by Sarah Seltzer, NCJW online community engagement organizer
Just before the start of women’s history month, PBS stations around the country aired MAKERS, a widely watched documentary full of rich interview footage about the women’s movement in the US beginning with the “second wave.” The portrayal of women’s progress was inspiring, but in the film’s final chapter of women’s history, something was missing: the virtual communities that have formed in the last decade or so to fight misogyny or as Katha Pollitt recently put it in the Nation, the “intense, combative nature of online feminism. ”
I firmly believe that the struggle for women and families, to which NCJW is so committed, needs activists marching in the streets and lobbying efforts in the halls of power above all. But these days, our struggle also requires a supplement: a peaceful throng of protesters ready at their keyboards and smartphones.
In the past year or so this throng, which included many NCJW members, had some big successes. Online activism helped change the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s course after that organization initially chose to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Online activism came to the defense of current NCJW honoree Sandra Fluke when she was smeared for speaking her mind. Tweets, petitions, and outrage about the lack of progress on the inclusive Violence Against Women Act kept lobbying efforts in the media spotlight, contributing to a long-deserved legislative victory. And when a parody news organization tweeted something despicable about a young actress of color, nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, online activists created a storm of outrage online. This led to a hasty apology and an intense, painful, and necessary conversation about race, gender, the limits of humor and the power of name-calling.
The ability of the internet to enable lightning-quick responses through tweets, Facebook updates, and petitions is matched by its ability to get us to go deeper: foster more thoughtful conversations with people one wouldn’t normally meet, hash out differences of opinion, or learn from diverse experiences. Even better, in this kind of forum many women prevented by circumstance from marching or traveling can be full participants.
For this Women’s History Month, we are preparing to write the next chapter of NCJW history online. We want the great connections we build at NCJW conferences to continue even when we’re not face to face. That’s why we’re starting a dynamic new online community, myNCJW. It is an easy-to-use, personalized part of our website where you can interact with each other and share insights from your activism all year round. The tools on myNCJW will channel and extend our amazing grassroots energy and enable NCJW members around the country to participate even more in the both rapid and deep thinking that they are known for.
On our end, we’ll be using the space to introduce members to news, photos, resources, videos, discussion topics, even visiting guests who can answer questions! We are thrilled to get this project off the ground just in time for Washington Institute 2013. We know that NCJW’s grassroots will continue to make history in the streets, in the branches of government, and at our keyboards, too.