This is the last article in our October series about Justice for All, the traveling anti-abortion display.
I remember the first time I saw JFA on the OU Campus. It was a few years ago. I was so angry, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to scream at them. I thought about taking them a bag of metal coat hangers from my closet as some sort of not very well developed performance art. I mostly ended up avoiding their display so I didn’t have to see it. When they came back last year, I knew I couldn’t stay silent again. I was also so excited to find out that other people felt the same way.
It can be funny how adversity can bring people together. It was energizing to find old friends and new friends willing to pick up a sign, chant a slogan, or blow a kazoo for a few minutes or hours between classes. I didn’t have to be silent anymore; and what’s more, I didn’t have to be alone in my silence. We were together, and we were loud.
But speaking up, or blowing a kazoo as the case may be, doesn’t come without consequences. During the actual protest, we faced numerous moments of harassment from the JFA staffers and volunteers to the OU Campus Police to the campus newspaper. We were roundly accused of not wanting to dialogue, of being the problem, of creating a disruption and disturbance to the “way things are done here.” After the protest was long over, I still had friends, family, colleagues in other organizations, and people who I thought might be allies tell me that they didn’t get why we acted the way we did. Sometimes it was subtle such as jabs about kazoos or comments about how we did not do anything “real” on this campus; sometimes it was like being outright told that we did not foster “dialogue” like we should have with people who were being paid to lie to people about this issue.
I think that criticism is necessary to produce self-reflection about any sort of action or protest you are doing. But sometimes, criticism can become not about making your activism better but about shutting it down entirely. I can’t speak for anyone else but I know that I didn’t become interested in reproductive justice to be popular or to be widely applauded for what I do; I did it because I couldn’t stand to be silent while others discussed my rights and the rights of my friends, family, and community. Our actions may not also be supported or respected by those around us, but if we accomplish what we set out to do, then we are successful. When you are told by society to sit down, shut up, and not make waves, it can be a radical act of self-care to make your voice, or kazoo, heard.
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