The mood is upbeat on this bright, warm, final winter Sunday in downtown Colorado Springs. Sidewalks are bustling with families hurrying to church; groups of friends gather for brunch; an informal peloton of cyclists pedals swiftly and expertly among the traffic. Meanwhile, at City Hall, to the surprised delight of onlookers and the flash of cameras, fourteen women strip down to their underwear and pose with strategically placed signs on the steps of the old civic building. Cars whiz past on busy Nevada Avenue. A drone hovers nearby, in the blue overhead.
The stone is cold beneath my bare feet, and the soft spring air feels warm on my skin. I adjust the sign I’m holding, Our Freedom Demands a Free Press, hoping to avoid giving the growing gaggle of spectators a panty flash. The surreal and strangely exhilarating experience, which seems at the same time like a breath and eternity, is over in ten minutes.
And it all started with a Facebook post. About a week ago, while browsing my newsfeed, a post shared by my friend, Cate, caught my eye. The photo, posted by Camille Loftin, a dance and yoga instructor from LA, immediately impressed me as strikingly beautiful in its composition and artistry. The photo of seemingly nude women holding protest signs on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall was the inaugural edition of the #IResistBecause project created by Ms. Loftin. The photo was accompanied by a call for Colorado Springs women to participate in the project’s second edition to be shot right here in our own conservative city. I was intrigued.
My interest went beyond the project’s visual style, extending further into ideas it proposed. On the surface, of course, are the political statements written on signs held by the women in the photo, Education is the Foundation of Everything, I Deserve Equal Pay, Black Lives Matter, for instance. Deeper yet, each woman’s personal essay posted on the project’s Instagram site reveals the experiences and emotions behind the sign she holds. What captivated me most, though, were sub textual concepts embedded in the project’s imagery, most notably, a theme touching on the vulnerability of political activism in the face of governmental power.
One of the preeminent visual elements suggesting that theme is the Los Angeles City Hall edifice where the photo is staged. The setting, a classic civic structure, massive and solid, represents the apparent immovable power of the state. The women holding signs of dissent on the steps of that building appear diminutive against the monumental scale of the structure. The women, whose fragile flesh challenge impenetrable stone, stand seemingly totally naked behind their signs. The nudity, far from an exploitative, gratuitous grab for attention, is at once a time-honored creative celebration of the female form and a reminder of the psychic and physical exposure that these women are willing to endure.
Quite simply, the vulnerability inherent in making a public political statement is reinforced in this project by the very real and universally understood vulnerability of public nudity. Who has not awoken in a panic from a dream of showing up at school or work naked? It’s horrifying. And yet, there they stand, straight and strong, demanding to be heard, defying the patriarchal order to put on something pretty, sit down, and shut up.
Days later I find myself standing nearly naked on the steps of my City Hall.
“Great job, ladies. You can get dressed now,” announces Camille, who is directing the shoot. Fourteen women in nude-colored bras and panties drop their signs and quickly slip into dresses and blue jeans. We gather on the sidewalk, exchanging contact information and hugs before going back to our regular lives. As I walk away, now fully dressed, I sense that however exposed I felt in that moment of public near-nudity, I had experienced an even more profound vulnerability by openly and without apology expressing political dissent. And that is, for me and for my thirteen sisters in protest, a moment unlikely to pass anytime soon.