Why did you decide to launch Lady Parts Justice?
I think I’ve always been pro-choice and actively pro-choice and done benefits through my stand-up, but it really started happening when I was trying to finish my book three years ago, and I just couldn’t get it done. I live in Brooklyn, and I thought one way I would be able to get my book done is if I packed up my dog, rented a van, and went back to my home state of Minnesota for the winter to finish my book. When I got there, it was right when that very conservative House of Representatives took over. The very first thing they did wasn’t trying to help people get jobs or fix the financial crisis, but it was pick on Planned Parenthood. I was like, 'You’ve got to be kidding me. This is what they’re going to do?’ So, when they failed at that, I watched as all these different state legislatures quietly started proposing all of these really creepy laws against reproductive access for women. It just kept happening. It was happening in Michigan, Wisconsin, and all over the place. So, I finished my book, and I called Planned Parenthood and said, ‘I have to drive back with my dog in a van. What if I were to do fundraisers along the way to help you guys out and raise awareness?’ What started out as six benefits ended up being around 43."
How did you make Lady Parts Justice accessible to people who aren't necessarily interested getting involved in the political battle for reproductive rights?
"I realized that things were happening on the ground in the way they were because no one ever pays attention to local politics since they’re really boring. I thought if I could bring people in from just doing stand-up on the road and learning about the laws, what if I could do it on a bigger scale? I had some friends from D.C. with a messaging company, who oddly enough wanted to make videos on this topic. They called me, and I said, ‘What if we joined forces and do this?’ Then Sarah Sophie Flicker — who is an activist and an amazing woman — called me and said, ‘I want to do something, too.’ The four of us really needed to craft what we wanted to do. We thought: Let’s get an interactive website, make videos through a pop-culture lens, and talk about issues in these states in a fun, touching way. In a way that might grab somebody who isn’t looking for anything political and doesn’t think of themselves as political, but does think of themselves as, ‘Why is someone messing with my healthcare and my privacy?’ Hence the idea was born."
When the site launches, you're doing a live-reading event featuring women’s abortion experiences. That’s a really serious topic. Who's participating? Are these stories going to be serious or comical?
"Jean Grae — a great emcee — has a song about her own personal experience and will be doing that. The women who are reading are feminist writers and activists: Sally Kohn, Zerlina Maxwell, and Syreeta McFadden. I am reading my own story of having an abortion. They are reading them sort of like The Vagina Monologues or TED Talks — they’re honoring the people’s stories in the tones that they were written. It’s not an embellishment; if the person added humor to the story, then that story will have humor in it because that’s how the person wanted to tell it. That is part of our launch event that will be live-streamed from our website."
"It was a combination of both. When I started doing these shows for Planned Parenthood, I was getting calls from clinics all over the country asking me to come there. I didn’t have time to even assemble a team. Women saw me doing it, and asked how they could help. I started reaching out to writers and people. Finally, when I decided I wanted to transition from doing these live events to creating a hub where people could learn and participate, I did an outreach, and people started coming. They started reaching out to their friends. Then, it just snowballed. We have a backlog of people who will be releasing videos now and hopefully forever. It’s pretty awesome."
So, you’re looking for people to get involved with user-generated content and tell their stories?
"Yeah, definitely. What I always do whenever I’ve worked on projects that also have a user-generated component is I like to launch first with a tone and feel of the website. You don’t necessarily have to be hilarious; you can be touching, witty, emotional, or angry. I wanted people to see what kind of tone parameters we had so that they could think about it for themselves and create the best video that they knew how to do."
Very cool. I heard you’re starting something called “V To Shining V,” and it will be an annual day to celebrate women. How do you want people to participate?
"As we launch, we’re really encouraging people to get friends together for a celebration called “V to Shining V” on September 27. We’re asking people to gather friends, sisters, and loved ones to have house parties or a party at a bar to celebrate women. We want to have an annual event — sort of like the way Gay Pride has turned into — in the fall that celebrates women, so we’re always on the ballot whether it’s an off-election or the big election. There’s always some politician who’s trying to screw with our rights. Why not gather ourselves together, drink some wine, do some dancing, get a little bit of attention, make a commitment to each other, and actually get people to vote? This is a matter of taking charge of our lives because it seems like everyone else wants to take charge of our lives, and we need to stop that from happening."