On an unseasonably warm Wednesday in February, seven people lined up at 11:15 a.m. for an event that started at 2 p.m. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The first four in line had been there since 10:30 a.m. The event? A fundraiser for Planned Parenthood NYC Votes, an organization that supports candidates who advocate for sexual and reproductive health on the city and state level.
This wasn’t your typical fundraiser though. It involved tattoos. Permanent tattoos.
Four artists from Magic Cobra Tattoo Society agreed to volunteer their time to tattoo as many people as possible from 2 to 7 p.m. with 100 percent of the proceeds going to PPNYC Votes. Magic Cobra typically charges a minimum of $80 per hour for their work—for this event, though, tattoos only cost $40 each.
The catch: customers had to pick from a selection of pre-designed tattoos, known as “flash tattoos,” which means that customers cannot alter the design, only black ink will be used, and the placement must be on the arms or legs—all to expedite the process and get as many done as possible.
There are 30 designs to choose from, all with a feminist flair. There’s Betty Boop, comic book character Tank Girl, and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. There are the words, “Resist,” “Choice,” and “Dead Men Don’t Catcall.” There’s even one with Donald Trump portrayed as a crying baby.
“It’ll make me feel fabulous,” said Katie Adams, 26 who came for her very first tattoo—a design of a woman with her hands on her hips and a large heart over her torso. Adams, like many others heard about this event on Facebook and after she did a little research on her own, she decided to join in. “I really support Planned Parenthood and everything that they stand for,” she said. “I felt like if I’m going to get a tattoo, which I’ve always wanted to do, then this is the perfect cause.”
Laura Matthei and Sarah Hanson, the organizers of the day’s event through their new group called Party to Protect—formed a response to the November 2016 election, said they knew they wanted to take action and made Planned Parenthood their primary cause. They started planning a fundraising event: a party with bands and artists. With lots of interest from friends and associates, a tattoo pop-up event emerged as well. Party to Protect is still in the process of being launched as an official non-profit organization.
By 11:45, the line had more than doubled. Of the 17 in line, three were male. And they were some of the first in line. Many people came alone, but made quick friends with those next to them in line. Everyone seemed in good spirits—perhaps because it was quickly climbing to the mid-60’s, temperature-wise.
They spoke to one another about how far they came (Washington Heights and Harlem among them), about whether or not they were taking the day off from work, and about which tattoo everyone was getting. As the line grew, one of the artists, Adam Korothy, set up inside the industrial kitchen of the small pop-up event space. He unloaded ink and needles and latex gloves and all of the other supplies needed to complete as many tattoos as possible. Korothy said he spent around $500 of his own money to provide the supplies, but it didn’t seem to bother him. “We’re going to have a kick ass time today,” he said. Ideally, he said the artists hoped to complete around 100 tattoos.
At 12:22 p.m., 58 people stood in line and the sun kept everyone warm and cheerful. A construction crew was in the process of re-tarring the road, resulting in a strong and foul stench, however, the one downside. A man in a suit passed by and asked what was going on, remarking that he’s never seen so many people in this part of Greenpoint before.
The line was as colorful as the tattoos that adorned the heavily inked artists inside. Blue, purple, and pink hair was more common than brown or blonde. A variety of vintage-style eyeglasses framed more than a few faces. Unlike Adams, this was clearly not the first tattoo for most.
Abbie Spies, 34, didn’t blend with the hipster millennial crowd. She stood next to a stroller while cradling her newborn son, Edwin. She’s getting her tattoo as a means of support. “This is my way of solidarity,” she said referring to the rising women’s movement. She supports Planned Parenthood services and said that access to cancer screenings and birth control is vital. “We were in a place where we could handle having one kid and then two kids,” she said while adjusting Edwin’s hat. “I would never want to force that decision on another woman.”
Matthei, one of the organizers, said the importance of the day was to raise money for PPNYC Votes, but to also raise awareness. “State and local is where everything happens. You have the biggest voice, you have the most impact,” she said. “So all of this money is going to PPNYC Votes.” There are two laws on the table right now in New York: the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which would require insurers in New York to provide copay-free coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, and the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade at the state level.
Some in line had done the math: if there are four artists and it takes 30 minutes per tattoo, and they are doing this for five hours, then they will likely only get to 40 people. By 1:47 p.m., the line had grown to 220 people. They decided to cap the line at 70 and start a waiting list; 30 names were added to it.
Organizers estimated that at the peak, the line was over 300 and people were still showing up well after 2 p.m. in hopes of getting in line too. Those who didn’t get a guaranteed spot were offered raffle tickets and temporary tattoos for purchase with all proceeds going to PPNYC Votes. From that alone, the group raised over $1,100.
The artists worked hard, taking very few breaks. Some tattoos took longer than others and some were done in just a few minutes. But they didn’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity so even though the event was scheduled to end at 7 p.m., they continued to press on. (Update: the four artists managed to finish 70 tattoos by 10 p.m.)