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Talking to Tina Haver-Currin, Steadfast Pro-Choice Protester and Gentle, Brilliant Troll
I first caught wind of Saturday Chores, Grayson and Tina Haver-Currin’s ingeniously weird pro-choice protests, on Facebook. Of course I did a double-take at a photo of Grayson, the bearded, metal-loving music editor of my local alt weekly, holding a sign that said, “I Love Turtles” (full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of things for the Indy Week under Grayson’s purview). A week later, I saw Tina foisting a poster that said “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi.” I don’t think it gets more metal than standing on the side of the road surrounded by hateful right-wingers, standing up for both absurdity and common sense.
I emailed Tina, one half of Saturday Chores, to see what prompted this feat of humor, bravery, and Tumblr-worthiness.
Linnie Greene: Hi Tina! Thanks so much for chatting with me about Saturday Chores. Some of this info is on your Tumblr, but for those who aren’t familiar: what is this thing? What prompted you to start these counter-protests?
Tina Haver Currin: Our very first counter-protest happened on a bit of a whim. There’s no big box hardware store very close to where we live, so Grayson and I were driving toward a suburb of Raleigh called Cary, which runs over with strip malls. I had gotten a gift card to Home Depot for my birthday, and we decided to get supplies for a garden box. We passed the clinic on the way.
Grayson and I both grew up not too far away, and we’ve seen the clinic in question hundreds of times. But for some reason, on this morning in particular, the protestors got under our skin a little more than normal. Grayson suggested that we make a sign that said “Weird Hobby” and point at one of the protestors. We tried to buy poster board at Home Depot, but they don’t carry it. As we were leaving, I ripped a vinyl sale sign off of a display and took a Sharpie to it. We posted the results to Instagram and Facebook, and people flipped.
That happened on March 8, 2014, and we vowed to keep it going. Pretty much every weekend we’ve been in town, we’ve stopped in with a new sign.
Some of the signs are fairly pointed (“Women’s Rights Expert”) whereas a few others are surreal (“Bring Back Crystal Pepsi”). How do you pick? Why do you opt for less serious messages (no offense, of course, to Crystal Pepsi)?
Grayson and I usually brainstorm signs on the way to the clinic, which is about fifteen minutes from our home. We keep a Sharpie in our car and I write the sign on location (I have the better handwriting of two of us, but not by much). We flip-flop each week, with one of us holding the sign and the other taking the pictures.
I’m more in the absurdist camp (“I Like Turtles” and “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi”), but Grayson is comfortable being a little more direct (“Women’s Rights Expert”). I think the zany signs help lighten the self-serious nature of these kinds of protests. The topic isn’t funny, of course, but I find some comfort in fighting hate with humor. If we can change the perception of what a protest is supposed to look like—serious, stern, boring, judgmental—maybe we can convince more people to take another look, start a discussion, and hopefully (!) get involved.
Are reproductive rights an issue that either or both of you have protested for or worked with previously? Was there something about the current political climate that made this seem like the right time to take action?
Grayson and I live in North Carolina. In 2012, “we” elected a Republic governor, Pat McCrory, and Republicans were voted into majority in both state houses. It’s the first time since 1870 that Republicans have had control of both the legislative and executive branch. As you might expect, there’s been a substantial shift toward conservative governance, including cuts to social programs and education, a push for voter ID laws, and, of course, restriction to abortion access.
On June 24, 2013—the day Grayson and I returned from our honeymoon—I was intentionally arrested for civil disobedience through a grassroots movement called Moral Mondays. That has stalled out a bit (I’m still awaiting trial, more than a year later), and I wanted to take more direct action. Plus, holding signs is way more fun than going to jail.
Were either of you ever worried that these protests would jeopardize your jobs? It’s brave to be so public and outspoken, especially in a region that can be pretty divisive, politically.
I work as a writer at an amazingly progressive, supportive company in downtown Raleigh called Myriad Media. They supported my arrest in the Moral Monday movement, and several of my coworkers will be joining me this coming Saturday for Saturday Chores. Part of the reason why I am so vocal about personal rights is simply because I can be. Plenty of people don’t share that luxury, so I feel a sense of obligation to speak up for those who can’t. And Grayson, well… he’s the music editor at the Triangle’s awesome alt-weekly, Indy Week, and they love shit like this.
Do you think the pro-lifers outside the facility will ever mellow out or take a few weeks off? It seems like it would be really easy to get frustrated around such militant people. How do you reckon with that?
The last time we showed up (“Bring Back Crystal Pepsi,” last weekend), the pro-lifers put away all their signs, put down their bullhorns, stopped yelling at people going into the clinic, and just started praying for me. It went on for probably twenty minutes, all of them just praying around that Crystal Pepsi sign.
I think that’s a huge success. If we keep those signs out of the air for even fifteen minutes, I’ll take prayers for my salvation all day long. Ideally, we’d love to see them move out of the area altogether. It would be great if both sides could just leave these people alone. But, if the pro-lifers are out there, then we want to be, too.
I feel like a lot of us (myself included) only see these militant right-wingers on a computer or TV screen. What are they like in real life? What sort of interactions have you had so far?
They’re aggressive. They try to push your buttons any way they can. I’ve never had an abortion, but they insist that I have. I’m not religious, but they proclaim that I secretly love God and am there to join their side. I’m vegetarian, so they mock endangered species legislation. I’m a pretty scrappy, determined female, but they refuse to call me by name (I’m “Grayson’s wife” to them). Honestly, we try our best not to interact. When we’re out there, I’m usually shaking like a leaf, but I put on a smile, wave to passerby, and practice good posture. It’s a huge exercise in restraint.
What impact are you hoping these signs and “chores” might have, in the long run?
I think Grayson put it best: “While it’s true that we’re mocking people, we consider the chief value of what we’re doing the solidarity that we demonstrate for the individuals or families that need to use the clinic’s services for whatever reasons they may have. Generally, upon arrival, they only encounter hate. We want to offer a rejoinder, however slight. And we also hope to show passersby on the busy thoroughfare that the far religious right need not be the only ones with a voice; those with progressive views have one, too, and we should use it.”
We hope that this kind of cheerful counter-protest will spread beyond Raleigh, N.C.
I noticed you were gearing up for a big, community-wide gathering this past Saturday. Tell me about that. Any plans in the works for witty posters or a dance off or something?
It seems like there’s going to be a pretty big turnout. [Ed. note: check it out!]Our goal is to crowd the sidewalk enough that the pro-lifers can’t even be seen. We have some straightforward signs in the works, like “I’m Pro-Choice” and “I Trust Women,” so that it’s clear who we are and what we’re doing there. But, what I’m most looking forward to is spelling out Pi to 100 digits.
More about Saturday Chores here.
Linnie Greene is a freelance writer and bookstore marketing manager in North Carolina. She’s written for Our State Magazine and the Indy Week, among others, and is the non-fiction co-editor of Should Does. She likes cats, Twin Peaks, and the occasional sea shanty. Find her on Twitter @linnievii.