Recently I attended a wonderful feminist conference Activism and the Academy at Barnard. At first I was excited by the free food, but my attention quickly turned to the intelligent and thought-provoking introductory speech by Janet Jakobsen, the Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Jakobsen presented ideas about the need for a focus on the present and the future of feminism. Her introductory talk was interesting, insightful, and really set the tone for the rest of the speakers.
The introduction of one of the panels, “Writing, New Media and Feminist Activism,” really moved me. The first 15 minutes of this panel really opened my eyes to a completely new discussion about feminism. Courtney Martin, who is the former editor of Feministing, opening remarks sparked the question: “What mediums do we use in feminism?”. There has been a shift in how we promote, discuss, and take action within feminism, and she did an excellent job in explaining this shift in this era of the internet. She presented a very interesting question of “how activism meets the internet.” She presented the question of which activism is more powerful and noticeable: the internet or “on the ground activism”.
This question interested me even before attending the panel. I had always felt that online media, whether it be blogging or Facebook-ing had never gotten much done as far as activism goes. I always thought: “How could someone make any changes just typing behind a computer screen?” I always thought that for any action or change to take place, people needed to get enough support and be made noticeable by non-violent forms of resistance and protest.
Initially I felt as if things written online were written in water, and that protests/ street organized gatherings were becoming more scarce due to internet-activism. I always felt the “get up and get mad” approach to activism tends to get more attention and more change. However, there is an ongoing argument about the differences and similarities between “on the street” activism and “on the internet” activism. But looking into history, pre-internet “on the street” activism proved to be very effective throughout the civil rights movement. When I asked my mother how she was able to spread feminism in her day without the use of the internet, she simply responded, “What do you mean? We skipped class and rallied in the streets.”
I am not advocating skipping class, but back in the day skipping class would get the attention of everyone in school, and rallying in the streets would bring the attention of the media which could eventually gain a lot of support from people. Today, it seems blogs are leading in the realm of activism and before attending this discussion, I thought that would make it impossible for contemporary feminism to be heard, or for change to be made.
However, what I heard in both panels “Archives and Activism: The Contemporary Turn” and “Writing, New Media, and Feminist Actvisim,” made me completely re-think my views on feminist activism on the internet. It made me realize that in many ways they are interconnected, that the internet is used to organize and promote on the street activism.
Blogging, in fact, allows people to be heard who would otherwise not be able to get a voice in the feminist world. It is used to create and spread feminism, on a day-to-day basis, and often allows “people all over the world to get involved.” For example, Hollaback! is an organization devoted to ending street harassment. The organization has about 37 sites world-wide which spreads writing, media, and new activism throughout all the corners of the world. Blogging and other forms of internet activism help organize and form better ideas about feminism, and also make those ideas more public and heard.
Susanna Horng,representing Girls Write Now (an organization that “combines mentoring and writing instruction within the context of all-girl programming”) really highlighted how blogging helps tell stories of hardship. Blogs that “get up and get mad” as I said before, can be just as powerful and effective as street rallies.
Courtney Martin, really made clear how blogs can “kick-ass” just as much as gatherings in the street. I believe I owe my change of mind on blogging to Martin because one of the examples she used in her talk. She told the audience about an anti-abortion ad in SoHo that had a caption which read: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is the womb.” She explained how the ad was removed after a blog post revealed how horrific this sign was and the post received a great deal of attention.
These two panels showed me how effective internet activism actually is. It also helped me understand what blogs can actually be used for, and how they can be made to be just as effective if not more effective than “on the ground” activism.