Q&A From AFROPUNK Brooklyn 2019 With Abortion Access Front

At this year’s AFROPUNK Festival – Brooklyn 2019, Harness sat down with Moji Alawode-El and Joyelle Johnson from Abortion Access Front to learn more about the organization and its mission.

Q: Can you share a little bit about what Abortion Access Front does?

Moji Alawode-El: Some of the things we do, we go on tour and do a kind of comedy show. In those shows, we bring comedians who are willing to and excited to talk about abortion, and we also invite the local clinics to come and table. It’s an opportunity for people who like our comedy, and support access to abortion, to come together to realize where their local clinic is, to talk to the representative there, to sign up to help them in ways that they may need help. Because  independent clinics need a lot of help and a lot of people, a lot of times, don’t know quite where to start.

So that’s one thing we do. And also usually when we’re on tour, while we’re there, we like to take time as staff and use our performers to to go to the clinic and do services and sometimes counter-protest. Last year, Joyelle and I were in Toledo counter-protesting, and it was maybe the most fun I had in 2018. Like she was the best person to counter-protest with.

In town we’re also currently we’re doing an action, we’re trying to bring a petition to let people know about what’s happening with Title X in this country. So we’re finding people to help with the petition to keep Title X as it is, and not let it morph into what the current administration is trying to morph it into. So that the push is to go to actual reproductive centers, and not fake clinics that lie to women, lie to people, and don’t give people the reproductive choices and opportunities that they deserve; that they are constitutionally allowed to have.

Q: How do you integrate humor in AAF? 

Moji Alawode-El: Our is founder Lizz Winstead, and she’s also one of the whole co-founders of The Daily Show. So her experience is in news and also humor, sort of bringing them together in a way that are accessible to people and also exciting for people. And most of our staff, a solid part of our staff, are comedians or aspiring comedians.

One of the things I heard Joyelle say today that was great is the normalizing of the word abortion, literally making people come out and say, “I had an abortion.” And maybe it’s not funny, but also maybe it is. There are different ways to experience abortion. But all of them are right, all of them are okay, all of them are valid.

Joyelle Johnson: Yes, every single reason you have. And another thing was, I told my abortion story for the first time with this organization. I told it on stage and I have since been telling it on stage. And now I have women that write to me or come up to me and be like: I couldn’t even say the words of something that they did. Something a woman did, she told me she couldn’t even say the word. But listening to me tell my story, made her feel empowered. That’s what we want to do. Empower women and make them feel everything is okay. Especially in abortion. It’s okay, you’re not going to hell.

Moji Alawode-El: And I feel like there’s so few opportunities and just because of the stigma that is often brought to abortion, to even talk about it among friends or whatever. And what’s really interesting is when we table in an environment like this, there’s at least five times where someone comes up to me, a stranger just standing wearing a shirt that says Abortion AF, and tells me the details of their abortion story. And it’s stuff like the abusive relationship they were in, or their aunt who told them they were going to hell, or the protesters who were on the street saying: you’re going to hell. Or just how they wrestled with it or didn’t wrestle with it.

Whenever I table, at least five people – not just women – who I do not know, come to me and talk to me about their abortion stories. And I think that we need to talk about it. It’s exciting that people find that I’m there for them and I love being there for people like that. But it’s also sad that in your community, in our community, there are not necessarily the places to have these conversations in a safe and supportive way.

Q: How can people get involved? 

Moji Alawode-El: Our website is aafront.org and on the website you can find ways to donate, you can sign up for our newsletter so you can find out about the actions we’re doing. This summer we took around a hundred activists and met up in Milwaukee and we counter-protested an American domestic terrorist organization as Operation Save Abortion. We had about a hundred clinic escorts or just folks who heard about it, who were interested and were out there. We called it abortion activist summer camp. And it was amazing. It was amazing week and it was super exciting.

And so if you’re on our mailing list and hear about these things, you can show up for these things. Half of the people at this table right now are our volunteers, volunteers who’ve worked with us before. So if you want to hang out at AFROPUNK with us, that’s the kind of thing our volunteers do. And then sometimes we have people who help us with crafting projects, we have graphic projects. There’s so many ways that we accept help and assistance. Also if you’re in your town like, ‘I don’t know if I want to deal with them,’ then contact your local women’s and abortion provider and see what kind of help they may need.

Joyelle Johnson: Donate abortion funds.

Moji Alawode-El: Our programs director, I remember when I first started working here, was literally spending time trying to find a shredder for clinics because in their town, they couldn’t get shredding services. People were like, no, we’re not going to come to your clinic because we know what you do in that building. A lot of people are even under sieged by their own local business communities. So if you know that you are not that person, that you are there ready and excited to help; if you can’t make it to us then call your local abortion providers, see what you need. Maybe they need clinic escorts, maybe they don’t, but call them and find out what they need. Don’t just show up. That’s what anti’s do. Don’t be that person.

Q: To the women in our community, if there’s anybody struggling with abortion or the topic of abortion, what kinds motivation, inspiring words or affirmations could you give them that would maybe help them?

Moji Alawode-El: These things are so specific. I feel like there’s no blanket term that I can say. I feel like if you know that you yourself don’t struggle, make sure that the people in your community know that you’re a resource that they can come to. I was on a panel where one of the people said, be a person’s fund that you’d want to be. Maybe that’s not with money you have, let people know: oh, you need to go and do something and you want someone to watch your kids. If you need someone to drive you, if you need someone to come and hold your hand, if you need someone to talk on the phone while you’re there, make sure that the people in your community know that you’re that resource for them. And then you can help people in ways that are specific to them and the way that they need help.

I can’t tell you how everybody needs help through their abortions or their decisions around abortion. I would never encourage anyone to have an abortion and I would never discourage anyone from having an abortion. So I say you want to be able to talk to a person and find them where they are and just be a support while they find for themselves what works for them. Cause we all know what we need.

Joyelle Johnson: And if you’re having an abortion, everything’s going to be all right.

Moji Alawode-El: And we are here for you.

Joyelle Johnson: I’ve had an abortion and I’m crushing my career.

Moji Alawode-El: I had an abortion and I have a baby now.

Joyelle Johnson: She had a baby when she was ready.

Moji Alawode-El: I love and am grateful for being able to make those decisions on my terms every single time. So having an abortion is not the end of the world. It usually can help.

Joyelle Johnson: It’s a beginning

Moji Alawode-El: It’s a beginning of the world. And I’m not here to make that decision for you. And neither should our politicians.


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