Project Highway HabitUS: From Pro-Life Breakfast to Women’s March

Our main objectives at the outset of Project Highway HabitUS wereto maintain a sense of openness and operate behind a glass pane of neutrality. We were not on a mission to tell the world what we thought, but rather, were, and still are, seeking to gather the voices of others, untampered and without judgment. So at the risk of exposing ourselves a bit here, we recently found ourselves in North Carolina attending a pro-life breakfast and rally.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Photo Credit: Sumi Clements

Walking into the ballroom, our biggest concern was being exposed as infiltrators – fakes, frauds, con artists. (Sometimes it seems to us like we live in a movie.) We agreed on a contingency plan earlier that morning, in the event that we were asked point blank what our business there was. Well, sir, we’re conducting a research project that is taking us around the nation gathering diverse perspectives. We thought this might be a good place to see a strong show of voices in support of a cause. And please don’t hurt us. We intended to be a very diplomatic under interrogation.

We arrived at our designated table and politely introduced ourselves to the four other couples over the age of 60 already seated. (We totally could have taken them.) It felt like we were sharing a meal with our grandparents. Our table mates were kind, curious and ultimately lovely people. We stood out immediately for our youth and lack of floral patterning, and while no one directly inquired about our views, our answers to other more innocuous questions slowly revealed us to be, at the very least, suspicious to them. We’re dance artists. From New York. In town working with the university. 

The breakfast consisted of multiple guest speakers, including a Senator whose praise of Donald Trump was only overshadowed by the rousing groans of approval for Mike Pence. The main speaker was a young woman who shared a story of heartbreak and redemption in the Lord. On more than one occasion we were led in prayer, and the general rhetoric of the morning centered around God’s miracle of life, the passionate fight to save these unborn lives, and please donate all of your money. We couldn’t help but notice that there was much talk of supporting the infrastructure of the organizations involved in the political fight, and yet nothing was mentioned about funding to implement programs that would actually aid disadvantaged mothers. The cause, it appeared, seemed to stop at birth for this group.

A rally and march followed, during which we gathered footage and interviews of those on parade. We encountered a 21-year-old wearing a shirt that read “Mother of Dragons”, who very proudly voiced her opinion, stating assuredly that she has never questioned nor doubted her thought process in any way. We, as artists on a mission full of inquiry, questioned the self-awareness of an individual who had no questions for herself. In the midst of the morning, there was one shining, beacon of light in the form of a middle-aged gentleman who provided the only (in our humble opinion) argument that exhibited any sound thought process, separate from allegiance to the almighty Father. He cited the arguments of Roe v. Wade versus those of the Dredd Scott Decision. Ultimately, he landed on the Constitution’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He argued: since a fetus is borne of two humans, should we not then assume that this child is human, and does that human then not deserve its fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Though we may not agree with his specific logic, or its weight in this particular issue, we could at least discern his line of reasoning. And from that interaction, came a small understanding, even if just in the form of… we agreed to disagree.

Photo credit: Sumi Clements.

The following weekend landed us back home in New York City, enabling us to attend the Women’s March. Though this year’s march expanded dramatically beyond women’s rights, it seemed like the perfect antithesis, or antidote, to the adventures we just had with our conservative breakfast companions. The Left was out in full force, representing with a grab bag of colorfully-worded signage advocating on behalf of women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and all things anti-Trump. Our bodies, our choice, Time’s Up, #metoo, #blacklivesmatter were at the forefront….and keep your hands off our pussies while you’re at it. The crowd was energized, impassioned, and animated; a far cry from the docile, orderly nature of the previous weekend. In hindsight, the March for Life when compared with the Women’s March, seemed more like a funeral procession than a movement for change.

Though the players in this story differ in almost every imaginable and tangible way, a commonality remains that strikes at the heart of our project: we are all looking for a way to enact the change we hope to see and/or preserve the values we hold dear. How often have we heard the opposition described as crazy, no matter the stance? Based on what we’ve witnessed, we can tell you that both sides are full of reasonably functioning, thoughtful folks who simply believe mightily in their cause. And we can guarantee they think you’re just as crazy as you think they are.

Photo Credit: Sumi Clements.

Herein lies the fundamental issue: many of us are standing on opposite ends of the spectrum yelling at the other side, while anyone in the middle gets drowned out. What would it take for the leaders of Planned Parenthood and the Pro-Life movement to come together and have a conversation? Is that even possible or should we press on trying to yell the loudest? Unfortunately, we do not have the answer. But, we can tell you that by inserting ourselves into an admittedly uncomfortable environment, witnessing the other side at work, and actively listening has left a lasting impression on us that will fuel this project and its trajectory.

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