Hoochies of Houston

Photo by Mark Mulligan/Provided by Nia Jones

‘We were treated very f*cking terribly’: Black speaker says she was cut off by white organizers at abortion march

'We were shot down and treated like trash.'

 

Samira Sadeque

IRL

Published Oct 21, 2021   Updated Oct 21, 2021, 1:56 pm CDT

Black co-hosts of the Oct. 2 Houston march against Texas’ recent abortion law say they were elbowed out of the scene while white organizers cut their speech short. 

Nia Jones, president and co-founder of a Black women-centered nonprofit Hoochies of Houston, shared part of her account in a now-deleted TikTok video on Oct. 12. 

“We were treated very fucking terribly by a group of white women,” Jones said in the video, which was viewed almost 113,000 times before being removed. “These just happened to be the women that were running the event.” 

Thousands took to the street to protest Texas’ draconian abortion law that went into effect in September, prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy—when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant. The law has since been in a tug-of-war between the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice, with the former initially declining to put a halt on the law following requests from abortion caregivers. 

One day before the march, the Department of Justice requested the law be suspended, and it was temporarily halted on the following Wednesday; an appeals court has since dismissed this hold.  

Jones told the Daily Dot that Hoochies of Houston was acknowledged as a co-host at the march but was not included in photos or mentioned as a co-host online. 

Jones said Maria Verdaja, who claimed she was “the second in charge,” yelled at members and said they “didn’t belong there” when they were giving their speech. 

The Houston Women March On (HWMO), where Verdaja is a board member, denies the claims. In a statement to the Daily Dot, HWMO said Verdaja “vehemently denied” saying anything of that nature. 

“She emphasized that not only did she not say that to [Hoochies of Houston], but that she would never say that to anyone,” the statement said. 

HWMO added that Hoochies of Houston expressed interest to participate in the march and were invited to join the volunteer organizing committee and to speak. 

“The Hoochies of Houston were invited to join the logistics team if they wanted to learn more about logistics, or to join any of the volunteer teams forming,” Rachel Austin, one of the members of HWMO, said in the statement. “They did not sign up for any teams and expressed their desire to focus on a reproductive health gift bag.”

Jones shared a different account of the incident. She said Hooches of Houston was recruited to be hosts of the event from the very beginning. 

Jones said that the speeches had a time limit of three minutes, but the group required extra time for a Spanish translation of the speech. The head of HWMO approved this extra time, Jones said. 

“So when I went up to give my speech, I was shocked when [Austin] came up in the middle of my speech to ask me to ‘wrap it up,’” Jones told the Daily Dot on Thursday. She continued with her speech. 

Austin told the Daily Dot that no verbal message was sent, and organizers were following the procedure for the speech segment at the event.  

“An event with 30 speakers requires a schedule, and part of our attempt to adhere to that schedule includes a ‘wrap it up’ cue, which was given to every speaker that day except for two speakers who finished within their allotted time,” she said. “The cue did not consist of words and instead, was a simple index finger making a circle in the air.”

Jones said those numbers don’t add up for her. “As a matter of fact, most of the speakers of color didn’t even get to speak because of the rain and they had them scheduled at the end,” she said about the statistics of speakers of color.

In a follow-up interview, Jones said while Austin did show the “wrap up” cue, she also asked her to stop verbally. 

“She verbally asked me to wrap it up and also used her fingers,” Jones said. “But semantics aside, she was very rude and nasty towards us.” 

Later, Hoochies of Houston’s President Chris Caldwell held a meeting with HWMO president Robin Paoli and Austin to understand why she interrupted Jones. 

“[Austin] said ‘I was just doing my job. I don’t have time for this,’ waved her hand and stormed off,” Jones said of that meeting. “We were simply trying to get an understanding and every time, we were shot down and treated like trash.” 

Austin acknowledged that this meeting took place after the speech when Hoochies of Houston members raised questions about getting the “time alert.” 

At this time, members of Hoochies of Houston shared their grievances, but after listening to them sharing, Austin said she “did not have more time to devote to that situation in that specific moment” as she had to return to the march. 

Jones also claimed in a tweet on Oct. 4 that Austin said she wasn’t “concerned” about diversity at the march, to which Austin responded denying the claim. 

Austin told the Daily Dot that the issue only came up regarding the race of a speaker who was white, claiming that an organizer said they were “unconcerned” about the race of a white speaker when a Hoochies member “expressed resistance about welcoming a speaker” because she is white. 

Jones has stood by her account and said Austin’s account amounts to “gaslighting.”

“We asked why we needed more white women to speak at a march that was already full of white speakers because we were concerned about representation for other people not just white or even Black,” Jones said, adding that they aimed to include speaks were trans and nonbinary. 

“They had mostly cis white women speaking or cis women in general, and that’s why it was an issue,” she added. 

According to HWMO, about three-fourths of the 30 speakers at the event were women of color because the recent law particularly threatens communities of color. 

After the incident was posted about on social media, many expressed support for Jones and the Hoochies of Houston team, some echoing Jones’ sentiment that the organizers’ behavior discourages Black women from participating in such large-scale events. 

“This was a perfect example of why Black women refuse to march with white women,” Jones told the Daily Dot. “That entire experience was awful. We were treated as if our concerns didn’t matter and they weren’t valid. But they are.”

On Jones’ TikTok video, many shared how they felt the HWMO’s behavior was “performative diversity and inclusion.”

“And that’s why we shouldn’t have even shown up for that match,” wrote one user. “This is their fight. Let them fight for themselves.” 

“These marches are often performative and lack inclusion,” wrote another user who offered support for Hoochies of Houston. 

“These marches are never inclusive to ‘us’,” wrote another user. 

Verdaja and Robin Paoli, who are both board members of HWMO, did not respond to requests for an interview. When reached for comment, Austin pointed the Daily Dot to the HWMO statement.


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*First Published: Oct 21, 2021, 1:26 pm CDT