On the Road With Planned Parenthood

Illustration for article titled On the Road With Planned Parenthood

What's it like to take a road trip with Planned Parenthood Action Fund (the organization's political arm) on a big pink bus that anti-choicers call "the Pepto bus of death"? The Daily Beast's Allison Yarrow, who traveled across Ohio along with the "Woman Are Watching" bus tour, found that:

The pink-shirted staffers are young, mostly single, and are (as expected) intensely motivated but have a sense of humor:

Traveling across Ohio with 10 members of the young, mostly single staff-about evenly split between men and women-felt like being part of a political campaign or a social-movement summer camp on wheels. The bus itself felt less like a Greyhound trip than a high-school prom chariot, furnished with string lights, leather captain's chairs, a television, and a kitchenette. Loose M&Ms in bus cup-holders, a stocked snack cabinet, a bottle of whiskey in a drawer, and everyone in the same T-shirt. The staffers, who stayed on institutional message while this reporter was on the bus, exchange inside jokes while they work and wonk out on presidential trivia on their breaks. One communal bathroom in the back means that rule #1 is "No #2." Others, etched on a dry erase board include "be helpful," "clean up after yourself" and "don't change the channel during Bachelor Pad."


The campaign is obsessive about social media outreach:

The bus itself is intended to be sure the group maintains and builds on its elevated profile. Shared power cords snake the tables, floors and walls. Two bus booths serve as an editing bay where mini-documentaries telling women's stories at the rallies are cut minutes after they are shot, and it holds a social media HQ where the content is shared on a Tumblr Tumblr devoted to the 11-state bus tour. The social-media push is key to the field operation-the moment after staffers return to the bus, it's lit blue from their screens.

And the staffers say they wouldn't have the money for all of it if our country's politicians weren't so hell-bent on enacting dozens upon dozens of anti-women laws, thus prompting millions of dollars' worth of donations to Planned Parenthood:

Had Akin made his comment in 2011, before Planned Parenthood had beefed up its digital team and presence, "we wouldn't have gotten it out there in the same way," [one staffer] says. Now they can fire back in real time, and use outrage to raise funds.

After Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast-cancer foundation, threatened to defund Planned Parenthood for what insiders claim were political reasons, Planned Parenthood earned back what would have been lost almost immediately, raising $3 million from nearly 80 thousand donors in just four days.

"We're not under the radar anymore," says field director Emily Jakobsen.

Also Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards told the staffers that "The internet is forever," which is kind of great.

But despite the laid-back atmosphere, it's not all fun and games on the road:

This energy does, of course, require substantial fuel, thus our dinner at a Brewsters Cafe in Twinsburg that could accommodate 15 people on short notice and offered peanut-butter cheesecake for dessert. But Ed, an ex-Marine who runs security on the bus, asks the team to remove the pink shirts for dinner as a safety precaution-a reminder of the violence that's been directed at the nation's largest women's-health organization, and also its largest abortion provider.


If the pink bus passes by your town, say hi for us.

Believers on the Bus: Planned Parenthood's Social-Media Push [The Daily Beast]

(image via Women Are Watching)


For people wondering about the choice of hot pink, I can tell you a little bit about how it came about. I was working for Planned Parenthood Federation of America in the early aughties. For much of it's history, the color associated with Planned Parenthood was mid range, slightly-less-than-navy blue. I've lost the style book, so I can't tell you the exact name and hex color code. But it was a very serious, no nonsense color, born out of PP's desire to be taken seriously.

In late 2003, Planned Parenthood was leading a coalition of women's reproductive freedom organization to plan the March for Women's Lives that would take place in April 2004 on the Washington Mall. There were lots of discussions about how the march would be "branded". I think the early assumption among the coalition was that blue would remain the color (think of the classic NOW Keep Abortion Legal signs). But I remember that PP leadership at the time, President Gloria Feldt and VP Joan Coombs wanted to make a very visual statement, especially since the goal was to have massive turnout, challenging the sentiment at the time that women really didn't "care" about women reproductive rights any more.

So they wanted a loud, in-your-face-color, especially one that would read well on film and in photos. I'm not sure who picked hot pink. But it was quickly latched onto by PP, and presented to the other coalition members as the color for the march. It was not universally well received. I think some people felt that the color pink was too loaded with cultural significance and that it was too frivolous, Others argued that was why it was a great color... especially the loud hot pink version, and that it was time to take pink back. NARAL in particular opted to forgo the pink directive, opting for yellow and purple. And there was plenty of the classic NOW blue, But for the most part, hot pink was adopted by other participants in the march, and there was a metric shit ton of hot pink swag and t-shirts ready the day of the event to be handed out to the attendees. And for the most part, the tactic worked. The crowd was one of the largest to march on Washington, and if you look at the aerial photos, you can see the hue of pink across the mall.

So I think that sort of cemented it as PP's activist color, and it's remained so through several leadership changes.