Last summer, Kristin Brietzke and their partner, Kelly Searle, got fed up with all the anti-choice billboards they’d seen around St. Paul.
Maybe you've run across these signs. They have slogans like “Real men love babies” and dire, sometimes anti-scientific warnings against seeking an abortion.
Biertzke and Searle decided to counter the bad messaging with billboards of their own: colorful, pro-choice designs crafted by local artists. They crowd-sourced selecting favorites and displayed signs around the city, just in time for the State Fair. Thus, the Minnesota Billboard Project was born.
The co-founders were a little floored by waves of positive feedback, donations, and encouragement to keep going. In October, with the help of HOTDISH Militia, they posted their first pro-choice billboard in Duluth.
HOTDISH supports WE Health Clinic, the only facility offering abortions north of the Twin Cities, one that often takes on the burden of clientele from Duluth's more restrictive neighbors. If any place needed a dose of eye-catching, pro-choice art, the Northland did.
The first billboard—featuring a confident looking “lumber-lady” and the caption “NO BANS HERE”—went up without a hitch (art by KT Lindemann Art & Design).
A second, which read, “Abortion is Healthcare” in poppin’ ’70s script, wasn’t so lucky. It went up on Monday, and was “almost immediately” vandalized.
“The first call came in about 2:30 a.m.,” Duluth Police Department Information Officer Ingrid Hornibrook says. A bystander had found the billboard covered in messy dashes of white spray paint. The word “healthcare” had been crossed out and the word “EVIL,” all caps, scrawled next to it.
The billboard company acted so fast it was down by the time Hornibrook drove by around noon. Police are reviewing surveillance footage and talking to witnesses.
The vandalism caught Brietzke off guard.
“We’ve overwhelmingly gotten such positive feedback that this just kind of came out of left field,” they say.
They’re not discouraged. They figure “one bad person” didn’t like the message: that everyone should have access to safe, affordable healthcare. If anything, this incident reinforced how important that message is up North.
“Obviously, there’s a need for that in Duluth,” they say.
Their next task is to raise enough funds to replace the billboard as soon as possible, then throw up as many more as they can. After expenses are met, any net proceeds go straight to WE, HOTDISH Militia, and the Billboard Project’s future conquests. As of Thursday, they were rapidly approaching their $4,000 goal.