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Category: Feminism, Media

Changing the World, One Blog at a Time

| January 29, 2009

The author, WMC’s media manager, understood the potential of networking. But the true power of the web for advocacy hit home when an injustice threatened her family. Here she describes how anyone can use the process.

How To Create Your Own Online Campaign Media attention, for its own sake, won’t solve a problem.  But if you can engage people, they’ll want to know what they can do about it.  So give them an action item! Determine Your Goal. Ex: Shame Chili's into giving my sister her job back. Decide on a strategy. Ex: Launch an email campaign, targeting Brinker executives. Engage People. Ex: Write an article about my sister’s case, try to get it posted, including a link to the email campaign. Spread the word. Ex:  Email everyone I know.  Post to my Facebook, blog, and relevant listservs. Ask friends to do the same. Get your friends, family, and community onboard, but you’ll need more than your immediate circle.  When you ask them to join the campaign, ask them to help spread the word about your efforts.  If just ten people sent your piece to ten people, you’ve already got over a hundred people in your camp. NOTE: There are many detailed resources for how to create your own campaign.  Try googling “media advocacy toolkit” and you’ll have a ton of great information at your fingertips. To Learn More about Women, Media, and Technology, attend: Feminism 2.0 Conference February 2, Washington, DC Women, Action, & the Media (WAM!) Conference March 27-29, Cambridge, MA (On March 27, the WMC will be offering a 3-hour on-camera media training course.)

With the inauguration of the first president to understand how to use "new media,” and with two upcoming conferences that focus on women, technology, and media—Fem2.0 and WAM! –it is clear that we are no longer a society of media consumers. Whatever our job title, we are all participants and creators, using the media as a tool, interacting as communities and often demanding social change.

In December, my sister Rachel was fired and her health benefits revoked after she had filed a sexual harassment claim against her employer, Chili's Restaurant, owned by Brinker International. I helped her in the only way I knew how—by writing an article about the situation, and launching an email campaign to Brinker's top executives demanding that they take sexual harassment seriously. I sent the piece to an editor at the Huffington Post, and the editor published it almost immediately. Although I’d never written for the Huffington Post before, I knew that their readership would appreciate and react to the article. I then circulated the piece to my friends, family, and coworkers, who in turn forwarded it to their contacts.  People posted it on Facebook, local residents threatened a boycott of the offending store, and in less than four hours after the article was published, Brinker International had commented directly on the Huffington Post website and contacted my sister’s lawyer to reinstate her, claiming that there had been an error.

What a triumph!  My experience as the media manager at the Women’s Media Center has informed my understanding of the industry and given me opportunities to create and participate in advocacy campaigns, but my stake in this situation was incredibly personal.  Ultimately more than 300 emails were sent to Brinker executives and more than 100 comments were posted on the piece itself, not to mention in dozens of blogs around the country, including Feministing, About.com, BlogHer, Heartfeldt Politics, and Viva la Feminista.  The outpouring of support for me and my sister not only moved us (and humbled Brinker), it illustrated the way that media can work: that despite an increasing consolidation in the ownership of mainstream media, more and more outlets crop up for us to express ourselves, try to galvanize opinion and influence civic discourse.

I also realized from the comments that while those responding to our story recognize the power of the new media, many still believe you need some special status in order to use it effectively. They commented on how “lucky” Rachel was to have a sister who worked in the media, and many asked me personally for advice and assistance. They didn’t know how to begin to use the web to address issues in their own lives and communities, and, as with my sister, many are all the more vulnerable to injustice given the state of the economy.

It’s true that getting my story posted on the Huff jump-started my particular campaign—we couldn’t have gotten a response within four hours without the large readership we were able to access—but the essential power of telling a story on the web that then can travel through a myriad of networks doesn’t need such a sendoff. To demystify the process, I’ve tried to codify the steps I went through. (See the sidebar, “How To Create Your Own Online Campaign”).

Last week, the WMC hosted a group of college students for an afternoon, courtesy of Soapbox’s “Winter Term” feminist program that takes students on a tour of women's health and social justice organizations. This was a group enthusiastic about everything media—journalism, film, reality TV, social networking—and they want to make change.  I was able to share my success story with them and ask them what efforts they were making to get media attention for their issues.  Just asking the question got their creative juices flowing, and reminds us that we are active participants in the media conversations happening every day.

How are you going to change the world today?

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