First National Display of the Clothesline Project a Huge Success

by Robin Abb

Beneath the waving U.S. flags that grace the Washington monument, activists strung line after line of T-shirts representing women who have experienced or died from violence. And as tens of thousands of activists and tourists viewed this first national display of the Clothesline Project, many were moved to tears or looked on in awed silence.

"Outside the display it was so noisy [with] children playing and yelling," said Tina Sheets, a Clothesline Project Coordinator from the Washington, D.C., area. "But once they got three feet inside the display, it became as quiet and reverent as if you were in church."

The display took place April 8-9 in conjunction with the Rally for Women's Lives. Hanging on clothesline were an estimated 6,000 T-shirts, sent by more than 180 "lines" -- or local projects -- from 33 states, Canada and Israel.

The national display was part of the weekend's theme of stopping all forms of violence against women, including physical violence, and NOW arranged the permit, paid for the scaffolding and provided advance publicity and volunteers throughout the two-day display.

Sheets said many observers found four related shirts intensely moving. Two of the shirts had been worn by a woman who was killed by her husband. They were covered with blood stains and knife holes. The other two shirts were made by the woman's family members, who placed the woman's photo on one of the shirts.

"I couldn't stand while looking at the shirts because it seemed so inappropriate," Sheets said. "I had to either sit or kneel."

An estimated 50 shirts were created by participants attending the Young Feminist Summit Against Violence, which was held April 7-8 in Arlington, Va., and more than 300 shirts were made at the Clothesline Project display site by visitors who were moved to record their own experiences, or memorialize a loved one.

By early April, there were more than 300 recognized Clothesline Projects in this country, with close to 40,000 T- shirts.

Project T-shirts are color-coded for display: white shirts are for women who have died from violence; yellow or beige shirts represent survivors of battering or assault; blue or green shirts signify women survivors of incest or child sexual abuse; and purple or lavender shirts represent women attacked because they are lesbian or are perceived to be lesbian.

The Clothesline Project's national display officially began with opening ceremonies at noon April 8. Ceremony participants formed a circle and held hands. To symbolize "the circle is cast, " four women faced north, south, east and west, with each direction representing women's abused bodies; abused minds and ignored wisdom; suppressed rage and anger; and women's grief and pain, respectively.

Elenita Muniz, who spoke on behalf of the Clothesline Project at the Rally for Women's Lives, said the project generated strong emotional response from participants and onlookers.

"Tourists were really pulled in and would spend a long time looking at the shirts," she said.

"I particularly remember four young men who approached the Clothesline laughing, and after walking through it, they were very somber," said Muniz. "Another man from San Francisco looked like he needed a hug, so I gave him one. He just sobbed and sobbed. He told me the hardest part for him was that he probably knew a lot of women who were survivors, but he didn't know anything about it."

Denise Brown, sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, hung a shirt in her sister's memory then joined the rally crowd. Representatives of the California shelter where Nicole Brown Simpson had once sought assistance adopted her shirt as part of the Los Angeles project.

The Clothesline Project is continuing at programs across the country. Persons wanting information on a local project should contact: The Clothesline Project, Box 727, East Dennis, MA, 02641, or call 508-385-7004.

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