It’s time to Meet The Team! In this series, the FMF Campus Organizers will talk a little bit about ourselves and also give you valuable organizing advice that we’ve picked up along our ways. Oh, and we’ll show you lots of photos of ourselves. Because that’s important.
I got the Internet at 13, in 2003. Everyone else had DSL or cable by then, but I was raised by a single mother and we settled for dial-up. Looking back, the moment in which my mother’s room became a portal to the world wide web was the moment when everything changed.
As soon as I got online, I was in love. My after-school routine changed forever: I came home from school, raced my brother to my mother’s room (where the only computer with access was connected to the only phone line in the apartment), and sat very still in a chair there for hours doing what seemed like nothing but honestly, felt crazy exhilarating and fun. I had a secret Myspace account and a friends-only LiveJournal that I used to keep in touch with friends from faraway towns; in a real world where I was teased and totally uncool, the Internet was a space where I got to choose who my friends were, and where I got to share exclusively with them.
When I started using the world wide web, I wasn’t confident or really that empowered – I was young and trying hard to fit in. But the Internet made me feel a little more courageous; I found that sharing my feelings in a semi-public fashion wasn’t terrifying and was even kind of therapeutic. There was feedback, which I liked – people commenting, or resharing, or even just offhandedly mentioning to you that they’d read it. I liked that it was human interaction without the added element of my then-crippling social anxiety. And I loved that I was in charge, from the get-go, of making all the choices about who I was: what photos I shared, what avatars I used, what words I put in each box, what song played in the background of my profile, what theme I selected. I felt like I was getting an opportunity to define myself, which felt unique compared to the experiences I had being shoved into other people’s boxes in the “real world.”
Eventually, my Internet presence grew. I got a computer in my own room at 16 and said goodbye to the endearing “eee-rr-rr-rroo-boop-beeeeep-errrrr” of dial-up for DSL. Before long, I’d ditched the privacy controls of my LiveJournal and opted instead for a Tumblr; I parted ways with my Myspace and built a presence on the incredibly public networks of Twitter and Facebook. And both online and in real life, I’d transitioned from needing a space to vent and cope with the challenges of teen drama to a new journey: seeking out a place to form and share my own experiences and viewpoints. When I got to college, I started organizing online without knowing that was what I was doing: I was sharing feminist events on my Facebook, tweeting about sexism in passing, and posting excerpts from zines on Tumblr. It was in that way that the Internet became a different community for me than the one I had in the physical world: I started to become friends with people I’d never met, follow blogs written by anonymous avatars, and share content from activists who lived in faraway cities.
When I came to college, I nabbed great experiences in feminism – I interned, and even consulted, for various campaigns and movements. That was when I became a writer, though I would not identify as such until I was 21. My use of the Internet to network and share content didn’t seem like a revolution, but indeed it was: though feminist leaders didn’t need my help writing organizational strategy, they sure as hell needed someone to blog about it for them. My basic knowledge of HTML was like a golden egg I could bring to every interview; my capability to quickly post to various networks in my organization’s unique voice equated to the sound of a sealing envelope. I didn’t recognize until after about two years of working for campaigns and organizations like THE LINE, Hollaback!, and even the FMF (as a wee college freshman!) that I was creating the future of the movement I’d pledged to work in for the rest of my life – now, it’s merely the present and I’m playing my own part. Now, I’m a prolific D-list Internet celebrity who writes regularly for Autostraddle and PolicyMic and edits the blog of THE LINE Campaign. (Because once an intern, always an intern.)
When I did campus organizing, the Internet was our main vehicle because it was cost-effective and provided an easy way to interrupt anyone messing around on Facebook with a post about my awesome feminist work. We had e-newsletters, event pages, blogs, tweets, and everything happening all at the same time merely so nobody could escape us. Now, I’m the Online Community Organizer at the FMF, and I spend my entire life making the movement happen with nothing but a cup of coffee and a hard drive to show for it. That’s what I’ve always loved about the Internet: it’s comfortable, it’s accessible, and, most importantly, it’s happening at light speed. I’m never bored, and my phone is glued to my hand at all times. But even more importantly, what was for so long admonished by my elders as a “waste of time” or an otherwise useless “addiction” is now the future of my entire industry. Creating a Facebook event is the 21st century equivalent of posting flyers around your campus; writing a blog post is now the most effective way to gain media traction.
The Internet’s always been my second home, which might be why it took me a long time to accept it as a valuable thing in my life. Being good at talking to people online never seemed like a particularly good “skill,” but now I’m working on honing it every day and look to others to learn how to do so more effectively. Whereas my 13-year-old self used the web to talk to the cool kids at school on AIM (and, admittedly, help them with their homework), 23-year-old me is here to share valuable information and keep the masses informed about what’s happening on the hill, in Texas, and around the globe. This is my skill set; just because I’m not always on the ground holding up a picket sign (and just because when I am, it’s usually with Instagram open and ready to be snapped) doesn’t mean what I’m doing isn’t contributing to gender equality.
We live in a time of unprecedented technology; we can talk to each other instantly and communicate important information mere seconds after it’s happened. We can talk back to media powerhouses, engage with our favorite celebrities, demand justice from our government, and preserve our histories and stories. If you don’t think the Internet is important, you’re wrong; if you’re not working to integrate it into your revolution, you will likely fail.
Keep writing, keep sharing, and keep posting – because it’s what’s keeping this movement alive.
You can reach Carmen at socialmedia [at] feminist.org. Send her links, events, and blogs @FeministCampus and she can share them with you! Because that’s what 21st-century love looks like.