A New Quilt for the National Mall

Remember Pink Loves Consent—the Victoria’s Secret spoof that advocated for consent and healthy sexual relationships with panties that said, “No Means No” and “Consent is Sexy?”

And then remember how it went viral, with the feminist Facebook army confusing the lingerie giant’s social media with clever #hashtags during the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show?

Well, that was all the work of FORCE, a feminist art-activist group based in Baltimore that fights rape culture and “promotes a counter-culture of consent” with bold campaigns. Earlier this year, they illuminated the Capitol building with the words “Rape Is Rape” and for V-Day One Billion Rising they displayed the words, “I Can’t Forget What Happened, But No One Else Remembers” in the national reflecting pool, sparking conversations about sexual violence (these words were written by an anonymous rape survivor).

These fearless feminist activists are at it again, this time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Their newest initiative to bring attention to rape and sexual assault is the Monument Quilt—an array of giant picnic blankets that will cover the Mall and read,

We are heard.

This is not our fault.

We are not alone.

Within each quilted letter will be stitched stories submitted by survivors of sexual violence. The Monument Quilt will be installed in the Summer of 2014, but it will continue to serve as a virtual space for support, healing and hope at themonumentproject.org.

In fighting rape culture, FORCE sees their efforts as two-fold: to provide victims with a place to heal while also re-directing the conversation to promote a culture of consent rather than one that condones and silences the impact of sexual violence. Hannah Brancato, co-founder of FORCE explains,

FORCE wants to live in a culture that supports, honors and uplifts survivors. One way to do this is for communities to create more public forums in which survivors can share their experiences. Survivors carry the silence and shame of rape for our whole community—a burden that was placed on them when they were assaulted. By building a monument, we can create a physical space and a cultural space where the silence is broke and the shame is eliminated.

However, it’s not just the physical monuments themselves that help fight rape culture. Having these public spaces empowers people to join the conversation about consent and gender violence, and they remind us to continue fighting for social and cultural change. Brancato continues,

A monument plants the seed that rape can and must end. As we begin to let the idea of rape ending sink in, we will begin to be more proactive about taking the steps needed to not only help people heal, but to prevent rape and ultimately, to live in a world without rape.

The Monument Quilt, inspired by AIDS activism, is modeled after the NAMES project’s Memorial Quilt that last covered the National Mall in 1996. Through making this memorial for victims of HIV/AIDS, AIDS activists effectively transformed the course of public health discourse. FORCE activists hope that by installing a quilt with personal accounts from victims of rape and sexual assault on the National Mall, they, too, can change perceptions of rape on a political, societal and cultural level.

On its blog, FORCE writes of the AIDS quilt,

Changing public opinion ultimately made way for new policies, better drugs, education and prevention, all of which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the rate of [AIDS-related] infection and death. While the work of preventing AIDS is not over, the movement is a model for how a cultural shift can affect public health. Just as removing the stigma from AIDS slowed a growing epidemic, removing the stigma from rape could forever change the epidemic of sexual violence in the United States.

The activist group has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Quilt; you can donate to it here. And you can submit your personal stories at themonumentproject.org or to upsettingrapeculture@gmail.com with “My Story” in the subject line. FORCE asks that each story “speaks to the burden of shame that is placed on survivors of rape and abuse” and to please include a color that will be woven into the design of each quilt square. All stories will be kept anonymous unless otherwise noted.

Photos courtesy of Hannah Brancato and FORCE.