Tag, You’re It! The Taco or Beer Challenge Continues to Challenge Us All to Rethink How We Talk About Abortion
By Holly Bland, We Testify Storyteller
For five years, National Network of Abortion Funds supporters have taken part in a new approach to fundraising and community engagement for abortion access — and it’s as easy as eating a taco or drinking a beer.
The challenge to eat tacos, drink beer, and donate to an abortion fund, now coined as the annual Taco or Beer Challenge, started as nothing more than a light-hearted tweet.
Social media has introduced a plethora of ways for people to engage with causes they care about, including the chain-phenomenon of posting an outrageous action to raise donations, like the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Andrea Grimes, Manager of Communications and Development at If/When/How, understood the sentiment behind challenges like these, but thought that dumping ice water on your head sounded awful. She took to Twitter and joked that she’d start an abortion fundraiser where the challenge was to eat a taco or drink a beer and donate to an abortion fund. And so it began…
“I didn’t really think anybody would take me up on the challenge — it really was supposed to be a Twitter joke,” Grimes said. “But then a couple hours after I sent the tweet, I filmed a quick video of myself at one of my all-time favorite bars, Posse East in Austin, TX, eating a taco and drinking a Live Oak Hefeweizen, and donating $20 to an abortion fund in Texas.”
She put it on Tumblr and within hours, a dozen or so people had donated and sent in photos of themselves completing the “challenge.” It didn’t take long for the challenge to take off. Soon, abortion access supporters from all over the country raised more than $30,000 for abortion funds in the first month.
“Sometimes it was big groups of people, sometimes it was parents at home with their kids, sometimes it was wild and raucous bar parties, and sometimes just a nice craft beer on a patio,” Grimes said. “But everyone was so jazzed about funding abortion and having a fun, engaging way to do it. I was overwhelmed.”
In 2015, the Challenge’s second year, the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) began formally organizing Taco or Beer Challenge as an annual event. In mid-August through mid-September each year, member funds are supported in hosting Taco or Beer Challenge events across the network and in a participating in a robust online social media party, now widely known online as ToBC.
“Everyone deserves access to safe, compassionate abortion care, and financial barriers to abortion are unacceptable — I love that NNAF and the ToBC exist to break down those barriers,” Grimes said. “The Taco or Beer Challenge is such a positive, affirming movement space, and it’s delightful to share that with like-minded folks in these enraging times.”
For newer member funds, Taco or Beer Challenge can be useful to jump start fundraising, while also engaging the community in becoming more aware and taking action for real cultural and political change.
“A trigger law is going to be on the ballot in Alabama on November 6,” said Amanda Reyes of Yellowhammer Abortion fund in Alabama. “We’re using Taco or Beer Challenge as another way to spread opposition to a law that will criminalize pregnant people in our state if Roe v. Wade is overturned.”
It’s also another way to break down stigma and challenge the narrative about what it means to access abortion.
“Abortion stigma thrives when we sweep the issue of abortion under the rug,” said Reyes. “Part of the stigmatizing narrative of abortion is that abortion is sad and tragic. Fun events like Taco or Beer Challenge allow us to challenge that narrative.”
The flexibility and name-recognition of Taco or Beer Challenge make it easy for people to participate.
“The event is casual, speaks to younger audiences, and has broad appeal right in the name,” said Liz Goodfellow of the Jane Fund in Massachusetts. “The flexibility is also great — we didn’t actually have tacos this year, but we did have great Southern food from a food truck. Being able to adapt the event meant taking advantage of some great vendor relationships in our community.”
People come back year after year to participate and bring new supporters with them. Sometimes an annual supporter might just be a member of Congress.
“We had our event last week, actually. A local brewery donated a keg and all the proceeds from it (beyond what our supporters drank) went to the Jane Fund, which was amazing,” Goodfellow said. “We were also very happy to have Representative Jim McGovern attend the event in support again this year.”
And for some funds, it’s a way to ensure folks who care about the future of abortion access have the time to tell their representatives and legislators how they feel.
“This year is unique. For us, ToBC is happening in the middle of the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. So in addition to eating tacos and drinking beer, we’ll also be asking people to contact their representatives to get their voices heard,” said Tibby Reas Hinderlie of North Dakota Women in Need Fund. “We have letter writing kits ready to go, and we’ll also be making calls. We’re also hopeful to meet new people and new supporters. Several new people have been active and passionate in joining us to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination, so we’re hopeful that the energy for reproductive justice and our community of supporters continues to grow.”
Defending reproductive rights can be hard, emotional work, and fundraisers like Taco or Beer Challenge remind us that sometimes we need to be gentle with ourselves and enjoy the company of our friends and allies so we can continue to fight.
“Trying to get through to politicians to get them to see the full humanity and agency of people who have abortions can be emotionally draining. We are only recharged through the uplifting of our community members and our allies,” Hinderlie said. “We need moments of fun and silliness to be rejuvenated in our passion for why we do this work. And if tacos, beer, and getting together with friends can provide that outlet for fun and joy, there’s no better way to better way to fund abortion and build power.”
Taco or Beer Challenge is timed to help refill the budgets of abortion funds in between the network’s 10-year-old annual Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon, which raised a collective total of $2 million earlier in 2018. Sometimes there can be some push back about the nature of Taco or Beer Challenge (and Bowl-a-Thon for that matter) that abortion isn’t being taken seriously enough, that it’s a sad decision people make, and even supporters feel uncomfortable about it.
People who have abortions can have all kinds of feelings about their abortions, including joy and relief. Activists can also have all kinds of emotions while fighting for the human right to have an abortion, and it’s possible to both acknowledge the gravity of the work and make it irresistible to new supports through celebratory fundraising events.
“Everyone is entitled to feel about their abortion however they feel,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, Senior Communications Manager at National Network of Abortion Funds, who has kept Taco or Beer Challenge going since 2015. “But we believe that collective power movements built on joy, support, and solidarity have longer lasting opportunities to make substantial culture change, to truly turn the tide on abortion stigma, and to knock back the shame and secrecy around abortion.”
For Andrea Grimes, a light-hearted approach inspired this powerful fundraising event, saying “It’s a celebration of power and movement building and freedom and the ability to make agent, informed decisions about the future, and I think toasting to that with a taco or a beer is just about the most dang joyful thing I could ever do.”