Lady Parts Justice League is an organization that uses comedy to raise awareness about reproductive justice and build support for abortion clinics around the country. This summer, it's taking its work on the road with the Vagical Mystery Tour. MTV News spoke with LPJL chief creative officer and cocreator of The Daily Show Lizz Winstead about the tour, how comedy can help people to resist, and why diversity is important for reproductive justice.
[ This interview has been edited and condensed.]
How are you doing today, Lizz?
Lizz Winstead: That's always a weird question these days. I woke up, I'm healthy, but then you turn on the news. Then you're like, “Oh! Everything's burning!” and then, here we are. So I feel like the world has just become a polyester suit that's smoldering, melting, and at some point we have to figure out how to extinguish it.
And is the Lady Parts Justice League a part of that effort to quell the fire?
Winstead: I think part of the effort is to quell the fire and part of the effort is to make sure that those who are in the fire have some flame-retardant suits to protect them. As Rome is burning, everybody knows that these organizations that are the most affected — whether that's immigrants' rights organizations, or racial justice organizations, or my work [with] reproductive rights — people [in these organizations] have to do the work within the battle.
What Lady Parts Justice League aims to do is to help amplify where [abortion] clinics need help from their community. And also help them get a little bit of a morale boost to help them do beautification projects at their clinics. So they know that throughout this fight they've got consistent advocates, especially in states where they're under attack constantly. Sometimes it's super hard to grow your active community base because you're just buried in minutiae.
How does the LPJL help these abortion clinics and the fight for reproductive justice?
Winstead: Through a couple of ways, actually. We try to make videos that expose these laws in a way that is funny, engaging, and outrageous. We live in WTF times, and so sometimes it takes WTF measures. As we've seen, SNL, The Daily Show, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee really do a good job of exposing what's happening. We wanted to do that as well, to add to that. So we make videos that specifically expose these laws that are happening in all 50 states. This summer with the tour, we're traveling to 16 cities in eight weeks. We're doing comedy-and-music shows in cities like Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; Detroit; Wichita; Indianapolis — [places in] states that are really hit hard.
I'm a political comic, so I'm going to talk about the political landscape of the state. The other comics and musicians are going to be talking about social comedy, and they just do a great show. Since we'll have 300 to 400 people gathered in a space where they just had a really good time, we thought, Hey, why don't we do a talk-back at the end of our show with one of the clinics? Then the community can sign up right there at the show to (A) register to vote, and (B) to help out with the clinic in whatever way they need. It's really great to say we're doing a comedy show and then we're gonna tell you some stuff about how you can be helpful. So many people after this election were like, "Oh my god, I feel sort of lost and I don't know what to do." So to be able to give people tools where they're able to directly affect the morale and help an issue that they care about seemed to be a really good way to go about it.
What we also do on the road is head over to the clinic and talk to each clinic [to find out] what would be helpful for us [to do]. We just came back from Texas and we built bushes all around their clinic to provide blocking from the protesters, and also to make it look pretty. Other clinics have said, “You know what? We would love some really beautiful artwork. We haven't been able to find artwork that's empowering and cool, and if you could curate an art wall, that would be really great.” So we're doing that. Or some people need general maintenance help. Whatever they ask for, we roll up our sleeves and do it.
You're asking people who come to the shows to participate in that volunteer work too, right?
Winstead: We go in the first time with already-vetted people, with the activists who are already on our team, and do some work. And then what we want to have happen is these new folks who come to the shows can help expand that base so that they can continue and sustain a program that will constantly bring goodwill and bring people who provide abortion services and birth control services into the light, and help them feel like they are appreciated in their community. We take off and then we help those guys grow a base of bodies that can be disseminated into all the ways that the clinics and the escort programs need help.
You're intentionally going into areas where these clinics are threatened by legislation and a generally conservative culture. Why was it important for this tour to focus on that?
Winstead: In talking to [clinics in these areas], we see that they're doing such good work, but they just need more people to help them out. Being a bunch of comics and musicians, we know that we can gather people pretty quickly and then get them into a room. We're doing a super-cool comedy show with a whole bunch of people you really like, and then we're going to have a conversation from people in your community that are gonna tell you what you can do in your community to make things better. It just really brings us together. They're desperately trying, and I think a lot of times finding coalition can be really hard. If we can help gather those people, I think that's a real service we can bring.
Bringing comedy to this issue might not seem like the obvious move to most people at first. How important is it to be able to laugh while doing this work to help abortion clinics?
Winstead: I think "how important is it to laugh" is one of the fundamentals of survival through all of this. For me, it's important to elevate the hypocrisy with humor. Then you really are using the humor to elevate the problem, saying this is why it matters, and then saying we can combine the work together with laughing and being around joyful people and helping out. So the comedy sometimes can actually full-on expose the issue, but also it's a gathering tool. It serves a lot of purposes. I think that if you see that people are laughing, you know they haven't given up hope. You see that people are laughing because everyone has identified the collective hypocrisy of a law or of a politician who is crafting those laws. It's really nice to know that you can have a range of emotion on an issue. You can feel outrage, you can feel sadness, you can find humor, and all of those things are part of coping and dealing, and really, they give you an inspired way of moving forward as you fight. Humor in a movement, music in a movement, is really important to sustain us because those are the things that give us life.
You've intentionally assembled a diverse lineup of entertainers for the tour. Why was it important for you to bring comedians with a variety of perspectives?
Winstead: I came to the movement because I was somebody who got pregnant at 16 and had an abortion. And I'm a white cis woman. My experience is one experience. So I know how messed up it was for me as somebody who was high on the privilege food chain. Through our advocacy work we promote birth control, abortion, and then reproductive health care for all genders. Everybody just needs to be respected and seen and heard.
I moved to New York from Minnesota for a reason, right? Because I wanted to be around people and learn about different cultures and be aware of the world I live in. That means, whether it's a writers' room or it's doing reproductive work, having comedy and having people who can tell you things that you would never learn otherwise so that you can be a better person. You can always remind yourself to punch up when you're writing material. You can always be aware that the experiences of somebody who is poor or a person of color are going to be different than yours, and to center those voices. Especially on an issue when those are the voices that are the most vulnerable. I have the luxury of doing some stuff in my career, so if I can get people into the tent and have them hear these stories and have them understand why you center other people, then hopefully I've done my job.
How can people support LPJ, the Vagical Mystery Tour, and abortion clinics near them?
Winstead: Go to vagicalmysterytour.com and you can see the dates. The tour itself is a self-funded tour. You can donate on that page. Where the money goes is literally to buy bushes for the clinics, to help feed the people who work at the clinics, to help if the clinic escort program needs more vests. Sometimes people don't think about stuff like the proper shades for a clinic to have. Shades cost a lot of money [but make it] so protesters can't look right into their exam rooms.
This is the first tour we're doing, and we want to do another one in the summer of 2018 as well in different areas. There's lots of ways you can help. We have a postcard program through LPJL that makes sure clinics get really positive mail four times a year. We want people to join that, get together with their friends and write postcards. You can contact your local clinic and set up a meeting off-site. Allow yourself to be vetted, and get your friends to really communicate with the clinic or the escort program and say, “How can we be helpful?” Learn what they need and then help them feel stronger and more supported in the community.