Andrea Grimes, a reporter who formerly covered reproductive rights legislation at Rewire, has observed that for many people, abortion isn’t just a difficult topic to discuss — it’s also a difficult word to say.
Destigmatizing abortion and rallying communities wasn’t even on Grimes’ mind when she inadvertently launched the Taco or Beer Challenge, a highly successful fundraiser for abortion funds, in August 2014.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’s prominence on social media was at its peak at that time and was inescapable for Grimes on social media. Inspired by the power of people calling in their networks to support a cause they care about, and by the social media omnipresence of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Grimes has fond memories of how it all so innocently began.
“I just thought to myself, ‘that seems so unpleasant,’” she said of the idea of having ice and freezing water poured on her head. “So I just went on Twitter and joked like, why not just have a taco or a beer — something fun — and donate to abortion funds?”
Later that evening, Grimes, who was living in Austin, Texas, at the time, and some friends went to a bar. She ordered tacos and a beer, snapped and posted a picture on Twitter with the hashtag #TacoOrBeerChallenge, and thus, the Taco or Beer Challenge was born. Just later that evening, submissions of others following her lead rolled into the inbox of her Tumblr and onto Twitter, and by the end of that month, roughly $30,000 had been raised to help fund abortion.
Right off the bat, the challenge was meeting and shattering big fundraising goals. But as the operation began to lift off, Grimes says she also looked forward to tackling a number of cultural goals, too.
In the challenge’s early days, Grimes says there was some much-needed education to be had. “There are a number of people who didn’t know the difference between abortion funds and Planned Parenthood because everyone thinks of Planned Parenthood when they think of abortion, so that had to be clarified,” Grimes said. “But I just appreciated it as an opportunity to spread education about the reproductive justice movement.”
Many people who support abortion access were gratified to learn about grassroots organizations doing direct service work right in their local communities. The campaign offered an opportunity for existing abortion fund supporters to invite their friends to support an organization they cared about while at the same time illuminating the special space that abortion funds occupy in the network of organizations fighting to protect and expand abortion access. Local funds rely entirely on the support of private donors, which helps speak to the need to join and amplify the Taco or Beer Challenge.
Grimes watched as the challenge quickly grew from a platform to educate into a platform to destigmatize. “Over the weeks, we discovered the challenge’s capacity to help people have those tough conversations in a natural setting,” she said. “That was so great to see because it takes something that can be really difficult to talk about, something where most people just aren’t super comfortable even saying the word, and we put it with tacos and beer to loosen people up a bit, makes abortion care easier to talk about. We’re making it into one of those things you can talk about with friends and family over dinner.”
Speaking to why abortion remains such a sensitive topic despite being legal on a federal level since 1973, Grimes postulates that it has to do with fear of change and a lingering apprehensiveness about women and pregnant people participating in public society. “It’s a cis-hetero-white-male patriarchy we’re still living in, one where the concept of women, of pregnant people doing this or that and controlling their bodies is still so uncomfortable for a lot of people,” she said. “The first step to dismantling that is acknowledging it.”
And, of course, encouraging people to get together and talk about it over tacos and beer.
Grimes says a major goal of the challenge going forward is transforming it into a social activity. “When this started out, it was sort of just an ‘oh, I’ll go to the bar, order a taco, a beer, donate, and snap a picture,’ and now we want people to grab friends to do this with, involve other people, have conversations, share it all on social media,” she said. “We also want people to make a public statement and show on social media you’re a pro-choice ally, that sort of thing.”
Grimes thinks it’s important to be vocal and forthright about your progressive values, and often social media allows people to do that more comfortably. “In today’s political climate, and you know, ever since the election, you might be sitting in traffic or on a train, you might be eating dinner with family, and just have no idea where they stand on serious, divisive issues involving human rights,” Grimes said. “And so many people feel threatened or don’t know who they can go to, feel safe with — it’s important to show where you stand, and show you stand with them, especially as abortion opponents just get more and more vocal.”
But the Taco or Beer Challenge isn’t goes beyond making abortion easier to talk about or encouraging more abortion rights supporters to proudly identify themselves. It’s also about lightening the overarching mood surrounding abortion access. Wwith 338 bills restricting abortion and slashing access to family planning clinics having been passed since 2010, the issue can feel like a dark cloud is hanging over the reproductive justice movement.
“It’s important that we recognize the gravity of the situation, that it’s grave and we need to keep fighting,” Grimes said. “But we need to balance that with optimism and positivity.” And that’s where tacos, beer, and fun nights out with friends come in.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has since harnessed the resources and awareness to achieve its goal of finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The power of communities coming together to support an issue they care about, to have conversations with their families and friends, and to send needed financial resources, no matter how small the amount, has been proven to make a real difference; abortion funders are excited to use that model to spread financial support and awareness around an issue that feels personal and critical to them.
Grimes, who has since moved to Alameda County in Northern California, recalls that living in a state with such a deep hostility to abortion rights was difficult — going to the state legislature and reporting on outrageous bills, witnessing prevalent anti-abortion extremism. But what got her through it all was the community of reproductive justice supporters. “The clinic volunteers, the activists, all the people who would show up for reproductive rights at a difficult time — it’s the community that gives me hope in dark times, that reminds me that the abortion rights movement is about love and empowerment,” she said.
And what better community could there be to share tacos or beer with?