CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: Moving Beyond the Blog – Advancing Abortion Rights Online

Hola!  As I’m live-blogging at CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College, I’m listening to speakers at the Moving Beyond the Blog: Advancing Abortion Rights Online panel with activists and online reproductive justice advocates Michelle Kinsey Bruns, Steph Herold and Erin Matson (all of whom I follow on Twitter!)  Omg I’m blogging and tweeting about blogging and tweeting…that’s SO meta!!

The panelists shared their paths to reproductive justice.  Erin Matson (@erintothemax on Twitter) worked in online advertising professionally.  She talked about how she got involved in feminism when she developed an eating disorder and didn’t want women to go through that. Michelle Kinsey Bruns (@ClinicEscort on Twitter) is an internet programmer by day and is a clinic escort.  She also blogs and tweets about the lengths anti-choicers will go through to block women’s access to abortion and reproductive services. Steph Herold (@IAmDrTiller on Twitter) got involved in reproductive justice when a friend of hers got pregnant and she helped her friend get an abortion by driving her and borrowing money.

Matson discussed how people in mainstream media assume that young women don’t care about pro-choice activism.  She brought up the ridiculous Newsweek article and how they reached their conclusions without talking to a single young person.

“My entire experience has been dominated by people saying where are the women?  Excuse me, we’re all right here!”

Matson started an online petition immediately after reading the article and tweeted if you want to write an article about young women and abortion, you should interview young women!  The media has an agenda; you need to look at who’s paying networks’ and outlets’ bills.

“It’s very easy to blame the victims…If a mainstream publication can put out work in 38 hours…if …aren’t seeing younger women and men in the movement, maybe it’s that they’re not looking where they are doing work.”

Kinsey Bruns questioned, “Is online activism “slack-tivism?”  I hadn’t really heard the term before but I knew the sentiment.  It’s low effort activism that makes you feel good, that you’re contributing without really contributing much.  Kinsey Bruns is of the mindset that anything you can do is important.  Offline “slack-tivism” involves people wearing bracelets for HIV/AIDS or cancer to show support.  “Can effective activism be done online?”  People resist new media all the time.  People resisted TV when it first was invented.  87% of counties have NO abortion providers.

“Sometimes online activism is all people can contribute…all activism is about networks – social networks.  And that’s what social media is all about.”

Herold talked about consciousness-raising.

“Sharing your stories, whether it’s through Twitter or Facebook, is a way slowly, maybe not visibly to you is a way of changing culture…In an ideal situation, it’s combined with a direct action approach.  But consciousness-raising is a part of the spectrum.”

Matson talked about the power of story-telling:

“Through the written word, you have the ability to reach people who will not talk to you…when we’re talking about things that are considered not polite conversation…even sharing your story is such a huge piece of changing people’s minds…there’s huge power on the internet there.”

Matson raised the issue of those bullshit racist anti-choice billboards targeting African Americans.  The ones in Atlanta and Chicago and recently taken down in NYC… you could get a petition online through Change.org, Care2.  Through Twitter, you can interject your personality and your own thoughts; “it promotes this radical participation, it’s not a top-down approach.”  Twitter is more effective when you’re targeting them and tweeting at them directly.  This is what happened with Keith Olbermann and Moore and Me/Assange rape bullshit and how Sady Doyle called him and Michael Moore out.  When the target cares about you or the same progressive issues, it has far more impact.

Issues surrounding withdrawal of abortion funds for DC citizens and Title X funding.  Matson asserted going onto John Boehner’s page on Facebook, going onto his turf where his supporters will see it, was effective.  Posting stories about how family planning helps so many people.

Herold discussed her infamous “I Had an Abortion” hashtag campaign on Twitter.

“It’s time for us to come out with our abortion stories.  So I put it out there like a bomb ready to explode.  Very quickly, it picked up a lot of steam.  Women tweeted their abortion stories in various ways.”

Herold then was asked to be interviewed by CNN.  They didn’t run her interview but they did mention her name.  Sadly, they didn’t discuss the ongoing stigma surrounding abortion, rather they talked about mid-term elections.  Then the story ran on PBS, NY Times…it was everywhere.  Herold wished she had taken Matson’s tips and targeted.  But I think it was so important because it opened the dialogue about abortion stigma and how society continually shames women’s reproductive choices.

Kinsey Bruns asserted we need to: “Break down stigmas and stop the othering.”  She brought up the work of National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon in order to raise funds to support the work of this amazing organization that funds women’s abortions.  $250,000 is the national goal.  None of this sounds online.  However, online facilitated this and pushed this event.  Social media tools pushed folks to the Bowl-a-Thon website.  It’s easy to sign up for a team and donate a team.  DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) never would have happened if not for social media.  Activists Val and Danielle wanted to organize a bowling event as she saw the momentum surrounding the event on Twitter.  But the board members wanted no part of this event.  They thought it wouldn’t raise any money, thinking “Who would want to bowl for abortion?” (little do they know!).  Val and Danielle organized the event and got the word out through social media.

“Social media skews young.  Social media isn’t going away…even though there’s resistance to new media, it always comes and that’s where the young people are…you have to make sure you meet your next generation of activists where they are.”

Social media allows you to build coalitions and bridge communities that might not otherwise have the capacity to participate due to geographic constraints.

Matson discussed all of the douchebag legislation.  HR 3’s heinousness goes beyond redefining rape (as disgusting as that is) but also deems 18-year-olds not incest victims and expands IRS to commit abortion audits; HR 217, despicable so-called conscience clause that allows healthcare providers to turn a blind eye to women’s dire medical needs; HR 358 banning Title X funds.  All of this legislation depresses me, yet at the same time it spurs me and many other activists to take a stand.  One such event was Walk for Choice organized and spread through Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.  I participated in the Walk for Choice in Boston.  It was SO exciting to be a part of it and there was a phenomenal turnout.  But I was disheartened that despite the turnout, mainstream media in Boston didn’t cover it.  Matson responded,

“Mainstream media is so terrified of women taking control of their bodies and lives.”

Online and offline activism; they are not separate worlds but rather go hand in hand.  Here are the panelists tips for effective activism:

  1. Define the objective, your target, your audience, the steps you want to take
  2. Tailor your platform accordingly. Do a post-action analysis.
  3. Get participants investments, give them tasks.
  4. Share what worked well.

Loretta Ross of SisterSong is in the audience (OMG…I’m only 10 feet away from her!!) and she raises the point that it’s important for people who are not targeted by the billboards to call them out as racist and offensive.  Kinsey Bruns responded by adding that as a clinic escort, she often hears anti-choicers shouting at people going in or out of clinics.  When they encounter a Latina, they can’t speak Spanish so they just shout “El Diablo;” if they encounter a black person, they shout about eugenics and Margaret Sanger but they never say that to a white person.

“It’s racial profiling.  It’s not speaking to social injustice.  They’re specifically targeting…We all need to unite our voices.”

Uniting our voices, sharing our stories, building communities…that’s what activism and reproductive justice are all about.

Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2011 Reproductive Justice Conference.

4 thoughts on “CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: Moving Beyond the Blog – Advancing Abortion Rights Online

  1. Thank you so much for live-blogging this conference. I’ve been checking in all day. Wish I could be there sitting in the audience with you!

  2. Thank you for this recap. There are tiny nits that I am resisting the urge to pick, but I know you were doing this in near-realtime, which (I am fully aware) is hard-to-impossible to do and manage to capture every single nuance and aside. But I hope you won’t mind my addressing one thing, not to make a correction but to offer a contextualization.

    When I mentioned that 87% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider, the point I was in the middle of making was that there seems to be some ableism and urban bias inherent in criticism of online activism. Because we know that some people have limited mobility, and because we know that many people live in rural areas (and here was where I threw out the 87-percent statistic), we must accept that not everyone is able to stand around on a hard concrete sidewalk in front of a clinic for hours on a Saturday morning–to name only one example of “real-world” activism that is accessible primarily to folks who are lucky enough to be able-bodied residents of a metropolitan area.

    Of course this doesn’t even get into the class issues of who has the time, money, transportation resources to stand around unpaid in front of a clinic for hours at a time, or who can spend time & money on stamps to send those handwritten letters to legislators that we all insist are so much more effective than online petitions–much less does it get into the class issues of internet access itself!–but now I am venturing far beyond the territory we were able to cover at the panel, which means that now I am no longer contextualizing, but rather soapboxing.

    Thank you again for blogging the panel, and of course, just for being there.

    • Michelle, I can’t even begin to tell you how honored I am that you left a comment on my blog!! Live-blogging was a daunting task…I had never done it before and I was afraid I might miss crucial points or misquote a speaker. So thank you so much for clarifying your statement.

      I completely agree with you regarding the classism and ableism in opposition to online activism. While I have the luxury of living in a city (and many people do not), I’ve often thought to myself that I personally would love to do more (attend more protests, rally at the State House) but am unable to do so due to my jobs. Not everyone can afford or has the mobility to travel to NYC, DC or their state capital for activist events. You raise the vital issue of privilege; we need to recognize the privilege that each of us possesses.

      Thank YOU for speaking on that amazing panel…and you can soapbox on my blog anytime 🙂

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