Progressive campaigners and online activists Nita Chaudhary and Shaunna Thomas had an idea for a new kind of women’s rights group: one that uses cutting-edge online advertising techniques to engage more people in the fight to end sexism in politics, media and pop culture.
They were not quite ready to launch their project, called UltraViolet, and their website was not yet running when the news broke that Susan G. Komen for the Cure had pulled cancer screening grants from Planned Parenthood over abortion politics. Feeling that this could be their moment to grab women’s attention, Ultraviolet leapt into action, launching its first campaign with Moveon.org to call on Komen to reverse its decision and gathering 60,000 signatures in just a few hours.
Komen reversed its decision two days later, Komen executive Karen Handel resigned, and Chaudhary and Thomas suddenly found themselves at the helm of a rapidly growing women’s rights community.
“We went from a tiny organization with a few thousand members to a quarter million strong, with members in every state and congressional district,” Chaudhary told Huffpost. “The right wing decided to escalate a bubbling war on women, and hundreds of thousands of people came out of the woodwork to fight back with UltraViolet.”
UltraViolet, which is funded by the progressive nonprofit Citizen Engagement Lab, has already gathered 300,000 members in less than two months of existence, making it clear to the women’s rights community that the days of organizing sit-ins at local courthouses and knocking on doors to gather signatures are long over. While its founders say that UltraViolet is not intended to replace the important women’s advocacy groups that already exist, such as the National Organization of Women, they are using social media in new and unique ways to reach more people.
“Women needed far more vehicles for making their views heard,” Thomas said. “It’s a nimble, lean organization using newer online advertising tactics and rapid response to create truly in-the-moment, media-driven campaigns. Our goal isn’t to replace or replicate what organizations are already doing, but to reach more people and bring more voices into the space.”
DISCLAIMER: I was born with a penis. According to some people this disqualifies me from expressing my opinion on feminism and other feminist-related topics. So take the following for what it’s worth.
Occupy Wall Street didn’t invent the concept of “horizontal leadership” but they brought the idea into prominence. The recent events involving Komen and Planned Parenthood, the Virginia Object Rape Bill and Rush Limbaugh’s sexist comments about Sandra Fluke all had one thing in common – there really wasn’t any leadership to any of those movements. They were spontaeous horizontal movements.
Lefty advocacy groups all seem to follow the same pattern. People get riled up about an issue and join together to do something about it. They form an organization and select leaders. The leaders go off to Washington DC and become part of the permanent political class.
I don’t want to knock the women behind UltraViolet, but women don’t need another women’s group. They just need to get mad and decide to do something about the situation. They don’t need to pay dues to leaders to tell them what to do, nor do they need representatives in Washington who can be corrupted and co-opted.
In my previous post I talked about pushback. You don’t need to go anywhere to pushback. You can do it right from your home or office. The internet and social media provide the platform – a virtual public square.
The pieces are all in place, women just need to use them. When something happens they need to get mad and react. There is usually more than one way to react, and each woman can choose for herself what to do. If you want to write letters, then do that. If you want to boycott a product or service, go ahead. If you feel like picketing somewhere then go picket.
I’m not talking about an organization because organizations invariably end up serving the interests of the organizers. I’m talking about an infrastructure – a way and place to come together. But as these events take place people will naturally start organizing and coordinating with each other. Leaders will emerge, but the leaders won’t control.
How much leadership is needed to organize a boycott of Rush Limbaugh? Practically none. A Flush Rush movement doesn’t need a president, it doesn’t need to hold meetings, it doesn’t need to collect money and it doesn’t need you to sign an online petition so you can end up on the Democratic mailing lists.
A Flush Rush movement doesn’t need any representatives to negotiate for them because there is nothing to negotiate. It just needs a bunch of people who are firmly committed to boycotting Rush Limbaugh and all his sponsors.
But first you have to get mad.