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.


REMARKS: How and Why I Built My Feminist Career

ms. magazine flyerThese remarks were delivered at Merrimack University on January 28, 2019. Women’s Studies and Communications students were there seeking an answer to a big question: What do I do next to land my dream job?

Hello! I’m Carmen Rios, and this is the story of my life. Just kidding, that’s the first draft. This is the story of how I built my feminist career and landed every single one of my feminist dream jobs.

And, like most of the stories I tell about myself, it starts with Hillary Clinton and my mom.

I was 17 when Hillary Clinton lost her first presidential race, conceding to Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. the summer before I went to college. I watched it on television. I was crying. And when I walked out of my bedroom and into the living room, my mother opened her door and met me in the middle. We collapsed into one another, and she whispered something I’ve never forgotten: “I don’t think we’ll see a female president in my lifetime.”

That was the year that my entire life changed. It was the year I applied early decision to American University, one of the dumbest and bravest decisions I had ever made. It was the year my single mom, who had no college degree, who raised two kids on credit cards, celebrated with me when I found out I’d been selected as a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar — and that the tuition I’d obligated myself to pay at a small liberal arts school would be covered, in full, in an effort to give me what the program’s officers referred to as an opportunity for working-class kids like me to finally live like everyone else. It was the year I harangued honors professors into letting me enroll in their advanced-level courses, wrote no less than one dozen papers on women in politics — even for classes in which that wasn’t on the syllabus — and dropped my business major for women’s studies.

It was the beginning of everything.

I chose American because I had that magic moment when I visited, that fuzzy feeling — and I found a table for a group on campus called Women’s Initiative. I decided I wanted to run it, and in my senior year, I did. At the first WI meeting I ever went to, I learned about a non-profit named the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the next semester I applied to intern there. I got selected for the program, assigned to work with the Feminist Campus organizers and alongside the web team. Five years later, I got my first big-girl 9 to 5 job there as a digital organizer for that campus program. Ten years later, I was invited to speak on this campus as the digital editor of Ms., the oldest feminist publication in the U.S. still printing, the magazine that gave voice to the movement beginning in 1972 when it was co-founded by Gloria Steinem, a magazine published by the FMF.

In the intervening years, I did more than I can remember. I interned with about a dozen non-profits and consulted on global feminist campaigns. I was the media organizer for DC’s inaugural SlutWalk. I became a contributor, then a contributing editor, then the feminism editor, then the community director at Autostraddle, the world’s most popular digital magazine for LGBTQ women, and a semi-freelance writer published in the likes of Bitch, Everyday Feminism, MEL, and Feministing.

And then, I quit that job. For no reason!  I walked away from FMF, but stayed on good terms with the feminists who had raised me. I used the money I had saved compulsively for three years, learned how to drive — at 25! — and bought a car in one month, and packed it up and moved across the country to Los Angeles, chasing that warm and fuzzy feeling again. And when I got there, I got a phone call: There was this job at Ms. Did I want it?

Now, most mornings, I wake up at 5 am. I make coffee, read magazines, pack a gym bag, and then I cross town. By nine, I’m at my desk, eating my usual breakfast, drinking more coffee. And by the time six o’clock rolls around, I’ve usually set free about five articles about feminism into cyberspace, scheduled a batch of posts to social media, created fundraising campaigns and social media actions, juggled about a million other tasks in the process, and ideally still arrived at inbox zero.

Here is where I acknowledge two parallel realities: One is that all of this is glorious, magnificent, wonderful. The other is that I never thought any of it was possible.

Here are the things that my resume doesn’t tell you: I’m a first-generation college student. I never left my time zone until I was 19. I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 25. I’ve lived on back porches and converted patios. There were time I slept on couches and stole string cheese from the grocery store and ate other people’s leftovers. There were summers I slept in rooms with no air conditioning, winters I walked the city in boots with torn soles.

When I took the internship at FMF, I had never ridden the Metro by myself. The next year, I stayed in DC for an internship that paid only 100 dollars a week, making ends meet by living on a ten-dollar a week budget using the last of my scholarship money for the semester, which I had saved up by cutting corners elsewhere. I resold textbooks to pay bills. When I came out in 2010, and posted emotionally about it from an airport on the Internet, and Riese from Autostraddle found me, even though I didn’t have a penny to spare, even though it meant coming home from a full-time job at a children’s center where I made twelve bucks an hour and doing more work, I wrote for her every single day, for free, just to save my life.

The day I graduated from AU, I didn’t let my mother take photos. I wept wildly. I was unemployed, and would not find a job in my field for a full year. I would watch kids, sell jewelry, and sleep in my friend’s living room instead. I was broke as a joke. But I refused to move home and give up. Instead, I watched those kids and counted change on the kitchen table, bought a bag of rice and ate only that for two weeks at a time, stole snacks from the cabinets at work when I got hungry, called home crying, fell asleep writing cover letters.

Did I want it? My career is defined by an otherworldly certainty I’ve never felt about any other aspect of my life. Yes. I want this. I want all of this. I want the struggle and the salvation. I want the fulfillment and the frustration. And that meant striving until I could thrive. It meant juggling a lot of work, whether it was paid or unpaid, with responsibilities that, despite the urgency of the movement to end gender inequality, required my obligation. It meant juggling feminism with full-time work that was not only unfulfilling, but treacherous and exhausting.

In my second year at AU, I met someone named Charlotte. I kept thinking about her on the way over here, this girl from Topanga Canyon who literally twirled into my life when I was a sophomore. Charlotte makes so much sense to me now that I live in Southern California where she grew up, in a town that honestly still sounds like folklore, where people live in treehouses and she learned to walk barefoot around the city. Charlotte was always talking about the universe, how badly she wanted to trust it and how much she did. I was a lapsed Catholic from New Jersey, so I didn’t believe in any of it. I believed in bootstraps and hard work and good grades.

Ten years later, in a rented car, on my drive from Smith to Merrimack, I realized that in reality I found myself by taking the road somewhere in the middle, somewhere more ambiguous. When I was thinking about what to say to all of you today, I looked back and realized that when it comes to what I’ve done and where I ended up, everything makes sense and nothing makes sense.

In retrospect, I realize I was aware of where I wanted to be, but it didn’t feel that way. (On a side note, I’m now almost thirty, the age where I imagined human beings wake up completely certain of something, and I’m still not always completely sure of anything.) In my twenties, what I did was Marie Kondo the hell out of my life, even though I rolled my eyes at the idea that people should chase joy and not common sense. I followed the universe by accident, and Charlotte was right — it listened to me. I also pulled up my bootstraps so hard I needed to get them resewn.

Throughout my decade in digital feminist media and movement-building, I pursued things that mattered to me. Not because I had a five-year plan, but because I thought the work was important. Not because they were going to help me make ends meet, but because they were going to change the world. I arrived on campus concerned about the sexism in politics that twice now has defeated Hillary Clinton. I arrived on campus concerned about women’s control of their bodies. I arrived on campus angry about rape culture and how small it made us feel. I arrived on campus absolutely enraged about the ways in which women’s stories and voices have been, and still are, erased and destroyed.

So whenever I had the chance to turn my inner monologue about inequality into a scream, I shouted. Whenever I was given a microphone with which to declare war on patriarchy, I said what had to be said and then dropped it. Feminism didn’t give me a voice — I’m a loudmouth, and I always have been — but it gave me good reason to use it. It reminded me that my voice mattered. It made space for people to hear it.

I am a mixed-race queer woman raised by a working-class single mom. I did not choose activism. I did not discover inequality. It just simply doesn’t feel possible to wake up without worrying about the ways in which our society is lopsided, without raising my voice for women around the world who face oppression and violence. In a world where discrimination against women and girls is so rampant that it’s seen as natural, normal, common, typical, absolutely completely expectable, and, cherry on top, unabashed, explicit, and done to great fanfare and reward, it didn’t feel fair to be asked to spend my waking hours working toward anything else but building a different reality.

I also knew that just as much as I needed this movement, it needed me, too. I knew that my perspective as someone who knew economic hardship, who had a complicated relationship with her heritage, who stumbled into her identity as a queer person, was important. I knew that I needed to take the chance to sound off on the issues that mattered to women like me because of all of the women like me who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, or who needed a little extra amplification.

And so, during the day, I did what I had to do to do what I wanted to do. I designed marketing materials for my campus career center. I worked with children. I sold jewelry online — I am serious.

And at night, I leaned in to what I loved.

It began earnestly: I asked everyone I met, everyone who gave me five minutes of their time, if they needed my help, and when they said yes, I said yes back, no pause, no thinking about it, no worries that it only paid in solidarity. I took volunteer non-profit internships every single semester, instead of paid part-time jobs, just to immerse myself in the movement. There were times where I balanced an internship with a full rack of classes with a side job and writing for multiple websites — but I never saw what I did — living double lives, juggling jobs, writing for twelve websites at once, crying while I shuffled my tax forms around — as a sacrifice. I just saw it as a circumstance. I saw it as the beginning of something bigger, that thing I wanted, this manifest destiny like a gold rush. I saw it as the price I paid for being who I was in this world full of unfair realities and lopsided possibilities.

And I was never afraid to throw things at the wall to see what stuck, not even my own future. I took jobs that weren’t quite in line with what I thought, at the time, I’d want ten years later, but I figured I’d gain insight and connections and grow from being in community regardless. And I also took jobs I called dream jobs — including the first two positions I had at FMF — and then one day, in both of those lives, woke up and realized I was wrong. But that was okay.

When I moved across the country, I had a mantra I would murmur to myself: you can always turn around. You can always go home. I never saw an end to the road, just a detour. I never saw failure, only experimentation. I just figured it was all a pit stop on the way to figuring everything out.

I did what I had to do to be who I wanted to be. I snatched up every messy, wonderful, trying, challenging and invigorating thing that fell into my lap, and I asked for things without worrying that the answer might be no. I rerouted and started over. I reinvented myself and, at times, I mourned myself.

Throughout this experience, many people told me that I was pigeonholing myself, that I’d never get a real job. My secret weapon was that I was young and I didn’t have the capacity to really recognize what they were telling me. My secret weapon was that I was working-class, and I didn’t realize there were people who didn’t live on ramen or sleep on friend’s couches while they were chasing their North Star. I never stopped to ask if there was an alternative, and I knew I didn’t want the life they were worried I wouldn’t have. I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and crunch numbers, or make ads that made women feel bad about themselves with my creative brain, or write for a newspaper where I had to pretend there was a “debate” about whether or not equality was common sense, or women were people.

When I called my mother from AU to tell her I was dropping my business major and becoming a women’s studies major, she asked me if I was worried I would never get a job. I told her I was worried about being a capitalist cog in a machine that would eat me alive. When people ask me why I don’t work at a glossy magazine or marvel to me about the ways in which even now, even in what feels like a prime, there is hardship built into the career I deigned to dream of, I say the truth: I don’t know another way. I would rather struggle than stop struggling to make something happen. I would rather work and work and work and work some more than rest knowing I could’ve made the world better.

I was raised a feminist, and I only know how to live as one. I only know how to labor and work and organize as one.

Working in feminism does mean a recalibration, a sort of second assessment of our priorities. It means taking an unusual and less-traveled path, or forging one on your own altogether. But I didn’t see that as a choice. I saw that as the only path that empowered me, as the only way through this fresh hell. I woke up every morning determined to prove my mother wrong — to build a world where women were equal, were thriving, were leaders, could win.

Last year, I was on a call with a woman named Val, who has launched a program centered on Latina self-love, and she said something that stuck with me: That we are our mothers’ greatest fantasies. That we live out their dreams. Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms., once famously remarked that feminism empowered women to be the men they wanted to marry. I’d rather live in a world where women can build the lives we’ve been told we’re not allowed to imagine.

Ambition has also been a powerful force in my life. I’ve always been a dreamer, someone with big aspirations and an ego that matches. I’ve had moments of doubt, of fear, I’ve felt like an imposter, but I’ve never stopped wishing I could get the stuff I wanted. And I’ve also always known that I wanted to have an impact, to be public-facing, to be a part of something bigger than myself. (This is code for saying: I always knew I wanted to be famous.) But I never sat down and made a game plan and plotted my points to my dream job, not consciously. And today, I’m astounded by how well younger Carmen can make space for the Carmen that’s still growing.

So many times in the last ten years, I have been given the chance to be in community, and in this movement. Saying yes wasn’t always the obvious or easy choice. Often, it meant writing for free, organizing late at night, waking up early to make calls and send emails, flying on red-eyes, and — yep — eating ramen. A lot of ramen. It meant striving instead of thriving. It meant choosing the struggle instead of choosing the straightforward path toward someone else’s idea of success. But every single time I chose the work, I was forging a path toward a career that allowed me to be loud, to be fulfilled, to be myself. To bring my entire self to my desk. To spend my mornings rifling through feminist words and spend my afternoons interviewing feminist luminaries. To be surrounded with accomplices, allies and sisters.

To be right here.

To have the ultimate luxury — of being able to do what I love and love what I do.

The perks of working in feminist media aren’t the kinds of perks you see in Mad Men — there isn’t a lot of glitz and glam, there are no bonuses or expense accounts. But there is free coffee in the copy room and an office full of women who stand alongside each other and stand for something together. There are friends and mentors, accomplices and allies. There are days where I go to a protest and that’s my job. There are days where I go to conferences and that’s my job. I get to throw things at the wall, experiment, build community, be in community, and that’s my job. I get to sit in the same room as the women who made it possible for me to pull up chairs in other rooms. And I get to be here.

People will tell you that to work in this space is to be forever underpaid and overworked, that to pursue what you care about is foolish or reckless. They will trick you into thinking that the life you want isn’t possible. What they mean, by extension, is that the world people like us deign to build will never be constructed. What they’re trying to say is that being hopelessly fucking devoted to the things we believe in is not valuable, manageable, or worthwhile unless it is profitable. What they’re telling you is that things that are messy are not meant to be chased.

Every day, I revel in proving those people wrong.

My advice? You can, too. And I think you should.

Watch the remarks in full with the Q&A via my Facebook.