Maureen Herman is a writer and Executive Director of Project Noise, a nonprofit that serves to amplify the impact of nonprofits and raise awareness about critical social issues. She is the former bassist of Reprise/Warner Bros. recording artists Babes in Toyland and was previously Associate Editor of Musician Magazine. She is lives in Los Angeles with her Awesome and Adorable daughter.
If you’ve always wanted to go to a real Second City improv show in Chicago, this is as close as you’ll get -- and then some. The world-famous theater that spawned (and continues to spawn) all of our Saturday Night Live favorites is hosting its 11th annual “Letters to Santa: The Second City That Never Sleeps,” a 24-Hour Improv and Music Benefit. The improv performers stay up -- and perform -- for 24 straight hours to do this, peppered with musical and other guests. From what I’ve witnessed in past years, let’s just say that sleep deprivation can be an excellent muse -- and you get to watch it for free.
This year, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco is auctioning off a private show "for you and 29 of your closest friends,” Kim Deal from The Pixies is performing, guest improv performers include SNL’s Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis, and notorious recording engineer and food blogger Steve Albini will be interviewing Nate Silver. The live streaming is free, but the event is held annually to raise money for needy families in Chicago. To pitch in, you can donate to the worthy cause here.
Called “The Second City That Never Sleeps”, the event was started as a personal Christmas tradition by Albini’s wife, longtime Second City theater manager Heather Whinna. About 12 years ago she started giving gifts to needy families she picked from the Chicago post office “Letters to Santa” program. She would pick a few letters and just show up at their houses on Christmas and shower them with gifts and cash -- anonymously, never giving her name. In some cases, she would change their lives, like giving enough for a down payment on a car to a mother with a son who had a serious heart condition who had been taking the bus to the frequent hospital and medical appointments needed for his care. When she came back to visit with gifts two Christmases later, Whinna found a grateful, but grieving mother, who told her that without her help, her son would not have had the quality of life he was able to have in those precious last years. Moments like this, and the more light-hearted but just as life-changing moments like showing up to a house with few presents under the tree and giving every kid in it a laptop and the single mother $5000 in cash, were stories I would hear firsthand from Whinna in those early years and they would just shatter your heart.
The 2012 elections are over, all the rape-y guys lost, and a record number of women were voted into office. So we’re done, right? I can stop watching MSNBC constantly? The Republican Party realizes how off-base they were about reproductive rights issues, don’t they? Awareness campaigns like “Draw the Line” and Project Noise’s "A Is For" can take a break and come back in 2016 if we still need them, right? Well, no. No, no and no. We can’t for a minute sit back and think that the Transvaginal Crazy Train Express of 2012 is behind us. That’s the kind of thinking that got us into this rape-y mess in the first place.
One thing I’ve learned after working on this issue for the past year is that lack of awareness is the anti-choice lawmakers’ greatest tool of success and is dependent on your distraction and false sense of security. Trying to monitor the introduction of the hundreds of draconian, illogical, and molest-y bills introduced each year that put restrictions on and barriers to the legal medical procedure of abortion is like playing Checkers with a four year-old. You’re pretty confident you’re going to win. But you’re getting bored and distracted defeating all their desperate moves. You look down to check your smartphone, maybe even pre-emptively claim Checkers victory on your Facebook page. Next thing you know, you look up and the four year-old has two kings and they’re jumping your ass all over the place.
Right now, it would be easy to feel comfy after performing our civic duty by voting. We can go back to not paying attention until the next insane law is passed and we freak out about it on Facebook. Akin and Mourdock weren’t fringe crazies, they were just vocal and honest about what other lawmakers -- many who still hold their seats in the House -- already believed and were legislating. The burgeoning women’s movement that grew up around the election, and made possible by awareness projects like A Is For, still needs a vigilant eye, and a loud, relentless fucking voice. Safe-guarding choice and physical autonomy by supporting A Is For’s new Indiegogo “Acceleration” campaign is a concrete way to keep up that hard-won momentum and build a permanent presence.
[Video Link] I just finished producing a short video for A Is For featuring Martha Plimpton. It's essentially a quick overview of A Is For and a public invitation to be part of our new awareness-raising campaign. We're asking people to submit a video telling what their A means to them. It will be an ongoing video campaign featuring people's video submissions intercut with some prominent A Is For supporters (so far we have Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, and Tom Morello). The goal is to provide a unifying symbol for the movement and a loud platform for their voices.
For A is For founder and actressMarthaPlimpton, the shock of the rhetoric surrounding theRushLimbaugh/SandraFluke controversy, as well as the success of the ensuing advertiser boycott, inspired her to gather a group of friends to brainstorm a strategy more formal than clicking “like” on Facebook. The group was united in their outrage and their growing awareness that the status of women’s rights was by no means a done deal. In fact, things that we had all taken for granted, like, um, access to birth control pills, were very much at risk of being gone in our own lifetimes. Our own children, planned or unplanned, may not have the same choices we had when wanting to start, or wait to start, their own families. What could be done to have a real impact?
Plimpton promptly founded A is For, an organization that unifies the diverse voices and issues in the new women’s movement under the reclaimed symbol of the red letter A --that instantly recognizable symbol of excoriation and shame that heroine Hester Prynne was forced to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter. Used by Prynne’s Puritan Boston community to brand and shun both her and the baby girl she had out of wedlock, the A stood for Adultery -- and the double standard to which women were held. The group A is For takes back the A by re-appropriating its meaning to one of dignity, defiance, and autonomy, and encourages others to reclaim the A to define what it means to them. A is For Awareness, A is For Affordable Health Care. A is For Ass-kicking. You get the idea.
Immediately, Plimpton proposed starting an “A” ribbon campaign in direct response to the shaming of Sandra Fluke in the attempts to silence her. The group agreed that the new movement needed an ongoing unifying symbol, the red letter A, to serve as a bold historical reminder that women will not be shamed into silence. One major goal would be to distribute the A to every person and organization fighting for women’s human rights in this country and around the world to wear proudly in solidarity. As for immediate change on the ground, within a month of starting the organization, A is For partnered with The Center for Reproductive Rights to be their direct action partner. Money raised via donations for the ribbons would go to CRR to fulfill their mission of “advancing reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.” Now A is For had found a way to have a real impact (besides the Facebook “like” button). CRR is currently winning one major battle in their fight at the front lines to keep the one abortion clinic left in the state of Mississippi open.