Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism


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Despite the delay, we can attest that this campaign was compelling, since neither of us had ever responded to a mass e-mail letter before.

Creating an e-mail campaign that attracts its members through personal relationships is the most effective way of doing an e-mail petition. First of all, friends are more likely to help you. If you can't even get people who know and like you to support your project, 34 million strangers probably won't either.

Second, targeted campaigns mean you send the e-mail to people who would be interested in what you are doing - so you wouldn't send this e-mail to your uncle in North Carolina who loves Jesse Helms, but you would to your secretary who escorts at the Planned Parenthood on Saturdays. Finally, receiving an original e-mail from a friend about a campaign that she is spearheading guarantees its legitimacy.

The whole action takes less time and money than making a call to a politician's office. Plus, you never really know whether that message you left with the senator's intern had any impact. Lois and Jane's project was a more formalized riff on a surprise success the year before, also protesting Bush's antichoice policies.

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When Los Angeles Times writer Patt Morrison jokingly opined in her column that people who support abortion rights should make a Presidents' Day contribution to Planned Parenthood in honor of Bush, people forwarded the column all over the country. Lois and Jane's approach is infinitely more effective than just complaining.

For instance, the money raised by 34 Million Friends begins to make up for what the United States isn't paying, and the funds are free from the censorship and restrictions that come with U. They can even use the money for abortions directly, which flies in the face of all governmental meddling on this issue. The campaign is still a long way from its financial goal, but beyond money, their efforts have kept the issue alive in the media and people's in-boxes. As a result, more people know about the health care struggles of women in developing countries and how manipulative aid from the U.

Certainly, it helped prevent some of the 4, maternal deaths, serious illness in nearly 60, pregnant women, and some of the 2 million unwanted pregnancies - which is what the UNFPA funding was calculated to accomplish. There is one downside to this story: projects like these let the government off the book.

If women and feminists raise money on our gender gap salaries every time the Bush administration deems our health care too controversial, we are inadvertently propping up a terribly sexist policy. Lois's evolution from your average citizen to an activist crusader shows how an individual's mundane lifestyle has political reverberations. Lois was just reading the Times when she had her "click. This is wonderful but tricky because the force of their idea comes from its uniqueness. If we received an e-mail plea every day asking us to give a dollar to help save the seals or fund a foster child, we'd stop giving and start deleting.

This is called burnout. As activists, we can burn out in one of at least three ways: on a strategy, as an overwhelmed individual, and on the "stars. The strategy - and its tactics - become stale. Further, unreachable standards of purity cause people to burn out. Sometimes we have to let ourselves off the hook. For instance, just because you were once a vegan or vegetarian in order to have a more holistic life or one that is consistent with your values, doesn't mean that if you decide to eat meat again this all goes out the window. The truth is that all of our lives are complex, and often conflicted.

Who absolutely accepts her body, knows where and under what condition his food is grown, knows who stitched his sneakers? And who always recycles? Even the rare person who has successfully disavowed globalist consumer culture and lives in a hemp hut can most likely only afford to do so because of a trust fund.

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Movements burn out on the superstars, too. They become overexposed and vulnerable to their own contradictions. On this note, one of the biggest enemies to activism is other activists, as Amy's experiences attest. The most undermining and critical people we have encountered are not right-wing ideologues like Rush Limbaugh or libertarian absolutists like Camille Paglia - it's the super-activists who act like they were imbued with the responsibility to decide who is radical enough.

Activism brings its own elitism, clubs, and rules. One demoralizing moment for us was when a women's studies professor at a Wisconsin school stood up at our packed lecture and said, "I'm glad you're out there attracting young women to feminism, I guess, but where are your politics? What sort of message are you sending these already apathetic women? Another version of this kind of behavior is when people, usually white, take it upon themselves to point out how important it is to have a feminism that includes Asian, Native American, Latina, and black women and challenge us about what we are doing to ensure that it happens.

We used to respond defensively and list our alliances, bring up the fact that Third Wave's entire staff is women of color, and point out the many, many women interviewed in Manifesta and Grassroots who are women of color. Now we don't take the bait - we know that we organize within a diverse community, and that diversity is actually more complex than simply seeing brown faces in a room. From experiences like these over the years we have learned our own valuable lesson and strive to give people who are self-described as activists the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming that because they don't do things our way, they are against us, ineffectual, or uninformed.

Social justice movements will always produce stars, competition for resources, conflicts, splits, and trashing - but these problems involve a small number of activists. While the media focuses on the super-successful Eve Enslers and the MoveOn. Our friend Tara Brindisi has been a great inspiration for being a normal girl who incorporates her activism into everything - her conversations, her wardrobe, and her homework.

Tara has two role models: Gloria Steinem and Marilyn Monroe. She speaks in a soft, babyish, Monroe-like voice and wears homemade T-shirts decorated with Steinem's quotes and visage. When we met her she was a sophomore in high school, and her e-mail address was the highly racy seductress69, which she changed to the slightly tamer SeDcTivE66 when others pointed out that the "69" reference might be partly to blame for the overtures she was getting in chat rooms.

Her current e-mail address is lueluestone. We assumed it was a reference to Lucy Stone, the nineteenth-century feminist and inspiration for the movement for women to keep their names after marriage. Years ago, when Tara was eleven, she was sexually molested by her fifth-grade teacher at Cliffside Park school in New Jersey. At the time, she didn't have a clear understanding that what he did to her was actually wrong - as in illegal - though it certainly felt wrong. As she grew older, she gained the political and feminist vocabulary to describe what had happened to her.

Five years after she was molested, then age sixteen, Tara was in an e-mail chat room where the topic was rape. Girl after girl told stories of being molested or assaulted and almost all of the narratives ended with the same sentiment: "But I'm okay now. As it turned out, there had been several complaints against this same teacher over the years, but after the girls would graduate to middle school, the administration would let the individual cases fall away. Coincidentally, the year Tara called the cops, one current student of the molester - a ten-year-old girl - finally took her case to the police rather than just to the school.

With this case, the teacher pleaded guilty and was forced to leave his New Jersey teaching job, though he did get to keep his pension. Having Tara's complaint on file with the police contributed to the successful case against him. Beyond personal injustices, Tara manages to follow up on seemingly random things as a part of her daily life - even if it's five years after the fact, she usually manages to bring some justice to a situation. For instance, as a sophomore in college in , she produced her campus's production of The Vagina Monologues.

As producer, one of her responsibilities was to put together the evening's brochure. She scoured the Internet to find statistics to include, typing in the search terms "rape" and "violence. By the time she was able to close the graphic and offensive windows, she had discovered numerous sites that depicted older men raping boys, including one in Texas that featured a man who was clearly over fifty sodomizing a prepubescent boy. There was most definitely a market, but Tara began to question why these blatantly violent sites were so easy to access.

A professor encouraged her to call the New York Police Department. When Tara explained the sites to the "Director of Internet Crimes," he researched them and told her that most could not be shut down because they were either sufficiently "artistic" or, more often, they had been created in other countries over which the United States had no jurisdiction.

There were, however, three that she was able to eliminate simply by following up on her own belief that child pornography shouldn't invade her computer screen as she researches schoolwork.

Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism by Jennifer Baumgardner

Tara isn't the first feminist to be upset by the onslaught of porn, but she is possibly unique in that she did something very specific, small, and ultimately effective. Internet pornography ostensibly portraying rape and sexual harassment are common - even rampant - and there is no magical cure to abolish them. Tara's victory, though subtle, demonstrated that she had volition and that there was something she could do to help.

She didn't create a new group or start a campaign, but she was effective. Lone individuals without affiliations are crucial because they aren't immersed in the politics of foundations. They don't use foundation-speak nor do they tailor their solutions to what is fundable. The danger with a passionate activist like Tara is that she doesn't leave any time when she isn't overscheduled and responsible.

She hasn't learned to ever say no, because she fears it's letting down the movement. We encourage people like Tara to look beyond what they can accomplish right now and realize that they have their whole lives to work on this. People who try to cram it into their college years or their twenties become overwhelmed. During the era of the dot-com millionaire, many of whom were barely old enough to drink, organizations from Safe Horizons to Amnesty International began to reach out to these and other young people as funders.

They claimed they wanted to get young people involved, but the avenues were limited to donating money. Using the Natural Resources Defense Council as an example, the "junior committee" brought in a few new donors but the NRDC was disappointed by the lack of interest. When we were asked to assess what was behind this their assumption was either apathy or stinginess - and as far as the so-called millionaires, no one seems to have taken into account that for many of them their fortunes existed entirely on paper , we suggested that young people recognized that they weren't being invited to change the environment - they were just being asked to write checks.

What would have been equally if not more valuable is asking for the commitment of their lifestyle - especially while they are still young enough to change their lives easily. Rather than asking people to show up for an event or give money to a campaign, it would be more useful to have them demonstrate how their own lives can reflect their value system.

If they had time to attend a black-tie event, they had time to refit the lamps in their house with energy-efficient bulbs. If more people's lifestyle was their activism, it might mean less of a need for social justice organizations and more dependence on our own ability to make significant change. She adapted her home and life-style to match her politics.


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Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism

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