During the campaign, Exhale Director of Programs Jovida Ross worked with Deanna & Sonal to infuse the campaign with Exhale’s Pro-Voice philosophy.
Deanna wrote a behind-the-scenes look at the campaign on her blog as a “case study in social media for social justice”.
Now that the dust from the campaign has settled, Jovida asked Deanna about her experience with the Pro-Voice approach.
Jovida: Talking about abortion online can trigger a lot of controversy. The 16 & Loved campaign was different: we got an overwhelmingly positive response, both in the media coverage and in the posts submitted to the site. We even received a number of submissions of personal abortion stories, even though we hadn’t requested them.
In what way was 16 & Loved similar to or different from other online conversations you’ve seen? What are essential elements to have in place for more respectful, proactive online conversations about abortion?
Deanna: What was different was how we keep overt advocacy politics out of this particular conversation. I’ve learned from Exhale that polarizing rhetoric doesn’t do anything for the women we’re trying to serve, in terms of offering support. By keeping advocacy out, and letting woman tell their own stories, I feel like a huge space was created for those stories to flood in.
I don’t think every conversation about abortion has to be advocacy-politics-free; it’s always going to be a matter of choosing the right tool for the right moment. We hit the nail on the head here. By creating this safe space, we also didn’t give those who are opposed to abortion, under any circumstance, much to work with. Who can argue with love?
Jovida: Exhale is a pro-voice organization. This can bring up a range of challenges for talking about abortion in a pro-choice/pro-life world. Did your understanding of pro-voice change at all through the campaign? If so, how?
Deanna: Oh, it sure did. As the submissions first started coming in, I was having a real hard time as the one moderating submissions, deciding which ones were pro-voice and which ones weren’t. Because I hadn’t myself yet experienced the value of having a pro-voice conversation, I didn’t see the nuance.
I admit that at the beginning of the campaign I was skeptical of “keeping politics out of the conversation;” I didn’t see how that could be done, or what the big picture benefit was. The women who told their stories to us were the ones who changed my mind. Seeing messages like “I know now I am not alone in my feelings and a little of my shame is gone!” just blew me away. I feel tremendous gratitude to the women who taught me why pro-voice is critical.
Jovida: From when you were first approached about the project to now, can you describe what, if anything, you’ve learned or come to understand differently about women’s personal experiences with abortion?
Deanna: I don’t think there’s an intellectual or rational thing that I’ve learned; it’s much more that this experience is stored in my emotional memory. In my book, I write about how all storytelling, big and small, creates empathy, and empathy is the fundamental building block of any kind of social change. This campaign was a stellar example of that–because of the women who participated and shared, I have a fundamentally deeper, more human understanding of abortion experiences.
Jovida: Anything else you’d like to add/share?
Deanna: Thank you, thank you for letting me be a part of this campaign!
Jovida: Thank you, Deanna, for being such a big part of bringing our Pro-Voice campaign to life!