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Deanna Zandt: A Woman Making History

March 25, 2010

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month, Women’s Media Center is profiling 30 extraordinary women making history. Our goal is to raise $10,000 to support WMC Exclusives — every dollar raised will go directly toward hiring women writers to comment on major news stories and report topics often neglected by the mainstream media. Will you contribute $30? Click here to donate: or text WOMEN to 50555 to make a $10 donation. Deanna Zandt: A Woman Making History by Jehmu Greene Deanna and I were both in WMC's Progressive Women's Voices media training program last year, where I was lucky enough to share in-person training sessions with her. The woman is a firecracker. A tech guru who remains almost scarily up-to-date on media's latest trends, Deanna has funneled her energy into transforming the technology of organizations that fit her passions, including Feministing, AlterNet and Women Action & The Media. For example, Deanna's revolutionary perspective on Wikipedia helped inspire this very campaign to promote women writers. She argues that, while Wikipedia markets itself as a truly democratic information-sharing playground, where those in power no longer control the dispersion or hierarchy of knowledge, the reality, as Time pointed out in September, is that "The average Wikipedian is a young man in a wealthy country who is probably a graduate student." Deanna calls on women to engage with Wikipedia, and take advantage of the potential to provide the fair and diverse history we've always lacked. She's also used – in an unusually thoughtful and public way – the recently generated "crowdfunding" means of financing a book, her forthcoming Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. The basic idea behind crowdfunding – that, rather than take an advance from a publisher, an author can ask friends, family, and perfect strangers for money to support her time spent writing – is somewhat controversial, and Deanna hasn't shied away from debate. A recent blog post outlined her philosophy: "The way this process has traditionally worked is that publishers and others with power/influence deem someone worthy enough to be part of [the literary canon]...If I were to go to a publisher who offered me an advance, how much would I have had to change the work I produced based on what the publisher wanted me to do?" Deanna's dedication to protecting her voice and ideas is a living lesson we all could learn from. But she's also a vocal proponent of sharing (as demonstrated by her book's title), and frequently hails Twitter and Facebook as prime examples of a "gift economy," following "the notion that it's a good idea to do things that are just good ideas. There's no expected return when you do someone a favor...You realize that it's making the whole environment richer with your unique participation — you don't expect anything else from it." Deanna's also able to break through the hype of a moment and get down to core lessons, described with candor, intelligence and humor. Who else could end a column about the effect of new media on coverage of the Iranian elections like this?: "Honestly, there is just no blocking The Internet, y'all. What the Iranian government is trying to do is, in effect, akin to trying to stop water or electricity from flowing...Of course, I wouldn't put it past Ahmadinejad, now that I think about it..." One of the mantras of Progressive Women's Voices is "own your expertise." Too often, women downplay their own accomplishments and knowledge, rather than demonstrate the savvy and skill that make them indispensable to our national dialogue. Deanna, more than almost any woman I know, not only owns her expertise but proves that it's worth fighting for.