This past spring, when Peterborough City Council consented to the placement of several anti-abortion advertisements on the backs of city buses, many Peterborough residents got mad. A group of five Trent students, however, decided to get even.
As part of a third-year social work class, they’d been given a unique assignment: to create a community-based campaign that would get them involved in a local issue of their choosing. They’d already been following the abortion ad controversy through its many ups and downs, so they decided to create an alternative ad, one that would counteract the “shame-based and very one-sided” message circulating the city’s streets.
Earlier this summer I sat down with Kelly McCarthy, one of the students behind the counter-campaign. She told me that when she and her classmates started a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy the requisite ad space, they were soon struck by the positive reaction from people in Peterborough, and even beyond (the original controversy had grabbed the attention of various national news outlets).
Over the winter they teamed up with local activist group Pro-Choice Ptbo, who helped them extend their fundraising efforts into the spring, and by May they’d raised nearly $4,000. (As of this writing, donors have chipped in another $500.) Their ad went up earlier this summer on 15 of the city’s 52 buses; it’s slated to run until the end of September.
These days, many of us are struggling to find constructive ways to express our frustration with the status quo. McCarthy and her colleagues seem to have hit on a creative way to do this, but more importantly, they’re aiming to help people in a very concrete way by pointing to various sexual and reproductive health resources on offer to Peterborough residents. McCarthy says the intention is simply “to show there are options.”
In so doing, she and her colleagues have tried to fill a need largely ignored by the anti-abortion ads, which, aside from showing disturbing pictures of bloodied fetuses, don’t actually provide much in the way of useable information. McCarthy likes to think that “someone sitting on the bus can actually read the ad and take down some useful information.” It’s a laudable goal in this age of unreason.
Cover photo and illustration by B Mroz.