Virginia Commonwealth University

Make it real.

Activists use humor to score attorney general

September 7, 2012

By Zack Budryk
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Who watches the watchmen?” is a slogan that dates from Roman times and resonates in popular culture. It refers to the idea that even people at the top of the pyramid – like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli – need somebody to oversee them.

In Richmond, a group of activists has founded Cooch Watch to monitor and poke fun at the state’s conservative AG and tea party darling.

The project began in July after the attorney general blocked proposed regulations by the state Board of Health that would allow most of Virginia’s abortion providers to stay open. The activists picketed a Cuccinelli appearance at Freeman High School and have been busy ever since.

In August, Cooch Watch made national news with its music video “Hands Off, Crazy” – an abortion-rights-themed parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s earworm “Call Me Maybe.”

The video has had more than 80,000 views on YouTube and been featured on feministing.com and the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

Last week, Cooch Watch followed up that hit with another shoot – this time in Monroe Park to the tune of Cher Lloyd’s “Want U Back.”

The group has used more than music videos to garner attention. It runs a weekly online photo-captioning contest, too. (The latest showed Cuccinelli at a table signing what appears to be a “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt for an admirer. The winning caption suggested that the attorney general was writing, “Don’t tread on me … except women’s rights, contraception, academic freedom, aid to dependent children, etc.”)

As demonstrated by such tactics, Cooch Watch has developed a gonzo, unconventional style that has helped it stand out.

“Cooch Watch is definitely a little spunky and snarky,” said Jordan Romeo, one of the activists. “Cooch Watch can say what big non-profits can’t.”

While Romeo has called herself a feminist for years, what really got her involved in the abortion rights movement was her experience in March, when she and 30 other people were arrested for sitting on the state Capitol steps in protest of anti-abortion legislation.

From there, she said, it didn’t take her long to join Cooch Watch.

“After I was arrested … I reached my tipping point,” said Romeo, who also provides vocals for both videos. “I no longer wanted to fight this fight in a subtle manner. I was ready to call people out on their wrongdoings, corruption and disrespect of women and their right to choose.”

Vicki Yeroian said the Cooch Watch music videos are a collaborative effort.

“We all kind of just sit down together whenever we have some free time to meet up, and we… brainstorm what songs are popular,” said Yeroian, who is also the president of VCU Young Democrats.

“And then we put together what we want to get out of the song, and then write the lyrics.”

Yeroian agreed that Cooch Watch’s approach to activism was the best of both worlds: “We couple the hard work with some fun. That’s what the online presence is for.”

Whether the group’s presence will make a difference in public policy may be seen on Sept. 14, when the Virginia Board of Health takes up the abortion clinic regulations again.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a law saying that facilities that perform abortions must meet the building standards for hospitals. The Board of Health initially agreed to excuse existing clinics from that expensive requirement. However, Cuccinelli refused to certify the board’s grandfather clause.

Cuccinelli’s spokesman, Brian Gottstein, has said that the attorney general’s decision had nothing to do with his views on abortion. “Our office merely reviews the regulations and certifies whether they are compliant with the law or not,” he said. “We make that determination solely on a legal basis, not on the basis of whether we agree with the policy or not.”

Cooch Watch is urging its supporters to attend the Board of Health meeting later this month.