When I entered college in Chicago in 1993, I had no idea what email was. In fact, it took me almost all fall semester to send an email to my friend in Maine. But by the time I graduated, I had my own website and a pseudo-blog on it. What happened? The 1994 Republican takeover of Congress happened.
Somehow, I still don’t remember how it happened, I received an email from a new organization, Women Leaders Online (WLO). This email talked about how the Republicans had out-organized liberals and, as a response, they would send out a weekly email newsletter updating us on what the Republicans were doing in Congress. This was early 1995 — before you could get text messages of anything you wanted. The idea of a newsletter to keep us up on what was happening in Washington, DC was awesome! I started to print out the newsletter to share with classmates and my then-boyfriend, now-husband. Soon a list-serv for WLO began and that, my friends, is when online organizing ate me whole.
On this list I met an abortion provider in Arkansas, a college professor who escorted patients outside of Dr. Tiller’s Wichita clinic, a woman who helped write the Violence Against Women Act, and many more wonderfully feminist women and men. I also met Jennifer Pozner, who would become the executive director of Women In Media & News, where I serve on the board of directors. While the organization, WLO, is no longer around, our listserv keeps on going.
We’re been through Monica, Florida, Ohio and Hillary vs. Barack. We’ve mourned lives lost to terrorist attacks by fundamental Islamists as well as by Christian anti-abortionists. We’ve lost members to death and welcomed babies into our online family.
Through the flurry of emails I learned how to get out the vote, lobby, write letters to elected officials and countless other organizing tips from feminists who had been doing it well before I was born. It was and still is an honor to learn grassroots organizing methods and, especially, to be in the conversation about how to adapt them to the evolving technology.
That evolution obviously keeps on moving and as feminists we need to keep adapting or we risk being left behind, as people are drawn to organizations without a feminist focus but are using social networks to get laws passed and people elected. That’s why I am looking forward to attending Fem2.0.
This groundbreaking and some might say overdue conference will gather some of the best grassroots organizers with the savviest of online networkers in one place for one day with one goal: how do we learn from each other in order to take feminist activism to the next level AND bring more people out in our local communities? This is almost as exciting then when I finally figured out how to post to newsgroups.