It was still pitch black outside when a young man stopped on the sidewalk along Broad Street and wondered aloud: “The artwork is beautiful, but why are you all out here at 5:30 in the morning?”
I broke away from the pack of 20 feminist volunteer artists and shined my flashlight on him as I answered cautiously, “Why are you out here so early? Are you an anti-choice protester?”
The bearded 20-something looked amused and replied, “No, I’m not a protester. I live in the neighborhood. I was just walking home from prayer at the mosque when I saw all of these women decorating the sidewalk. I stopped because I think it’s great that you’re doing this. What is this for?”
My nervousness immediately vanished once I realized he wasn’t affiliated with Created Equal. “Thank you for admiring our art,” I said with a relieved, sleepy smile. "We wanted to cover the sidewalks with positive messages before the protesters arrive at 8 AM and write cruel things with their own chalk."
“Yeah, I’ve seen their crazy signs out here before,” the neighbor dude said. "What exactly do the protesters write on the sidewalk?"
“Ugh, I’ve got plenty of example photos I could show you,” I replied, whipping out my phone. "They usually write ‘Mommy, my heart is beating. Please don’t murder me.’”
He grimaced when I said this, just like many other people do. Photos of the anti-choice chalkings outside of the abortion clinic (like the ones above) have disgusted the community so much that TWENTY women - half of them strangers from the internet - woke up at 5 AM on a Saturday morning just to cover every inch of the clinic’s sidewalk in supportive, uplifting messages and images.
I can’t even convince twenty people to come over to my house for a party at night… How the heck did I convince twenty people to come out to the abortion clinic before the crack of dawn? The truth is, it wasn’t really me that convinced them. It was the protesters’ actions that inspired this random act of early morning kindness.
Every Saturday, me and a few clinic escorts post updates about the harassment experienced by patients and volunteers at the hands of the religious extremists who stand outside of the clinic. Many people are sickened by the cheap, manipulative, and sometimes frightening tactics that these anti-choice “sidewalk counselors” use to intimidate and coerce patients.
The protesters have gone out of their way to make themselves and the environment around clinic look super scary. This has only fueled the community’s resolve to reclaim the neighborhood’s sidewalks and give our patients something beautiful to look at while they run away from the creepy old man carrying a giant cross.
It took twenty feminists about 90 minutes to cover the entire block with rainbows, unicorns, and jazzy robots.
These kind-hearted artists vanished as quickly as they appeared, but their positive affirmations were left behind to reassure every woman who walked past: “You are strong. You are beautiful. You are brave. Do what makes you happy."
Around 8:30 AM, I peeked out of the window to see how the protesters were reacting to the artwork. As I stood there, I overheard some patients talking. “Oooh yeah, that chalk is so pretty!” one patient exclaimed to another patient as they sat in the waiting room. I smiled across the room at her and she smiled back.
When I turned back to the window, I saw a mustachioed protester throw his arms up in frustration, gesturing at the other protesters. They all looked very irritated by the love that had engulfed the sidewalk, but who cares? This wasn’t for them. This was for the patients. And that chalk art made at least one patient feel a flash of happiness during one of the toughest days of her life.
Her smile made waking up before dawn totally worth it. This is why feminists chalk at 5:30 on a Saturday morning. No regrets. Not a single one.
Thank you to the talented, generous, and compassionate women who gave up their Saturday morning to make that woman's smile possible.
And thank you to the husband and wife who brought their middle-schooler into the clinic to drop off three pizzas for the staff around 2 PM. The mother explained that the family had driven past the clinic earlier in the day and they witnessed a few anti-choice protesters yelling at a female clinic volunteer while she stood there silently. "These women don't deserve to be treated like this," the mother said. "It made me mad and I wanted to show my daughter that this decision is okay."
"Can I volunteer with my mom here?" the middle-schooler asked. I almost started crying tears of happiness and gratitude. I wish my coworkers had been there to see it because it was one of the most touching moments of my life.
Every day yields more examples of the fact that Ohio is actually brimming with girls and women (and guys too!) who are passionate about choice. These women TRUST their mothers, sisters, and daughters to control their own reproductive health and futures.
We may have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and endure being screamed at by religious extremists, but we will continue to defend our right to choose and to not feel ashamed for accessing safe, legal abortions.
Written by: Amanda Patton