Clothesline Project gives voice to local women | SierraSun.com

Clothesline Project gives voice to local women

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunPaula Lauer writes on T-shirts for Clothesline Project.

Nine years ago Melanie Cleary walked into a local college to register for classes, but instead found herself engulfed in rows of hanging T-shirts decorated with pictures and stories of victims and survivors of violence, domestic violence, sexual violence and child incest or abuse.

Inspired by the shirts and the testimonials, she decided to tell her own story for the first time, and entrusted one of the advocates to assist her in making a shirt, thus breaking the cycle and lifting the burden of silence and beginning her own healing process, she said.

“[It was] the first time I’d ever said my story out loud,” Cleary said. “It was the most powerful gift I gave myself in my personal healing journey.”

Cleary then decided that someday she wanted to be the person at the table helping other women through the process. She now serves as the violence prevention coordinator with Tahoe Women’s Services.

As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Tahoe Women’s Services is hosting the Clothesline Project ” a display of shirts written in messages and illustrations that visually demonstrate the impact of violence against women. Each Tuesday the shirts have been displayed at various locations throughout North Tahoe. On Oct. 24 there will be another opportunity to make a shirt at the Truckee Community Center at 6 p.m.

The project is intended to create a visual impact similar to the AIDS quilt or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and gives women and children the opportunity to express their stories, said Camille Jones, the bilingual advocate with Tahoe Women’s Services.

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“It’s so important to educate about violence,” said Paula Lauer, the site manager for the Family Resource Center.

The Clothesline Project began in the early ’90s, started by women in Massachusetts who wanted to create a memorial and to raise awareness about women affected by domestic violence.

In the days before washing machines and in close-knit neighborhoods, women often communicated while hanging their laundry on a clothesline, said Cleary.

The women who founded the Clothesline Project wanted to create a visual testimony to violence against women and the women’s courage to heal. The hanging shirts symbolize women’s exchange of information in a visual display of breaking the silence.

“[The project] acts as an educational tool for those coming to view the clothesline, and it becomes a healing tool for anyone making and hanging a shirt. Finally, it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone,” Cleary said.

The first project displayed 31 shirts. Since then an estimated 60,000 displayed shirts give voice to women and children nationwide, said Cleary.

“Participating in this project provides a powerful step toward helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience, and empowering her with the knowledge that she is not alone,” said Cleary.