The local activists bring humor and hard work to the fight for reproductive justice

“I like your cat shirt.”

“I like your vulva costume.”

Those were some of the first words Michelle Love-Davis and Claressa Dalloway exchanged upon meeting for the first time at a February 2016 protest. They were both stay-at-home moms easing their way into activism for reproductive rights. Their personalities clicked and they formed reproductive justice organization Feminist Flag Corps, which boasts the Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag — modified to feature a uterus — as its logo.

“I thought originally we would make like 50 [flags] and it would be this fun project for the Doo Dah Parade,” Dalloway said. “Then it turned into something much bigger than that.”

As part of their activism, Dalloway and Love-Davis shield women from protesters at abortion clinics by escorting them to and from their cars. While Dalloway said she is now “desensitized” to the yelling from detractors, she was terrified when she first started the work. But an early experience inspired her to keep at it, and even get into abortion rights fundraising.

“I overheard this woman having a conversation with her insurance company, during which she discovered she's not going to be able to afford her abortion,” Dalloway said. “She went to get in her car, and [a protester] is holding a Black Babies Matter sign, leaning over the fence, screaming at her. She just gets in her car and doesn’t move.”

Feminist Flag Corps also sits in on court hearings; the ladies were present for most of the sessions for the Ohio “heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

They also keep an eye on as much hate group activity as possible in the city and beyond, joining in to protest other causes or document police-community interactions.

“Hate is intersectional,” Dalloway said. “The same people who hate us are Islamophobic, homophobic [and] racist.”

As an example, Dalloway and Love-Davis pointed to a group that went on a “hate tour” last year in Columbus, visiting a mosque, the Mike Pence dance party protest, a bathhouse and an abortion clinic.

“That was probably one of the worst days ever,” Love-Davis said. “We were building human chains to get patients to and from their cars. … Patients were crying [and] hyperventilating. It was insane. And then [the protesters] went to the Pride parade.”

But Feminist Flag Corps and others remained vigilant.

“We met them at every event,” Love-Davis said. “By the second day they had earplugs because we had whistles. And just the look of them all dejected, sitting on the curb at Pride … was actually kind of beautiful.”

The work is draining, but Dalloway and Love-Davis said their humor and the shared community with other activists keep them going.

“It's reassuring knowing that there's so many people that are in it together … just helping people get through,” Love-Davis said.

“I definitely get validation from this work,” Dalloway said. “And through that I become a more secure person. And I'm a better parent, friend and family member.”