ohio Statehouse, just to troll the anti-choice legislators?” I wondered.
We contacted a few billboard companies and found out that electronic billboards are actually cheaper that old-school billboards. And there would be less of a chance for vandalism with an electronic billboard because the messages are constantly rotating through a feed of other advertisements. A very enthusiastic account manager from Clear Channel told me that not only did she support the pro-choice billboard project, but she also wanted to donate to the cause. And she actually did. That was the moment when Clear Channel won my heart and my business.
I picked the e-billboard on 3rd Street and Spring Street as the final location because it's one of Columbus' busiest downtown intersections and it was only a couple blocks away from the Statehouse.
Once we knew how much money needed to be raised, the community went to work to make sure this project actually came to life. An independent screen printer in Toledo gave me a great price for the shirts and delivered a fantastic product.
@OliveAndRye, a famous cat artist on Instagram, designed the brightly-colored graphics for the shirts, stickers, and ultimately one of the billboard concepts. Six of my friends volunteered to model the shirts for photos that were used to create the website where the shirts were sold.
I ordered approximately 100 shirts that said “Leave My Pussy Alone” - a not-so-subtle message for Ohio's legislators and Governor Kasich. Many shirts were sold, but some were given away to people who had volunteered their time to the project. By the end of the process, not a single shirt was leftover.
I sent shirts to every corner of Ohio: Athens, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Dayton, Fairfield, Mason, Medina, Sylvania, Pataskala, Pickerington, Upper Arlington, and Whitehall. But it wasn’t just pro-choice peeps in Ohio who supported this effort. I received orders from people living in Indiana, Washington DC, California, Florida, Arkansas, and even Canada.
I want to give a giant THANK YOU to every single person who bought a shirt. The funds that were raised paid for billboard, as well as the expenses needed to buy the shirts and stickers (gotta pay the designer and screen-printers), taxes, packaging, and shipping (rookie mistake: charging only $2.50 for shipping, which did not even begin to cover the costs of mailing these shirts across the state and country).
After paying for all of the overhead, there was just enough money leftover to buy the billboard. Every single shirt sold helped to bankroll this entire billboard project. So much of the credit goes to those of you who bought a shirt or donated dollars.
But I also want to give credit to everyone who donated their time. Thank you to everyone who posted about the shirts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Without you, I’m certain I wouldn’t have sold as many shirts as I did.
Thank you to everyone who invited me to your events and allowed me to sell my shirts there.
Thank you to awesome organizations like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio for spreading the word about this project to their pro-choice followers.
Thank you to Dani W. for helping me package and ship dozens and dozens of shirts.
Thank you to Morgan, Sarah, Gavin, Elisha, Shawnee, and Maggie for modeling the shirts like pros for the website.
Thank you to Tara and Moe, the random good internet Samaritans who donated their time and designed the wonderful e-billboard concepts.
Every time I try to count all of the people who contributed to making this campaign a success, I lose track because there are at least 100 people involved, probably more. If you are looking for a pure example of grassroots community action, this is it right here.
To everyone who participated, I encourage you to drive past 3rd and Spring Street before the campaign ends on 11/15/2015. As my friend Shawnee said:
A final note: My hope is that this will inspire others to launch similar projects in their communities. This doesn’t have to be a one-time deal. In fact, I’d like to do another pro-choice e-billboard campaign in 2016, if enough funds can be raised to go for Round 2.