Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
When Tim and I arrived at Watts and 6th Avenue it was us and a NY1 news truck. Then, others started filtering in, FOX 5, Chanel 2, a photographer and a nice young lady from the Daily News. But it wasn’t the news people who interested me, propping up cameras, filming b-roll of walking New Yorkers. It was the people who stopped to see what all the fuss was about and then, offered their opinion out loud to the gathering crowd every single one – for their own reasons – in disgust.
The placement of the billboard at that location on 6th Ave is significant as it is where the Holland Tunnel dumps out sending people uptown. 6th is a giant artery packing 5 (or was it 6?) north bound lanes. The billboard – that beautiful child standing below those manipulative, awful words – is angled so when a motorist hits a red light at 6th and Watts they have the perfect view. The placement isn’t an accident – companies hire companies to access hits, numbers of eyes, on out of home advertising, to get the most bang for its advertising buck.
I propped myself up against two blue US mail boxes wedged between a lamppost and a gaggle of cameramen. I asked them if they heard when the Lamar Outdoor – the owners of the billboard space – crew was supposed to arrive. One guy said his producer said they were on their way. Great! Then he said – from the Bronx. Oy. It was 4:00 and rush hour was ramping up. A trip from the Bronx could shave days off your life. Tim went to fetch coffee.
That’s when people started talking – after craning their necks to see what the cameras were pointing at – to we the assembled.
This woman walked straight up to the corner with her own video camera – one of several who did the same. She showed up on the 11:00 NY 1 News broadcast:
pissed of SOHO resident
This is what made the edit for NY1′s broadcast:
“How dare you. ‘The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.’ Who are these people?” said one SoHo resident.
Here is what didn’t make the cut:
So what are they trying to say – who are they speaking to? Why did you put this in SOHO – who’s your demographic? You care about black babies?
Who are they speaking to? And – who are they? Heroic Media and Life Always based out of Austin Texas. Yesterday, the Texas Independent had a good connecting the dots for you article about the group behind this:
An Austin-based anti-abortion group’s foray into the Northeast media market is causing quite the controversy. According to Texas Secretary of State records, Heroic Media founder Brian Follett is the registered agent for Life Always, the group that paid for a three-story high billboard that’s part of Follett’s campaign targeting African-Americans in urban areas. Records show that Life Always was registered with the state on Jan. 14, at the same northwest Austin address as Follett’s other nonprofits, including Heroic and The Life Foundation. (Read the Texas Independent for previous reporting on Heroic in Texas. Read the Florida Independent for previous reporting on Heroic’s efforts in Florida.)
NOTE: Brian Follett is neither a woman nor African-American
Two men – African-American – stopped to check out the scene. Here is what I find interesting about my interaction with them: neither of them supported the billboard – they thought the wording was offensive but the underlying issue wasn’t – the high rate of abortion in New York’s African-American community. They both quoted “the statistics” about African-American abortions. The first gentleman said that it was “messed up” that 58% get abortions – I asked where he got the statistic and he said he had seen it on the news. Then, as he was walking off, he re-iterated his disgust over the high numbers, then he said “sixty-eight percent.” Facts change quickly.
The second man told me the billboard was covering up the larger issue about African-American women getting more abortions than white women – the root behind it though he didn’t explain what the root was – and again he leveraged the statistics. I asked him what statistics had he heard – could he give me a number? He couldn’t, laughed and said his friend told him it was high.
Two white ladies – I am going to assume mother and adult daughter – stopped to gawk at the billboard:
Mom: Wow (looking at the news crews, looking at the board) I’d say that’s pretty newsworthy
Daughter: Oh my God.
Me: Yeah, it’s coming down
Mom: They are taking it down?
It was getting colder, the sun setting. People continued to stop and look up, stopping their cars in the intersection clicking pics with their cell phones. Tim and I started to walk around the block – no Lamar Outdoor truck in sight. We were happy to stay though we had to find some place warm to sit and grab a bite. Lupe’s at Watts and 6th – delicious Colorado style chili. We talked as we sat there – I kept looking out the window to see if a cherry picker had shown up. Who was it Life Always was talking to?
I don’t know the who but I am pretty sure I know they why.
What Brian Follett, Heroic and Life Always are trying to do is end abortions for all women – not to preserve a community – because of their religion. These are Christian organizations – white and African American – finding solidarity in their belief. Using a divisive tactic like singling out the African American community of women serves to divide us – give white women and African-American women a reason to not stand united for our right to an abortion. Cultures will always have differences, but our right to choice can serve to unite us.
They are using a beautiful little girl’s African-American face to avoid providing preventative services to her underserved demographic. They are saying let’s stop abortion and that will stop the problem. I say the problem is unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. What would really help stop that problem is proper sex education – comprehensive, honest and ongoing, contraception and programs to help elevate people out of poverty. Advocate not cutting off Title X funding to Planned Parenthood – vilifying the organization that provides untold women reproductive health services – would be a truly care-ful thing for the people behind this billboard to do.
Back at Lupe’s we decided it was time to head home. We had been waiting for three hours – Tim and I verging on becoming human popsicles – for that thing to come down. At some point during the evening it finally did.