Jane never expected so many people to see the chalking she and her friend made on Saturday afternoon. She really only cared that one person did, and that was her Bangor, Maine, neighbor, Sen. Susan Collins.
And Collins most certainly saw it. So did countless others across the country, thanks to the Republican senator herself, who called the police over the polite chalk message and took the story of the colorful abortion rights message from her sidewalk to the national news cycle.
“It was never meant to be like an ‘under the cover of darkness’ type of thing,” Jane, who asked to be referred to only by her nickname, told BuzzFeed News. “It was just two women fed up with not being able to talk to their representative, and it’s a beautiful day, so we grabbed some chalk and took to the streets.”
Saturday afternoon, on a public sidewalk outside Collins’ home, the two friends wrote: “Susie, please, Mainers want [the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA)]. Vote yes, clean up your mess.”
The message referred to a bill aimed at protecting abortion rights at the federal level, which failed to pass in the Senate on Wednesday. Despite her reputation as a moderate who supports abortion rights, Collins voted against the bill, previously telling CNN she believes the bill wouldn’t “protect the right of a Catholic hospital to not perform abortions.”
The chalk message was intended as a last-ditch effort to sway Collins to listen to her constituents, Jane said, a reminder that voting wasn’t likely to please liberal-leaning Maine residents.
“Susan Collins hasn’t held a town hall meeting for her constituents in over 20 years,” Jane said. “When we email her when we call her, all we ever get back is whatever form letter response she’s sending out that week. We’re sick of being ignored and dismissed and thought that we should try a more creative approach.”
On Saturday, Jane texted her friend, an artist, who agreed to join her to make the chalking.
“Then, like any good millennial, I went on my Target app and I ordered a 24-box of bold chalk,” she said.
The two friends went to Collins’ neighborhood that afternoon, completing their chalk creation in about 20 minutes. But when she drove by the following day, it had been completely erased.
It wasn’t until Monday that she read a local news article and learned what had happened: Collins had called the cops after which the public works department washed away the chalking.
In a statement to the Bangor Daily News, the senator referred to the chalking as “the defacement of public property.” A spokesperson for Collins told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that “because Senator Collins periodically gets threatening letters and phone calls, we have been advised by Capitol Police to notify the local police department when there is activity directed at her around her home.”
The Bangor Police Department determined “the message wasn’t threatening” and “no crime was committed,” Sgt. Wade Betters told BuzzFeed News. The police report — which described the chalking as “intricately drawn” in “multiple different colors” — specified that Collins was the one who called the police.
Discovering the elected official had quite literally gotten their message erased left Jane feeling frustrated and unheard, she said. Fortunately, that box of chalk was a 24-pack.
So, on Tuesday, she and her friend returned to Collins’ home and filled the sidewalk with even more messages about abortion rights. This time, they added another: “You might not recognize our right to free speech,” it stated, “but I hope you recognize my right to have an abortion.”
Several neighbors came out and spoke to them as they wrote the messages, Jane said. “They were all incredibly supportive of the things that we were writing, and additionally expressed their displeasure at their taxpayer dollars and city resources being used to clean up the sidewalk,” she said. Even Stephen King, who has a house on the same street as Collins, tweeted Jane’s chalk message.
According to Jane, Collins’ husband, retired lobbyist Thomas Daffron, also came out of the house while they were there and confronted them. At one point, he called them “idiots,” Jane alleged, after which she began recording the interaction.
In the audio recording, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, a man identified by Jane as Daffron can be heard speaking angrily, accusing the women of “defacing my sidewalk” and telling them that the chalkings were not doing “any good” for their cause. He also repeatedly asked Jane, a teacher, who her employer is, but she did not answer.
Jane told BuzzFeed News that Daffron claimed they called the police because they’ve previously received death threats, but she said she thinks it was “a bit of an overreaction” to their peaceful message.
“I guess I understand, but we were incredibly cordial and polite, and I’m not sure that, like, radical militia types typically write in chalk on sidewalks,” she said.
“He just kept reiterating [that they’ve] been threatened [and get] these letters ‘threatening us bodily harm,’ to which my reply was, ‘So then you totally understand how I feel,'” Jane said, recalling the conversation. “The idea that you have a right to your own body — your health, your wellbeing, the right to live and go about your life — is all that we want, too.”
Daffron left to walk their dog, Jane said, and when he returned his demeanor was suddenly conciliatory. He said they should call Collins’ office to set up a meeting, and when they said they had tried that already, he told them to call again and “tell them who we were and that we had spoken with him and he would try to make it happen.”
If that didn’t work, she said, Daffron told them they could “come back and knock on the door.” Jane said she hoped she does not have to pay another house call, but is planning to take those steps and try to set up a meeting.
Hours after their interaction, Jane drove by the house and saw Daffron washing the messages away with a hose. This time, police were not alerted to the chalk messages, Betters confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
But the images still circulated online after state Rep. Amy Roeder — who came to support Jane during the second chalking — tweeted them. Roeder told BuzzFeed News that “given the blowback over this particular bit of pearl-clutching by the Senator, I don’t think she’s heard of the Streisand Effect.”
Roeder said she has “little hope” that Collins would actually meet with Jane, and criticized her for “wantonly [wasting] the taxpayers’ money on a job she could have handled with a splash of water.”
“The chalk messages were the opposite of threatening,” Roeder added. “I wasn’t aware her tender sensibilities could be so offended by the word ‘please.'”
As expected, Collins voted against WHPA on Wednesday. Even if their chalk messages couldn’t make a difference, Jane said she has no regrets about the experience.
“At least I know that she stood on her porch and read the words that we wrote,” Jane said. “She heard what we had to say.”
And if any abortion rights advocates are considering making their voices heard in the way she did, Jane had one piece of advice.
“The box of chalk I got was legit,” she said. “It was under $3 for 24 colors, super recommend.”