REMARKS: Community-Building as Movement-Building

Carmen spoke in the final stretch of the 2020 Election at Northeastern University’s WGSS Department symposium on feminist politics—#FEMINISM: Gender and the 2020 Election—during a panel called #MakingFeminisms: Organizing Resistance Online and In Real Life, moderated by Moya Bailey. Alongside Katherine Grainger and Catherine Knight Steel, Carmen spoke to the power of feminist possibility online and the urgency of constructing digital feminist spaces. These are her planned remarks as written.

Katherine, I am so glad you urged us to see feminist possibilities. Today, I want to urge us all to embrace the digital possibilities unfolding in 2020—and that call can only begin, for me, with my own story. Because digital space is where I first saw the possibility of a different world—and where I first imagined new futures.

My personal history of the Internet starts in the early 00’s, as all good stories of the Internet do: I was one of the last people in my town to get the Internet in her house, in 2003 when I was thirteen. We were a family of three living in a two-bedroom apartment: My brother and my single mother had four walls and a door to live behind, but I was based in the den—three walls attached to our living room, with no door to hide behind, and basically no privacy. Imagining us now in that space feels suffocating, but back then I didn’t blink at how much we were shrinking to survive.

In fact, once I heard the sweet sound of a dial-up connection for the first time, my world began expanding, rapidly—and I began commuting each night to my mother’s room, setting up shop in the corner at the family computer, staring into the gleaming screen of an extremely nineties computer monitor with only the ping of AIM messages disrupting my travels through time, through space, through the boxes I had been made to live in. I was a working-class girl in a tiny town in New Jersey, part of a class of two dozen kids at the K to 8 school down the street, but suddenly I felt I had become a citizen of the world. 

I couldn’t have possibly known then how that technology would unfurl globally and change me individually—or that five years later, it would become the lightning rod of my tiny life. 

I was seventeen in 2008 when Hillary Clinton was running for president, and during the campaign I was distraught by the casual sexism I saw everywhere—on TV and in my community. Most of us talk about secret Hillary Clinton Facebook Groups and we’re thinking about just four years ago. But I sought solace in a secret Hillary Clinton Facebook Group 12 years ago. I used to cavort with them, infiltrate right-wing groups and start debates or post facts and run away, fight people on my page or their page and call in my troops to have my back.  

In the midst of my failed teenage attempts to belong, I had finally found a place where I was not alone. Until recently, I shrugged that off—silly, young me, talking to strangers, probably dangerous, what a loser. But the day Hillary Clinton conceded in 2008, I watched the speech on TV from my bedroom floor, wiped away my tears, and then turned around, logged on to my computer and went online to grieve with my people. And I felt better—less alone, less crazy—and less burdened by the heavy weight of the moment, because I knew in real time that I wasn’t carrying it alone. People from that group reached out to me, knowing I was the youngest and probably the most unmoored. They passed down messages of hope and optimism that nobody with my limited experience could have conjured within herself. They took care of me like only community members can take care of one another. They were, in large part, the people who set me on the path to the work I did for the next ten years.

In 2016 I hungered again for that kind of community, so I built it by opening The Underground Hillary Club. I was not the only person who liked Hillary in my circle of friends from across the country—far from it. But I was one of the few willing to declare it, and then to stand by it, as the comments rolled in—as I was attacked from the left and the right, not over policy, not over qualifications, but over whether or not the 19th Amendment was a mistake, or I should die and go to hell, or I should shut the fuck up and let a man lead the country, not a shrill bitch who could not satisfy her husband. I started the group so that all of the people who were messaging me on Facebook to thank me for simply admitting I liked Hillary Clinton on the Internet could connect; so we could vent our frustrations together.

So much has been said about groups like mine—but something that is largely missing from that conversation is the radical power these digital communities held for us then, and the role they played in the explosive feminist energy that emerged after November 2016. The Underground Hillary Club quickly grew to over 5,000 members, and it rapidly transformed from a water cooler to a de facto war room. 

Over time, I realized that the courage so many of those first members thought I alone embodied had become contagious. In this digital space, women found the support they needed to speak their minds beyond it. We shared strategies, resources and talking points to empower us when we entered into public conversations or one-on-ones with hostile friends and colleagues. And when we needed help in our public acts of politics, we threw up a batsignal in the group and the troops sent themselves in to like, comment and mobilize against any digital backlash. We went underground to find each other, but we ultimately resurfaced, with fire in our throats, because we knew we had sisters waiting in the trenches to support us. My small segment of a modern silent majority had become a band of outspoken feminists. 

These Facebook groups in 2008 and 2016 weren’t explicitly activist communities. But when you build a community for people who are isolated from one another, who are outcast by those in power and with the privilege of a “neutral” identity, who are told to shut the fuck up and sit down or get back in the kitchen—you are also building movements.

This became obvious to me through my parallel work as the Community Director at Autostraddle, the world’s most popular website for LGBTQ women. Autostraddle’s readers were the only people on the world wide web who purposely read the comments—and found reprieve in them. In the comments on Autostraddle articles, strangers from around the world celebrate each other’s engagements, weddings, promotions, coming outs; in this digital space, people who had no support system in the “real world” found friendship, resources, confidantes and partners in commisseration that very often formed a literal lifeline for them. They also found the courage to get louder, to live more proudly. Autostraddle allowed all of us, no matter our circumstances, to imagine a different world—one where we were free to be who we were and loved for it. Autostraddle allowed us to see that that kind of world was possible.

The digital nature of Autostraddle is the secret sauce. Only in digital space can queers from many geographic locations even be themselves, and only in digital space can all of us begin to feel like the world outside our doors is not quite as suffocatingly straight and cis. We may not be a majority of the population, but in digital space, we got a taste of how it feels to wield that kind of social power—to look around and know that everyone is like you.

In a world where physical spaces for women and queer people have been shuttering steadily over the last few decades, and where queer communities range in size from “every single person in this goddamn city” to “me and the one other gay person from my high school,” the women who founded Autostraddle built a digital room of their own—and we, the team and the readers, came together time and again to keep it alive, Our cash-strapped readers donated whatever they could spare to pay for new servers and more tech support whenever Autostraddle was in danger of shutting down, and they never quit on each other. They never stopped showing up over and over again for each other online.

Those Hillary groups in 2008 and 2016 showed me the revolutionary power of community-building in digital space. And my work at Autostraddle proved that we could also do so out of the clutches of big tech—on our own terms. These experiences proved to me that the feminist possibilities that could unfold online were infinite, and that they could fuel our vision for the rest of our lives beyond our screens.

I build and support digital communities for marginalized folks because digital spaces are the reason I ever became part of the capital-F capital-M Feminist Movement in the first place. Because digital space, even before the pandemic, was where I most felt at home and safe. Because I know firsthand how powerful an Internet connection can be for under-represented, fervently silenced and otherwise powerless people—and I know feminists have much to gain from tapping into these spaces, and from imagining community in ways that defy the limitations of both our physical and political worlds. Because I believe that radical change can emerge from digital spaces in which people can bring their entire selves to the chat, be welcomed as they are by other users, and find their people.

Unfortunately, feminist institutions and leaders have largely ignored or dismissed digital space. In my earliest days working in feminist institutions, I noticed how many feminists of earlier generations were questioning if feminism was alive, even though my various feeds had been saturated in it for my entire young life. Even now, when most all of us are living somewhat online, movement leaders question whether digital feminism is “valid” or “real.” 

Yet in 2020, all of those old-world convictions about digital space are suddenly incompatible with the moment. It would be irresponsible now to rely on in-person activities of any nature to swing an urgent election when a deadly virus is storming the country. Our nation is in crisis, and we have to mobilize, organize, express outrage, educate—but boots on the ground alone can’t do it this time. And suddenly, I see it flowering. Everything folks said wasn’t truly possible: digital-first campaigns, digital events, digital communities. The thing I hungered for. I see physical spaces for women building digital platforms; feminist organizations are organizing GOTV efforts over Google Hangouts; livestreams and Zoom Rooms are functioning as teach-ins; IG stories and posts are walking women through the realities of voter suppression.

This year, I led digital strategies for two campaigns targeting young, feminist voters in ten battleground states. We created digital platforms for students on 130 campuses, and through them we replicated a relational organizing model that had been in use since this organization’s founding—but was, for the first time, coming to life in digital space. We translated every last traditional in-person thing we’d ever done into a virtual activity or content strategy. We reached over one million people through this program in just the first month. Our student organizers have become living resources for their peers, one click or DM away if anyone needs advice on how to vote, who to vote for, and how to make sure their votes get counted. They have hosted watch parties for hundreds of students in rural states, crafted singular explainer posts on anti-abortion ballot measures and voting deadlines that reached 20K or 80K users alone, organized vote tripling campaigns on Instagram and recruited volunteers through Twitter DMs.

We can’t know yet, of course, whether this digital work will swing the election. But the potential and the response is encouraging, and watching this cross-country band of young feminists invent a new campaign methodology in real-time has been truly inspiring. All of us engaged in this digital work are pioneers, and the mechanisms will evolve and the strategies must mature. But we need to keep sharing, keep engaging, keep talking, and continue taking up digital space. We need to build on what we have assembled here, by the seats of our pants, and continue to come together to figure out how to leverage digital space to shift culture, swing elections, and change the world. 

Digital space feels like a uniquely democratic site of feminist promise. It gives us more room for momentum, for collaboration. It allows us to disavow borders, to come together regardless of the demands of our schedules or the latitude and longitude in which we sleep at night. And it disrupts hierarchies of power in our culture and our movement. Instead of that scarcity mindset, rooted in capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy, that there can only be some dominant voices, that only some can have the power to speak, digital space empowers every single person to say their peace, to be heard at the same volume as someone else. The nature of digital space that continues to allure is that we can create, live, share, speak freely, beyond gatekeepers. Online, all of us can stand on our soapboxes just as we are, or we want to be.

For a feminist movement whose institutions are still plagued by the ghosts of traditional power structures—of racism, classism, elitism—digital space is a tonic that could help us emerge more powerful and united than before. It is a space where barriers to entry are reduced, and where diversity of experience and thought and identity are much easier to come by. There is no power structure inherent or mandated in digital space—and we can build communities that serve to dismantle the power structures that have threatened to silence, denigrate and erase us. The internet can be a democratic means of movement-building, if we want it. Our digital world can look like the promised land we’ve been chasing for over a century, if we do the work to bring it into existence.

We all know now how the far-right seized this same space to serve the opposite aims—to disrupt democracy, and to reinforce the power structures all of us are invested in smashing. By abandoning digital space from the start, feminist institutions that formed the infrastructure of this movement largely surrendered their own power to fight back—and abandoned the women caught in the crosshairs. 

I don’t want to endorse global conspiracies to uproot our democracy. But seriously: Why didn’t we do what they did? Why didn’t we invest our energy, resources, time, people power into building thriving digital lands—digital outposts designed not to spread hate, but to amplify our voices. Digital spaces that can be big enough for all of us, and help us make our wildest feminist visions and our most ambitious campaigns possible. Why didn’t we strategize how best to amplify feminist messages, how best to embed them into everyone’s digital lives, how best to make our popular cause go viral?

What scares me most about the future of our movement is seeing how late we are to the game and how ill-prepared we are to take back the potential of digital space. What scares me is seeing a landscape where feminist organizations are still devoting a fraction of their time, energy, budget to disseminating information well online or reaching new people there. What scares me is watching the fear, retaliation, and horror women are subjugated to online be dismissed not just by men and people in power, but by women and feminists as no big deal. 

The resistance to digital life in this movement makes one wonder who we’re serving. I never would have had a seat at the table in this movement if I had not learned how to build my own on the Internet. Many folks like me face even more barriers to participation, and haven’t had the chance to even step into physical feminist space. 

This is a transnational movement. Together, we are a global majority. And only online can we truly see that power reflected back at us in real time and harness our collective might whenever we need to. Women’s marches were hailed as inspirations, reminders that we were a majority, that were a united front, that we had the power of numbers. Online, this could be our daily experience.

2020 is delivering the wake-up call the feminist establishment needed to answer not just four years ago, but eight, twelve, sixteen. The time is now for a feminism that serves each and every one of us. The time is now for a movement in which solutions are designed and spread collectively. The time is now to replace hierarchy with community. The time is now to invest in, cultivate, and continue building a feminism that is wide open, boundless and only loosely moderated; fast and messy and massive. 

I keep trying to make a joke about how the revolution will not be televised. But in 2020, much of it was live-tweeted, dueted on TikTok, shared to Instagram stories. Any doubt we had in the potential for digital feminism has been dispelled. Now our challenge is to continue marching forward across the digital divide—and build the movement this moment demands.

Thank you.


Excerpts from Everything: The Pieces I’m Most Proud of From the 2010s

This post is of course modified from a Twitter thread, because this time my resolution is to be even more Online.

I came out in 2010, so this new year has particular resonance for me: It’s the span of time housing my entire queer, feminist career. These are things that I wrote that I am most proud of from the last ten years.

First up: This fucking essay for Autostraddle. This essay that was so scary to write. This essay that is now something I read to myself often. This essay that my mother read when we finally could talk again. This essay is everything.

I’m Not Broke As F*ck Anymore, Does This Mean I Made It (Autostraddle)

I spent the summer of 2010, 2011, and 2012 living on ten dollars a week and nothing more. I didn’t leave the house a lot, and I made up for it by living with people I loved. Everyone was always marveling over how I was able to handle it, able to cope with the stress of it, able to enjoy it. Nothing about it felt different than any other chapter in my life.

I went on to do so much with Autostraddle—claiming a variety of beats, but most importantly the Eileen Myles beat. It has been ten years of dykedom. I have never regretted being an Eileen Myles type, not once the entire time.

Idol Worship: Ten(ish) Questions with Eileen Myles (Autostraddle)

Do you still write yourself in for President? You should run again so I can.

I don’t. But it was an unparalleled writing experience to see that white space on the ballot and put in your own name. I’d advise anyone to try it and then think about what it means. To the extent that people joke about my campaign and about lesbians in general I think an enormous amount of repression is surrounding what a woman might want.

I often think about what my girlfriend said (which is on a napkin on my bulletin board over my desk) when she wondered “how palatable will women have to make themselves as artists in this depression.”

It’s a depression the size of the world and we fill it by thinking about it I believe.

And of course, while at Autostraddle I also claimed the feminism beat—and became the feminism editor. This essay unfortunately never stops being salient, but that’s okay because I never get tired of sharing it.

Our “False Rape” Hysteria is Bullsh*t (Autostraddle)

I need to repeat this one more time, with feeling, to get everyone to understand what I’m saying. 20 percent of women are raped in their lifetime, but we’re actually concerned with less than one percent of the population, most of whom could still function with impunity through a trial and probably never face time in our current legal system for sexually violating someone else, being falsely accused of a crime which, most of the time, nobody is even actually falsely accused of. We, as a society, are more concerned about men being falsely accused of rape – something they are more likely to win the lottery than ever experience – than we are with women being raped every day.

One of my other beats at Autostraddle was “coming out feelings.” I had so many! I most eloquently wrote them down the year i didn’t come out for thanksgiving.

You Don’t Have To Come Out On Thanksgiving: On Going Home and Being Quiet (Autostraddle)

I still want my big coming out at the dinner table, right from my own chair where I’ve sat since I was promoted from The Kid’s Table. I want to be sitting next to Brittany and I imagine that when it happens I’ll be fearless, looming above the turkey and grinning like a dipshit. I imagine, too, that it will be a turning point and we will finally be able to talk to one another again over gravy and biscuits.

I don’t know when I’ll be ready for that to happen. But I know I will love everyone at the table more in that moment than I ever have before.

All of those post-mortems paved the way for the BuzzFeed essay I wrote on coming out—or really, waking up. I remember being so excited to be part of the pantheon of BF contributors, and so overwhelmed by the response to this piece.

I Didn’t Always Know I Was Gay (BuzzFeed LGBT)

The year I turned 20 was the year I became the sum of a thousand small brown boxes and sleek gray envelopes. Neat, tiny packages of boyshorts in every color with athletic waistbands arrived at my door. A vintage brown leather jacket made its way to me from the 1980s, so authentic I had to cut the shoulder pads out. The used brown leather lace-up boots I would wear for the next three years before they fell apart again and again and again arrived last, in a small box at the end of winter. They were a perfect fit.

The shopping was a ritual. Each time, it went the same way: I ripped open boxes and plastic shipping envelopes and peeled back stickers and seals and marveled at things that felt like the limbs I didn’t realize I’d lost in the war. I tried them on alone and then put them away, pristine and almost untouched, tiny reminders of who I might be — if I could ever decide who that was.

Once I was done with the coming out feelings, I got to move on to the relationship feelings. Cue: The essay I wrote about being in a long-distance relationship, and the exhilarating experience of running away and being someone new.

My Long-Distance Relationship is My Favorite Adventure (Autostraddle)

When Geneva and I were driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in a rented convertible, I saw an entire cloud floating next to the highway in the sky over the desert. I could see it spanning what looked like the whole of the sky to the right of us, almost touching my shoulder. I watched it graze the universe on top and I saw rain pouring out of it in the distance and somewhere in the middle, there was a lightning bolt like a heartbeat.

I could have fit my entire life in that cloud. My entire fucked-up, tiny, timid life. It only took us five minutes to drive past it.

Wild Child West—the live documentation of the road trip that changed my life—helped me come home to myself years later. I don’t regret being so cheesy and sincere, not for a second. Los Angeles deserves that. (And stay tuned: more like this is yet to come.)

Wild Child West: I Am Gonna Do This (Autostraddle)

I told myself I would do what any rational human being does. I told myself I would look for a sign. And suddenly, they were everywhere.

So I made a checklist:

1. Save money
2. Learn to drive
3. Develop faith in the universe

If you like reading my journal entries, you’ll also like reading excerpts from my secret tumblr. (This selection also appears in We Spoke, the book based on a marathon reading I did in Los Angeles.)

22 Excerpts from Carmen’s Secret Tumblr, 2012 – 2015 (Autostraddle)

i didn’t really have any expectations for this place when i moved here, only expectations for me, which might explain why i have trouble deciding whether or not it’s working out so far. all i have now are my new life resolutions: learn how to do yoga, take eli to the park every morning at 7AM, drive on the freeway alone, write more, cook new things, figure it out. i called my mom when i got back from canada and told her i was alone, really alone, and it feels weird, y’know, to wake up by myself and walk eli by myself and be bored by myself, and all she said was “that’s what you wanted,” and she’s right. this is the hard part i was dreaming about before i actually had to look it in the face. this is the part where i change.

The pursuit of freedom is the thruline—and Everyday Feminism gave me space to vocalize how badly I wanted all of us to be free. I’d forgotten about this piece until someone quoted it back to me. Hearing it reminded me that my words (and work) had meaning.

A Reclamation of Our Personal Rights as Working-Class Queer Women (Everyday Feminism)

You have the right to survive. To live without fear. To live without an extra burden. To find relief and salvation. To feel entitled to relief and salvation.

This world will tell you, over and over and over again, that your survival is secondary. That in exchange for your hustle, for your strife, for your struggle, you’ve won no right to truly live. That what you are is not enough to be worthy of thriving. That who you are disaqualifies you from the fullness of life and the richness this world has to offer. That no matter how hard you work to define yourself, you will always be a trope, or a token, or an outlier.

The world will always be wrong about this.

All of that was prep for 2016: the year in which I churned out Hillary Clinton content like a lean, mean, childhood-dreams-being-fulfilled-in-real-time machine. I still want it for Hillary. I still wish it had happened for all of us.

I Want This For Hillary / I Want This For All Of Us (Argot)

I didn’t think she would do it, despite the incessant purporting that Hillary would somehow crawl out of her grave to run again if she had to. Surely she was too defeated. Surely she was too bruised. Surely a woman who had suffered through what she had suffered through would never sit down and decide to do it again.

I have long admired Hillary Clinton for her tenacity. Perhaps the reason I’ve wanted this for her for so long is because it’s evident how much she wants it. Not because she is an evil witch running wild with the fever of her own ambition. Not because she is a manipulative insider hellbent on ascertaining power. Hillary wants to be president because she believes in her work. Because she believes in her vision. Because she believes in herself.

I never want Hillary Clinton to smile graciously in the face of defeat again. I want her to rise. I want her to overcome. I want her to win, and I want her to rub it in our faces even though she never will. I want her to talk to God. I want her to cut the ribbon when they put her pantsuit up in that museum. I want her to prove my mother wrong.

I want that fire in my chest to burn even brighter. I want it this time to be lit not with the need to prove everyone wrong, but instead with the righteous indignation of all the women who finally have.

when i wasn’t writing about hillary, i was telling men not to run for office—in one case, with the support of a men’s magazine.

The White Guy Asking White Guys Not to Run for President (MEL Magazine)

White men in America make up a much larger share of the political world than they do the population, which means that their overrepresentation is directly connected to the underrepresentation of everyone else. Women are less than 24 percent of state legislators and less than 20 percent of Congressional seats; African Americans are only 8.1 percent of state legislators, and though the 114th Congress is the most diverse ever, that body is still only 17 percent non-white.

This is where the Can You Not PAC (CYNP) comes in. 

2016 was also the year I turned my biweekly “Rebel Girls” column for Autostraddle into a feminist political history marathon—and watched every campaign ad in television history for one longread I published with them.

Rebel Girls: The 5 Kinds of Women (and Girls) in Presidential Campaign Ads (Autostraddle)

Many say that JFK won the presidential election in 1960 at least in part because he looked way better in the first-ever televised presidential debate than his sparring partner, Republican candidate Richard Nixon, who was sweating profusely and didn’t have the media training under his belt to urge him to look the camera deep in the eyes and make sweet love to it. (The televised debate has now become the bread-and-butter of elections.) And although AM and FM stations certainly captivated us all before video killed the radio star, presidential campaigns embraced television in 1952 and never looked back.

And thus, the “living room candidate” was born.

Being able to communicate with voters in the comfort of their own homes was invaluable in elections moving forward, especially as television became even more central to the daily lives of people across the country. And although campaign ads have evolved — from lengthy, black-and-white monologues to quick, dynamic spots in full color; from endorsements to attack ads; from common sense to fearmongering — there’s been a consistent flow of ads centered around or openly targeting women voters ever since.

Those ads utilize women as judges of character, symbols of peace and innocence, advocates for men, and the voices of families and authorities on the home. But only rarely do the ads featuring women’s voices and faces since the dawn of the televised presidential campaign actually address what we’d flat-out call “women’s issues” — things like reproductive rights, an end to sex discrimination and violence against women, closing the pay gap and more. Instead, ads featuring women have often served the opposite purpose: reinforcing gender roles and showcasing the sexism of the day.

I flew home for my grandmother’s funeral the day after the 2016 election, and i wrote a letter to Hillary on the plane, and the woman next to me looked to her left and started to cry. And then Argot published it in print.

Dearest Hillary (Argot)

My grandmother died imagining two things, things I juxtapose against reality now multiple times a day: She imagined you becoming President, walking out on stage in a white suit and changing everything. She imagined me looking on in awe, eyes welling with tears, finally watching my longest-held dream come true. She hurried her two daughters out of the hospital room on the day she died with one final instruction: “Vote.” They did. You won New Jersey, the state where I grew up, where she raised me. I called my grandmother’s home number to ask her how it felt to know that soon we would have our first woman president. My aunt answered on the third ring, kept telling me my grandmother couldn’t come to the phone right now, promised me she had voted. I imagined my grandmother walking into that booth and voting for you. It was a vision that left me in awe of our nation’s ability to grow and expand and progress.

That was all a dream. This was all a dream. The greatest dream there ever was, I think.

When Signs Journal asked me to reflect on Hillary’s loss, and Susan Bordo’s analysis of it, I leapt at the opportunity—because Hillary, and also because did I mention it was *the* Signs Journal, y’all. (Ignore everyone. Major in women’s studies.)

Taking the Bait: Our Furious and Frustrating Existence (Signs Journal)

In Trump’s America, I find myself often wondering how we got here. I know why, though it seems unfathomable. All this because when confronted with an honest and accomplished woman, too many of us still react with scorn and disbelief. All this because when men reduce women to stereotypes, we hardly blink.

We all knew the first woman president would have to walk through hell to get there. More unimaginable is that if we refuse to see the factors that turned Clinton from a beloved public servant into a fictional monster, countless others won’t safely make it through.

All of that leads to Ms., where I started in advance of the 2016 election and have since been editing in its wake. I’m proud that before the mainstream media thought it mattered, we were exposing trump’s damage and demagoguery.

A Week in Donald Trump’s America (Ms.)

The violence is not temporary. The terror is not temporary. The emboldening of right-wing extremism is not temporary.

Donald Trump, after five days, said only two words about the widespread acts of violence and harassment happening in his name across the country he intends to “unify.” Those two words? “Stop it.” Needless to say, the statement is too little, too late.

This is Donald Trump’s America. He created it. It is true that he was aided in doing so by traditions which date back centuries—racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia—but this is Donald Trump’s America.

Our President-Elect has spent the better part of the last two years inciting hate and condoning violence against marginalized communities he scapegoated for the very real challenges our nation is facing. The end result is hate and violence.

This is Donald Trump’s America. Nothing he says will stop him from being accountable for it. Now we must fight like hell to take it back.

While Trump insisted there were two sides to every story and every struggle—in Charlottesville or elsewhere—I was proud to know better, and to work somewhere where I could say as much.

There is Only One Side (Ms.)

“There are not many sides to Charlottesville,” journalist Sarah Kendzior wrote in the Globe and Mail. “There is the anti-racist activist who was killed, and the white supremacist who killed her. There is the mob chanting the Nazi cry of ‘blood and soil,’ and the citizens demanding equality and respect. There is the confederacy, and there is the United States. There are the torches of neo-Nazis and the torch of the Statue of Liberty. There is Donald Trump and there is patriotism. There is one right side, and the President is not on it.”

This is not a situation with many sides. As a nation, we must decide where we will stand: on the side of hate and violence or the side of love and equality. If the Trump administration cannot decide which they choose, we will just have to dig in our heels as we fight for ours.

I was also incredibly proud to write the generation-defining “Which Trump Are You?” quiz for THE BOSSY SHOW, which I co-hosted and co-produced with Jill Gutowitz during Trump’s first year. (Spoiler Alert: I was proud of every episode of THE BOSSY SHOW.)

And yes, I did marathon season one of The Handmaid’s Tale; and yes, it did give me a reason to get out of bed; and yes, I did write an entire piece about the urgency of its message. But I stand by what I said. I will not go to fucking Gilead.

We Will Not Go to Gilead (Ms.)

“Now I’m awake to the world,” Offred, the narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale, explains. “I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

The parallels between Atwood’s dystopia and our own reality have become crystal clear. And women are awake to them—and ready to stop them.

We will not go back. We will not go to Gilead. We will instead heed Atwood’s warning—to speak up before it is too late, and to fight no matter how powerless we are made to feel.

But also: tThis was a lot to handle! And I burned out! And so, one of the first episodes of POPAGANDA that I wrote (and produced! and hosted!) for BITCH explored feminist visions for a different world of doing good work.

Popaganda: Feminism Beyond Burnout (Bitch)

The World Health Organization brought the buzz over burnout to a fever pitch this May when they included it in their 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, calling burnout an “occupational phenomenon” and defining it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress.” They identified three major dimensions of burnout: depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from a job, and growing feelings of cynicism at work, as well as reduced professional effectiveness.  

Months earlier, Anne Helen Peterson set that buzz into motion with her viral BuzzFeed essay on millennial burnout, coming to a different conclusion than the WHO, which cautioned that burnout shouldn’t be used to apply to conditions outside of work. “Burnout and the behaviors and weight that accompany it,” she asserted, “aren’t, in fact, something we can cure by going on vacation. It’s not limited to workers in acutely high-stress environments. And it’s not a temporary affliction.” According to Anne, it’s the “millennial condition…our base temperature… our background music… the way things are… our lives.” 

But for feminists around the world, these conditions are hardly new, and there are no neat lines around them. To be a feminist is to constantly be inundated with passion and anger, with urgency and with exhaustion. To be a feminist, in too many ways, is to get fired up until you fizzle out. 

After a decade of feminist work, I also sought solace and inspiration from Barbara Smith, Cherríe Moraga, Karla Jay, Carol Leigh, Sarah Eagle Heart, Charlene Carruthers, Daisy Hernandez and Julia Serano—and talked to them about how all of us can blaze trails for the podcast. That episode was also kind of a homecoming: I’ve been reflecting on how we can build a bigger, better feminist movement since I first fell into it.

4 Things We Can Do to Make Feminist Organizing More Inclusive and Empowering for All of Us (Everyday Feminism)

When I was a senior in college, I became director of my campus’ high-powered feminist organization. I’d wanted the position since I started at my university, but a lot had changed for me by the time I got it.

I had come out as queer, come into my identity as a Latina, and come to embrace a lot of the parts of my life I’d been ashamed of. I’d learned to live in opposition to society’s ideals, rather than allow myself to be weighted down by them. My feminism and how I went about pushing for progress shifted in a similar direction.

I was one of the first women of color and queer women – and likely, one of the first from a working-class background – to take charge of that group. I came armed with ideas and visions, scheming up how to massively grow our membership while also increasing successes across the board from previous years. I also came into a role that forced me to examine our flaws and our challenges.

One of those challenges was getting more people who looked, identified, and felt like me involved.

And speaking of freedom roads: Moraga and Sarah M. Broom’s books helped me chart my own course toward one this year. I was so proud to write about Native Country of the Heart and The Yellow House and my own working-class childhood for City Lab in August.

A Yellow House, a Native Heart: Life in New Orleans and Los Angeles (CityLab)

Until recently, I never knew where to take my friends when they come to Los Angeles. It isn’t that my life never collides with the myth of Los Angeles—I’ve brunched next to celebrities, walked Rodeo Drive and insisted on going inside a Chanel boutique, stood on both sides of a step-and-repeat. But those moments were aspirational, not comfortable. Those moments were about squeezing myself into a proscribed narrative. Those moments were tiny glimpses into massive myths.

Since I arrived, I’ve been hungry to unearth another version of the city—one obscured by the tourist guides to LA’s historic steps or maps of Charles Bukowski’s favorite bars. I looked endlessly for books about women of color in Los Angeles; books about queer, working-class people in Los Angeles; books about anyone who looked like me, felt like me, loved like me, longed like me, in Los Angeles.

Then I read Native Country of the Heart.


MS. MAGAZINE: Q&A with Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

“Criminal justice is the biggest human rights issue in the U.S.,” Carroll Bogert, president of the non-profit criminal justice news platform The Marshall Project, declared from the stage Friday at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Symposium. “Why do we think civil rights happened here, and human rights happen somewhere else?”

That was the question at the center of a wide-ranging conversation between Bogert and E. Tendayi Achiume, assistant professor of law at UCLA Law School and the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

Los Angeles is a City for CEDAW, even though the U.S. has yet to ratify the treaty calling for worldwide gender equality. “That can be applied to criminal justice reform,” Achiume noted, “and that is a global issue where the U.S. is far behind.” Building criminal justice reform efforts around a “shared language” of human rights, she added, can help “race activists connect with the movement outside.”

That’s the language Cullors speaks with her organizing efforts. “When we started Black Lives Matter, we were very clear that we wanted an international frame,” she explained, adding that the BLM Global Network now extends to places like Brazil and the United Kingdom. “Black Lives Matter wasn’t go to be African American Lives Matter.”

Cullors is also founder and chairperson of the Reform LA Jails movement, which has seen recent success in a city where, according to the activist leader, 17,000 people are in prison daily because they can’t afford to post cash bail. The coalition fought the construction of new jails in Los Angeles County for 15 years—and officially, just this year, put a halt to a $35B jail expansion plan.

But the campaign to stop cash from flowing into the construction of new prisons in LA was “never about jail facilities,” Cullors explained. Instead, it was “always about the investment.” Halting budget expansions for prisons, she noted, is one way of “reversing the [city’s] divestment from people of color.” That’s why the big fight now ahead of the Reform coalition is a ballot measure campaign moving money away from jails and passing it on, instead, to mental health care services.

“Someone imagined a jail cell,” Cullors reminded the room. “Someone imagine a siren. And then they came to be, and we came to think that they had always existed.”

Cullors, of course, is interested in imagining a new way forward that looks entirely different—and she talked to Ms. after walking off the stage Friday about what comes next in the work of making it possible.

We’re coming up on 2020, and there’s all these conversations right now about what’s a political agenda that serves people in the right way. What’s a local agenda? What do you think a political framework that does center black lives and black liberation would look like in this current moment?

Well, I think, you know, this conversation around abolition and reparations is critical for how we are talking about what’s needed for black liberation. You know, Black Lives Matter Global Network launched a campaign called What Matters in 2020—really calling on, I would say, not just the presidential candidates, but also, you know, elected officials, appointed officials across the country to really look at, um, what it would take to consider a black agenda. In 2016, when Black Lives Matter really took, you know, an a aggressive approach to challenging the presidential candidates about discussing Black Lives Matter; this is sort of the evolution of that.

We’ve really identified, you know, what are some key issues that black people are thinking about? Obviously police brutality, criminal justice reform, issues around maternal mortality and morbidity, economic justice, queer and trans rights is the kind of the center of what black people are thinking about around how we get free. It’s not, I don’t think, hyperbolic to say what you’ve been saying for the last six years—which is, when black people get free, everybody else gets free. The work of changing the very fabric of this country is going to take really looking at the history of the oppression of black people and the divestment from black communities and what it would look like to reinvest into these communities.

I also really loved the idea of applying a human rights framework here and also even at that local level, like in our communities. From your experience, having done all this organizing that you’ve done, what does it look like in practice to have that human rights framework at the center of an organization or a campaign that might be really hyper-locally focused or you know, a county campaign, or absolutely presidential campaign?

I think for us here in Los Angeles, as we’re leading a much of the work around changing the criminal justice system—is being brave enough to have a conversation about what does it mean that our system here in Los Angeles is the largest jailer in the world, that it has really been the blueprint and a lot of ways for other jail facilities across the country, that our Sheriff’s department, you know, is a Sheriff’s department that is riddled with corruption and a culture of violence. And that isn’t an anomaly, right? That is the culture at most law enforcement agencies.

It really begs a question around the use of jailing and the use of policing if these sort of two apparatuses weren’t really created, you know, to rehabilitate—which we know they weren’t, jails and prisons were created after the emancipation of slavery and police were created during slavery to patrol black people—and so we have to have a historical conversation. I think when we have that historical conversation, both at the local level, it gives us an opportunity to talk about what’s happening across the country, and also what’s happening across the globe.

I think a lot of people are talking about disruption and disrupting systems and, you know, you talked a lot, too, about imagining new systems. What does a political system look like that would serve people?

Well, I think it’s twofold. You have to think about infrastructure and institutions as what creates systems, but the infrastructure institution also creates culture. So we got rid of Jim Crow, but we didn’t get rid of Jim Crow hate, right? We got rid of slavery, but we didn’t get rid of the idea that black people shouldn’t be still be subjugated, still be in chains, still be controlled.

We have to change the culture—and as we create every new system, we should be created in a way that is based off of the dignity and the humanity of individuals, and the collectives and the people they come from. When we’re thinking about institutions: the institution of imprisonment is not an institution that is about dignity, not an institution that is about freedom. It is literally about control and subjugation and punishment. We need to imagine a new system, one that is about healing and that it’s about dignity, but it’s about reconnection. It’s not going to come inside of caging a human being.

Much of what we talked about on the panel is like there’s other places that are doing it. We can learn from those other places. There was a time when this country wasn’t inhabited by white colonizers. There was a time when the idea of policing or caging human being was not on the table. They’re there. We have context for being able to change what we have right now in the U.S. and in LA in particular, but we also have present context. We have places and countries and people that are doing it.

As you’ve built Black Lives Matter into this global network, what would you say are some of the greatest takeaways about how to build transnational movements? How can folks in one place support folks at another and how do they come together?

I think every time we’re doing local work, it has to have an international implications. The local work that I’m doing, I’m never thinking—oh, this is just going to help the people of Los Angeles. I know that the people of Los Angeles are from around the world, so it’s going to help people from around the world. I know that what Los Angeles does has national and international implications.

The work we’re doing here—and I’m going to use this term that I’ve talked about, I didn’t coin it, but I’ve talked about in a lot of my writings—is we have to create a non-reformist reformance. We are reform movement until revolution, but a non-reformance reform is the idea that you are going to reform an institution by not making it stronger. Non-reformance reform is something like, you know, take a half of the police budget and give it towards schools—not reform that would actually enhance the police. It’s like body cameras, right?

We’re not interested in giving more money to law enforcement to do a job that is about harming and violated communities. We’re interested in taking away that power so that we can put power into places that will empower our communities.


MS. MAGAZINE: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Warning for Humanitarians

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

“To give people the opportunity to tell their stories in their own language,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told the crowd Friday at the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Symposium and Prize Ceremony, “is to give them their dignity.”

The award-winning author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah, We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions spoke at the Hilton Foundation’s annual event in Los Angeles about the topic of her viral TED Talk: the danger of a single story.

Adichie is familiar with many of them as the Nigerian-born daughter of refugees—someone who, as a young girl, remembers sitting in the car while it drove past neighborhoods and feeling a distinct “ache” for all of the stories she could never tell.

In one that she recounted for the audience, an American professor told her that her work wasn’t “authentically African” because she depicted middle-class life in Africa. “This is how to create a single story,” she explained from the stage. “Show people as just one thing, over and over again, until they become that thing.”

In another, her well-intentioned male friend boasted about giving Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, to his female friends—but resisted the notion of reading it himself. “We know statistically that men read men and women read men and women,” Adichie reminded the room. “It is time to change that and move to higher ground.”

Adichie was a fitting speaker for the afternoon, in which the Greek refugee services organization METAdrasi—Action for Migration and Development, founded in 2009 by Lora Poppa to help provide basic humanitarian services to the estimated 80,000 refugees and migrants currently living on the shores of Greece, received the 2019 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

“Nobody is ever just a refugee,” Adichie told the symposium attendees. “Nobody is ever just anything. Nobody has a single story.” No movement does, either, which Adichie opened up to Ms. about backstage after her address.

“I was talking to a young woman who said to me that she doesn’t like to participate in Twitter debates about feminism,” Adichie remembered, “because she feels that she might say the wrong thing and she’s afraid to be ostracized—and it just broke my heart because she’s, you know, she’s young, early twenties, she’s sort of trying to figure things out and she feels like she can’t talk.”

That conversation with a young Nigerian woman, who was living in the UK at the time, brought to the fore some of the disconnects Adichie has felt in the feminist movement herself. “I think maybe it’s just a question of hearing one another,” Adichie observed. “We don’t really hear one another. I sometimes feel a little alienated from a certain kind of modern ‘woke’ feminism, because I think a it’s almost become a ‘gotcha’ feminism, and I feel like we don’t really hear one another. I feel that there is a lot about the movement that has become, I don’t know, that almost lacks compassion.”

Adichie also called for even more #MeToo stories, especially from working-class women. “I’d like to see more stories of working class women and sexual harassment,” she declared backstage, “because it’s rampant, and it happens, but I feel as though it’s not yet taken the position that it needs to in the #MeToo movement. But it’s not to say that the stories of middle class and upper middle class women don’t matter, because they do. It’s simply to say that I think we need to broaden it out more, particularly in terms of class. I just really think that we need to hear the #MeToo stories of women who are not privileged.”

To make that possible, Adichie called on feminists organizing events around #MeToo and issues of workplace harassment and discrimination to specifically encourage working-class women to tell their stories—and to put them at the center of organizing efforts. “If there’s a panel on #MeToo,” she said, “whoever is organizing that panel, I think there is a moral responsibility to not only find the sort of usual suspects, but to find the less predictable.”

Of course, encouraging the most vulnerable women to speak up also means encouraging women to break free from the cultural baggage that has silenced their stories for centuries. Adichie offered up a succinct explanation of her own courageous acts of speaking out to speed along the process: “As you get older,” she assured, “you’re looking at your bag of fucks to give, and it’s empty, so you just say what she would say.”

Adichie, who grew up climbing trees with her brother, remembers vividly that when she began developing and got her period, at just age 11, her socialization as a girl was presented as a series of limitations. “Everything changed,” she confessed. “Suddenly I couldn’t, you know, I was ashamed of myself, I didn’t know what this whole thing was about, and then I got my period, and my mother was like, you’re now a woman. I was 11. I didn’t even know what that means. Everything that was fun was no longer allowed. And this is also what I was being told: You need to go to the kitchen and be there when the cooking is done so you can learn to cook because you’re going to cook for your husband.”

Those moments set Adichie’s own feminism into motion. “I did experience femaleness very early on as as just limitations,” she remembered, “and all the things that you were told you could not do.” But she also has come now to a new place—one in which she is defying norms for herself and as an act of service to other women around the world. Adichie is resisting the notion of a single story by telling her own as loudly as possible.

“I’m 42, and I do think it gets easier for women as we get older,” she said, thinking back on her bag of fucks. “That’s for me. That’s been my discovery, that you become more comfortable in your own skin and you just didn’t have it. Your story more, you genuinely really, that bag is empty, you do not have any more fucks to give—but when you’re in your early twenties, it’s harder. You’re trying to figure things out. People’s opinions matter more to you. It’s harder. I do worry about the emotional health of young women, the mental and emotional health of young women. But I’m at a place where I can take it.”


MS. MAGAZINE: Meet the #MeTooVoter

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

Today marks the second anniversary of the viral explosion of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement—and she marked the occasion by launching the #MeTooVoter online campaign calling on political leaders to address sexual harassment and design solutions for safer workplaces.

“It’s imperative that all of the presidential candidates and others in public service realize that survivors are constituents who work, pay taxes and contribute to society every single day so the issues that impact us should be taken seriously,” Burke said in a statement announcing the campaign. “We’re calling on candidates to lay out their specific plans to address sexual violence and to take action on the pending policy proposals that would also support survivors.” Burke today tweeted a call for questions about #MeToo to be included in tonight’s debate, which will feature 12 Democratic candidates and all of the current front-runners.

“Political leaders and candidates must treat this issue as one of the most pressing social, health, economic and safety issues of all time,” Monica Ramírez, President of Justice for Migrant Women and Gender Justice Campaigns Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance, said in the statement. “Survivors are powerful and demand action. Through #MeTooVoter, we are calling on survivors and allies to use our collective power to hold political leaders and candidates accountable at the ballot box.”

Ramírez, alongside Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center and Aijen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, joined Burke today in announcing the new effort, which will “push elected leaders and candidates to develop solid policy proposals that will support survivors’ healing, provide necessary services and benefits, invest in prevention and reform legal protections to ensure that they cover all survivors, regardless of the kind of sexual violence or harassment they experienced or where they experienced it.”

The campaign is meant to span mediums—raising questions and sparking conversations around sexual harassment and violence online and on the ground in communities across the country.

“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented cultural conversation about sexual violence and harassment, and about gender and power,” Goss Graves said in the statement.  “When #MeToo went viral, hundreds of thousands of people courageously spoke out about the ways in which they had been harmed and the ways institutions had let them down. Their experiences demand systemic solutions, and now is the time for voters to come together and tell our lawmakers that we are waiting to hear how they will answer this call.” 

According to a recent survey by the National Women’s Law Center, and as part of the Supermajority’s Majority Rules campaign in 2020, a majority of voters want lawmakers to better address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Leaders who want to represent us should consistently address our concerns and reflect our values,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-founder of Supermajority. “#MeTooVoter is a call to all political leaders to recognize the power of survivors as constituents and their responsibility to prioritize ending sexual violence.”


MS. MAGAZINE: Keeping Track of the Gender Gap on Impeachment

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

New polling data from The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University shows that the gender gap is shaping the unfolding impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump in even larger numbers than Ms. reported just last week.

According to the national sample of 1,007 adults contacted by phone in the first week of October, a stunning 58 percent of Americans support the House inquiry, and 49 percent said the House should move forward to impeach the President and call for his removal from office. These were the highest recorded levels of support for such actions yet—and large gaps in responses between women and men drove the spike.

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Both men and women agree that House lawmakers were right to open the impeachment inquiry—but a 14-point gender gap divided the 51 percent of men who said as much to The Post and the whopping 65 percent of women who responded with the same. Of those who support the inquiry, a 10-point gap emerged between men and women on the question of whether the House should ramp up their efforts—with 54 percent of women saying that lawmakers should impeach Trump and remove him from office, but only 44 percent of men saying the same.

A majority of women and men, 58 percent, also agreed that Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president asking him to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential contender and former Vice President Joe Biden was inappropriate—but a nine-point difference emerged in the responses by gender. In total, 66 percent of women agreed that Trump’s call was inappropriate, compared to 57 percent of men.

Women also narrowly drove the majority opinion, held by 53 percent of all respondents, that lawmakers investigating Trump’s actions are upholding their constitutional duty: 56 percent of women and 51 percent of men agree. Even larger gaps emerge on the question of whether they are taking a necessary stand—with 67 percent of women, compared to 55 percent of men, saying yes. To the question of whether the impeachment was a “distraction” from “more important issues,” 51 percent of women said no, compared to 40 percent of men.

Gaps by age also shaped the results of the poll: 66 percent of respondents between 18 and 39 said lawmakers were right to open the inquiry, and 56 percent called for impeachment and Trump’s removal from office, compared to 49 and 40 percent of respondents over 65 who said the same—resulting in a 17-point gap. Whereas 58 percent of those younger respondents believe these inquiries are part of Congress’ constitutional duties, only 51 percent of their older counterparts agreed; while 65 percent of younger voices declared that the impeachment process was necessary, 57 percent of those over 65 and 58 percent of those between 40 and 64 responded in kind.

These differences may be what led to a massive difference of 12 points dividing the 51 percent of 18 to 39 year-old respondents and the 39 percent of those 65 and up who said the impeachment wasn’t a “distraction.”

What these numbers confirm is what Ms. has been observing throughout the nascent impeachment process taking shape now on Capitol Hill: Women, whether lawmakers or voters, are leading the charge to hold Trump accountable—and, together with young people, they’re forming the frontline in the fight to save our democracy.

Click here to find all the Post poll cross-tabs.


MS. MAGAZINE: Q&A with Take the Lead Founder and Author Gloria Feldt

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

Gloria Feldt’s vision for the future is clear: more women in power, period.

It’s the mission defines Feldt’s career as the bestselling author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, professor of “Women, Power and Leadership” at Arizona State University and cofounder and president of Take The Lead—an organization intent on preparing, developing, inspiring and otherwise propelling women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

Feldt been named one of “America’s Top 200 Women Leaders, Legends and Trailblazers” by Vanity Fair and was once Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” but her own journey to power—and empowerment—had unexpected beginnings.

Feldt grew up in a small town in rural Texas; she was a teen mom and a high school dropout. But her own journey has made her certain that all women can claim their own seat at the table—once they surrender their learned resistance to embracing their own power.

That’s where Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can program comes in. The new initiative cultivates community among women leaders in difference sectors, bringing together cohorts of fearless and powerful women to help them forge pathways to parity together. 

Feldt talked to Ms. via email about the 50 Women Can program and the results she’s already seeing—and even handed down some advice for activists looking to leverage their voices to accelerate change.

Tell me about the 50 Women Can program you wrapped earlier this year for female journalists. What led you to launch the program, and what was it like in the rooms where it happened? Would love a glimpse into the experiences of these female journalists who participated.

Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World provides women with the intention and skills to achieve greater leadership roles and embrace their power to lead change in the culture of their professions. We’ve had programs or are planning programs for cohorts in journalism, finance, healthcare, nonprofit, media and entertainment and human resources. 

Take The Lead’s mission is to prepare, develop, inspire and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. That’s a tall order—and 70 to 150 years sooner than current projections. We developed the 50 Women Can Change the World program to fast-track cohorts of emerging leaders and women already in executive leadership roles to accelerate gender parity in leadership. 

Our 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism program was an incredible experience. Many of these super-talented and ambitious women have felt isolated and seen opportunities in the field of traditional journalism contract. Women now make up almost two-thirds of journalism graduates, but they remain at one-third of newsroom leadership roles. 

The women benefited from virtual and in-person sessions, along with individualized coaching. The program’s curriculum, which I developed, focused on enabling them to elevate their career intentions, provided them with immediately usable tools and skills and required them to create individual and cohort Strategic Leadership Action Plans to activate what they learned.

Here are a few voices of women in the room.

Eva Pearlman, co-founder of Spaceship Media: “I just feel this incredible sense of gratitude for this program, for the structure of it, for the ways you’ve gotten us thinking, because there’s so much beauty and so much power and so much talent and so many ways to go about working on the problems in journalism…so I’m very thankful.”

Antonia Hylton, correspondent and producer at Vice News Tonight: “Now I have new words and dreams, and things that I’ve put on paper, I have an actual 10-step plan, of everything that’s in my grasp, resources I realized I already have at my disposal, and while I’ve been in this space of rethinking, what a blessing that has been, to know there are things I can do, people I can call now, many of them in this room, to take my career to its next phase.”

Claritza Jimenez, senior producer of Politico Live: “It’s been really reaffirming to see women still dreaming big, no matter what stage of their life they’re in and knowing they can always reinvent themselves and reinvent themselves and I think that’s so important.”

Jayati Vora, managing editor of The Investigative Fund: “It’s really rare to be able to step out and re-examine your life …to just take stock, to take that space for yourself is really rare, so thank you for making me do it.”

Tell me, too, about the 50 Women Can campaigns and programs you’re launching across sectors more broadly. What unites all of them? What makes them special and unique?

Many women’s leadership programs measure success by numbers reached. We’re different. We measure success by impact.

You can go to a big conference every day, get inspired, maybe learn one new thing. But that hasn’t been moving the dial toward parity for women fast enough for any of us to see it in our lifetimes. In fact, I think women spend way too much time and money going to puffy fluffy conferences that are like cotton candy—pretty but lacking in nutrition.

I realized that we can have a greater effect—go farther faster—by creating mutually supportive cohorts of women who are emerging leaders within an industry, providing high impact, immersive training and coaching. Each highly accomplished group practices the nine Leadership Power Tools—which hone leadership skills—and creates Strategic Leadership Action Plans with high intention goals. All that we provide and enable is unique and uniquely effective. And we don’t stop there. Once the program is complete, we measure progress in three- and six-month intervals. 

The power of the cohort is also inestimable. I see the women continuing to support, sponsor and elevate each other years after the program. Together, these highly intentional women can drive progress for all women in their sector. It’s really movement-building on a personal and organizational level to create sustainable change.

What’s really fun right now is that the various cohorts want to know the other cohorts. So, we’re experimenting with ways to enable them to communicate and share strategies to leverage the impact exponentially.

You’re a former Planned Parenthood CEO, advisor to the ERA coalition and a prolific writer and author on myriad feminist causes. Why did you kick off these 50 Women Can programs with media, entertainment and journalism focuses? How do you think media parity, and trainings and programs like this, connect to the larger fight for women’s equality and gender parity?

Everything I have ever done has sprung from my passion for social justice. And I am a very practical person. I don’t just want to talk about gender parity and social justice—I want to foster real results.

I realized that as important as reproductive rights are, if women don’t get equality in power, leadership positions and pay, we’ll keep fighting the same old battles over and over. I think achieving gender equality in leadership is today’s most important women’s movement.

The first 50 Women program was for emerging female leaders in nonprofits and we have done three of those cohorts now. We’ve also done one for women in healthcare and have two more on the drawing board. Those are two fields where women are 75 to 80 percent of the employees and 20 to 30 percent of the top leadership positions, especially of the larger organizations in their sector. In planning stages are finance, law and tech. We’re determined to change that.

Every sector is important. The curriculum applies to and can be customized to any sector. That said, the reason for focusing on media, entertainment and journalism is that whoever decides what stories will be told, who will tell them and through whose lens shapes the entire culture. Therefore, we believe that achieving gender parity in these fields will have outsized positive influence on how people think and act on the social and economic issues that are especially relevant to women.

What have some of the participants in 50 Women Can gone on to do? What do the reverberations of the program show us about the power of this kind of model?

Many of the women in the 50 Women Can Change the World program have been inspired to pursue promotions or raises, think more strategically about their careers and put their names out there, and have forged deep, lasting connections with other cohort members.

The power and impact of individual learning and the cohort are very clear. For example, one participant reported that she used the 50 Women Can planning process and coaching to create a pitch for a leadership position – an important first step in her career growth. Another shared an exciting new role at a major broadcast network. And yet another made sure her team got credit for the work they did for network news coverage of Hurricane Florence by speaking to HR management. 

There are many more stories like this. Overall, the women have shared how enthusiastic they are about all they took away from the program, how they’re already putting it into action and their victories.

The program has made a difference in women’s professional lives. For example, Valerie Brown Grant, who attended one of my first workshops, said: “A year ago at your workshop I set my personal action plan goal to become a vice president at my firm. I used the Use What You’ve Got Power Tool to differentiate myself and demonstrate my value to the company. Today, I was informed I am being promoted to vice president.” 

And Anne Parmley, SVP at Pearson and a Take The Lead executive leadership program graduate, said: “The Take The Lead programs provide a safe and supportive environment for women climbing in their careers to have thoughtful and productive conversations about where they are and where they are going in their leadership journeys. You walk away with a plan and intent to take yourself to the next level, professionally and personally.” 

These are such natural extensions of your work around women’s leadership—you’re the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, and you teach “Women, Power and Leadership” at ASU. And it comes at a time when women’s voices seem as powerful as ever—in the midst of #MeToo and the powerful Women’s March movement.

What can the feminists reading this do right now to start stepping into their own power, and leveraging it to advance equality?

This is the moment we have been building to for centuries, you could say, but certainly for the last two centuries. I want everyone reading this to know you have the power in your hands right this minute to achieve gender parity in position and pay, in law and in daily life. For good: our own good, the good of the world and forever.

This is a rare strategic inflection moment when the justice case and the business case converge. But such moments pass quickly if we fail to take them “at the flood” as Shakespeare or perhaps his sister said. Power unused is power useless.

This is not a time to congratulate ourselves. It is the time to press forward with eyes on the overarching goal of full equality for all women. All humans, for that matter.

Go win elections. Give money or time to candidates you support or run yourself. Start companies that build wealth at the Apple level or run them. Raise feminist kids. Give to social justice causes. Invest in women-led businesses and buy from companies with female-friendly policies. Find the cure for cancer, solve climate change. Do one small thing every day to help another woman succeed. Use your power to lead men and women together to a healthier, more just world. Nobody has to do everything, but everybody can do something.

And know that when you go forth to change the world, some people won’t like you. There will be pushback, sometimes violent. Don’t let it deter you. Listen to your own clarion call. Ignore the naysayers. You are doing the most important work for the future of humanity. That to me is what feminism is all about.


MS. MAGAZINE: Q&A with Documentary Filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane

This piece was published by Ms. magazine.

Ursula Macfarlane is a UK-based filmmaker whose candid documentaries have gained multiple wins and nominations for the BAFTA, Grierson and Royal Television Society Awards—including One Deadly Weekend in America, a feature documentary tracking gun violence over one July weekend; Captive, for Netflix, Charlie Hebdo: Three Days That Shook Paris; and Breaking Up With The Joneses, a feature documentary about a couple going through a divorce.

Macfarlane’s latest is a documentary that rewinds the clock on the #MeToo movement’s viral explosion—exposing the institutions and individuals who enabled Harvey Weinstein’s career of sexual misconduct, and mapping its impact on women’s lives.

Untouchable: The Inside Story of the Harvey Weinstein Scandal, now streaming on Hulu, weaves the harrowing stories of Weinstein’s victims into a larger narrative about corruption, misogyny and the women who toppled one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Macfarlane talked to Ms. about what it took to tell this urgent story—and what she learned as a filmmaker and a feminist in the process.

Where does Untouchable begin? Where does the process of making this film start, and how did it take shape from there?

As soon as the Weinstein expose appeared in the New York Times and New Yorker, it ignited a conversation between me and my friends. Not a single one of us hadn’t experienced a #MeToo encounter, some more traumatic than others. So the story felt very personal to me, and as the avalanche of accusations continued, it felt to me that this was a story of our times that had to be documented. So when producer Simon Chinn—Searching For Sugar ManMan On Wire–called me to ask if I would collaborate with him on a feature documentary, I immediately said yes. How could I not?  

It felt like such a privilege to be able to tell the story, which was still in its infancy, the ending not yet written. Was it a watershed marking huge cultural change?  A reckoning? What was the extent of the collateral damage wrought on women by these allegations? How did he get away with it for so long? And what was the culture of complicity that allowed him to hide in plain sight for so many decades?

We wanted to make a timeless, universal film, widely viewed even by people who don’t know or particularly care who Harvey Weinstein is, but who care deeply about the prevalence of abuse in our culture. So we decided to put the accusations of abuse in the context of a man’s rise to power, his fatal flaw and his spectacular fall—almost like a Greek tragedy.

In the end, this is a film about the abuse of power, a story as old as time, abuse which reverberates through all cultures, industries and communities.

After the high-profile accusations against Weinstein came to light, the firestorm that followed was chased by a widespread call for an inclusive fight—for a culture that values all survivors, and that refuses to privilege famous or notable survivors over other victims.

This documentary was lauded for giving equitable screen time to some of Weinstein’s most prominent accusers, as well as some of the lesser-known women who have come forward. Why did that decision matter for you as a filmmaker, and what other intentions did you bring to this process as a storyteller? 

It was very important to us to tell a wide of stories which demonstrated Weinstein’s modus operandi amongst both the famous and the unknown. We were thrilled when Rosanna Arquette and Paz De La Huerta agreed to take part, but we treated their interviews and stories in exactly the same way as the other women’s. That is to say, spending time before the interviews to gain their trust, and giving them plenty of time to recount their experiences. We wove the stories together in such a way that, I hope, the audience doesn’t really notice who’s telling the story—it’s the content of the story that matters. Clearly, all the women have subtly different experiences throughout the decades, but a pattern emerges which binds them all together.

The accusations against Weinstein, and the sheer volume of how many there were, cracked something open—not just in Hollywood, but across sectors and around the world. The #MeToo movement’s viral explosion that followed the New York Times exposé on Weinstein has launched a renewed fight against rape culture. What did examining the “conspiracy” of Harvey Weinstein show you about what it will take for us to win that fight? 

I feel that rape and sexual violence is so embedded in our culture that it will take much more than the expose of a Weinstein to begin the process of stamping it out.  We know that the percentage of convictions for rape and sexual assault is very low.  The complicity of the Hollywood community, which allowed Weinstein to act with impunity, is echoed throughout our culture: look at the Catholic Church, sports and many other industries.  So until we can start to call out and dismantle complicity, predators will continue to stalk their victims.  Speaking out is the first step, but it will take a long time.  

You’re an accomplished documentary filmmaker, and you’ve watched the reverberations that storytelling can have unfold. What impact do you hope this film has—on viewers, on the culture-at-large, for survivors—now that it’s widely available?

My hope is that everyone watching this film is inspired to speak out—either about their own trauma, or on behalf of other survivors. Speaking out, being listened to and most importantly, being believed, is the first step to outing predators and making them pariahs. I know that people watching the film are very moved, if not devastated, by the testimonies, and I hope that will act as a call to arms.

Watch it, be shocked, but also be inspired by their courage. And adopt their bravery into our own lives.  

For you personally, what was the impact of making Untouchable? Was there a shift for you—as a filmmaker, as a feminist—that came from directing the doc?

I was humbled every time I sat in that chair and interviewed a new survivor.  To be honest, I and other crew members were often brought to tears, hearing about what the women had suffered.  One of the press reviews in the UK described the film as “quietly furious,” and I think that’s a good appraisal. I’m not a particularly loud person, and my films convey their ideas and emotions in a subtle way, but this has taught me the power of personally speaking out, loud and clear.

In a way, I think I’ve found my voice too.

Video + Audio

PODCAST: Carmen on Autostraddle’s “To L and Back”

“To L and Back” is a podcast from in which CEO / Editor-in-Chief Riese Bernard and her co-host, filmmaker and showrunner Carly Usdin, re-watch and discuss every episode of the iconic lesbian series The L Word. Carmen, who was formerly the Feminism Editor, Community Director and Social Media Co-Director for Autostraddle—and wrote for Autostraddle about watching the show for the first (and last) time back in 2014—joined them this week to recap episode 206: “Lagrimas de Oro.”

Tune in however you listen to podcasts by clicking here.

Video + Audio

RECAP: Carmen On-Stage and On-Screen at the 2019 National Sexual Assault Conference

This recap was published by Ms. magazine.

Last week, over 1,700 advocates, practitioners and public figures working to end sexual violence came together in Philadelphia—now re-dubbed “the city of consensual brotherly love”—to forge a new path forward in their movement.

In the wake of #MeToo, speakers and workshop leaders agreed, it is time to push beyond the breakthrough, and leverage this current moment for long-term change. Attendees alike also agreed that the moment is ripe for trying something new—for taking stock of what worked and what didn’t and being honest about what changes are in order to end sexual violence in a generation.

Ms. was the proud media sponsor of the conference, live-streaming sessions and sitting down with experts in the exhibition hall to envision the next steps for a renewed fight to end violence. Below, I’ll recap all we learned—and what comes next.

Wednesday, August 21

The 2019 National Sexual Assault Conference kicked off with a plenary session focused on the crux of the #MeToo movement’s viral moment in 2017: how rape culture takes shape in the workplace, and how corporate leaders can challenge it. Tina Tchen, former Director of the White House Council on Women & Girls and a co-founder of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, joined Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West, also an Obama administration alum from the Department of Justice, and Monika Jones Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and founding RALIANCE partner, for a wide-ranging conversation about corporate accountability and changing workplace culture.

Tchen, West and Hostler joined me afterward to continue the conversation with a live interview—in which they laid out some concrete steps advocates and non-profits can take to foster partnerships with corporations invested in doing better.

That first plenary also featured a performance from feminist poet Ursula Rucker, who read her piece L.O.V.E. on stage. She opened up to Ms. before the conference about what it meant for her to be in the room—but after she’d had the chance to take the stage, she also made time to catch up with me in the exhibition hall and envision a world where love and compassion were more powerful than violence.

That kicked off a full day of live interviews between me and advocates, experts and educators focused not just on changing corporate rape culture, but on shifting their own movement to end violence—and demanding better from every institution that protects perpetrators and excuses sexual violence.

Ignacio Rivera—activist, writer, educator, sex(ual) healer, filmmaker, performance artist, mother and abueli—took some time to talk to me about their organization, The HEAL Project, and how holistic sexuality information could be a major tool for preventing, interrupting and ending child sexual abuse. 

Devin Rojas, the Capacity Building Specialist at the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, took a minute with me to break down the findings of their recent statewide hotline audit—and boast about the action that advocates in the Garden State are taking to improve these pivotal resources.

Holly Rider Milkovich, who spoke to me last year about her work as Senior Prevention Director at EVERFI, came back for a second go this year—and brought with her Elizabeth Billie, whose work there focuses on programs to disrupt and end campus sexual violence specifically. Together, they shared strategies about ending harassment and violence in different workplaces—including on campus and in corporate suites.

Tara Graham from Just Detention International came by next—and talked to me about what survivors in confinement face and what the movement to end violence can and should do to advance the baseline standards in place to protect them.

Terri Poore, who has worked with the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence on federal policy and appropriations related to sexual assault for almost 15 years, first as a board member and now as the Policy Director, and previously worked at the National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence for 13 years, provided me next with an insight into the difference between “feel good” sexual assault prevention policies and the kinds of laws that make a real impact—and what activists can do to tell the difference and fight for tangible change.

Christina Presenti and Diane Daiber from the International Association of Forensic Nurses also made time on Wednesday to sit down with meand expanded on the ways in which forensic nurses can make a huge difference in shifting culture as well as improving the individual experiences of survivors across the country. (Diane talked a bit during our interview about going “beyond the rape kit”—which she also wrote about for Ms. before NSAC.)

I ended the day with a conversation with Fiona Oliphant and Jessica Li from Healing Equity United—who laid out some radical self-care strategies and challenged all of us in the movement to do better by ourselves and each other. (Jessica wrote about radical self-care for Ms. before the conference, and Fiona wrote about the basics of cultural humility.)

Thursday, August 22

Thursday got off to an early and education start when Julie Germann, a former prosecutor who now works through Finding the Right to train law enforcement officials on how to seek justice for survivors, explained to me what going beyond the breakthrough required from folks who work in the courtroom and the criminal justice system.

That conversation continued when Jessica Mindlin, the National Director of Training and Technical Assistance at the Victim Rights Law Center, broke down the work she does to train folks who engage with survivors—including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, advocates and health care workers—in an interview with me.

I explored a different conversation about accountability when filmmaker, lecturer and writer Aishah Shahidah Simmons sat down for a Q&A about her new anthology, Love With Accountability, and her upcoming #FromNoToLove conference—both efforts that center a black feminist framework for addressing sexual violence.

Tricia Banks Russell, Executive Director of From Fear to Freedom, sat down with me next—and talked about their model of providing survivor resources and engaging campus communities against violence at the same time.

The topic swung back to conversations about policy and law when District Attorney Kevin Steele and two attorneys from the case he prosecuted against Bill Cosby joined me next. Steele, Stewart Ryan and Kristen Feden all opened up about the power of holding the powerful accountable—and how they make it possible.

Luz Marquez Benbow then sat down to tell her own stories from the frontlines—and stress the importance of survivor leadership from the intersections in the fight to end violence.

To that end, Nina Jusuf joined me next, sitting down to talk about co-founding the National Organization of Asian Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence, the first organization centered on API survivors in the country.

Victoria Dickman-Burnett, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati and a youth educator, helped connect all of these conversations when she broke down the basics of action research to me, and the difference it makes in the movement when advocates let survivors speak for themselves.

I took a pause then for the afternoon plenary—in which NPR reporter Joe Shapiro took the stage with advocates Debra Robinson and Carolyn Morgan to talk about sexual violence against folks with intellectual disabilities and the urgency of their own leadership in this space.

Joe also joined me afterward, offstage, for a follow-up conversation about his work covering people with disabilities, and his groundbreaking series of reports on sexual violence on campus and in the disability community. (He wrote about that experience, too, for the Ms. Beyond the Breakthrough series.)

I closed off the day with an informal self-defense lesson from Lauren Taylor, founder and director of Defend Yourself, an empowerment self-defense organization teaching people of all identities to raise their voices and reclaim their power. (She’s written about her work before for Ms.—check it out!)

Friday, August 23

On the last day of the Conference, I took to that plenary stage myself—and talked to “Surviving R. Kelly” producer and showrunner, dream hampton, about community accountability, black feminism in the fight to end violence and the impact of her groundbreaking Lifetime series.

That plenary kicked off with a performance by LaTreice Branson, who proudly Drums Like a Lady. Afterward, she opened up to me about the incredible opportunity to take that stage, and how it’s already impacting her work.

That marked the end of the Conference—but not the end of this fight, or of these conversations. You can explore more in the Beyond the Breakthrough archives at Ms.