Here’s a place for horizontal leadership

UltraViolet, Women’s Rights Group, Upgrades Movement Via Social Media

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.



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23 Responses to Here’s a place for horizontal leadership

    • Three Wickets says:

      That’s well done. It’s good to see this stuff being aired out, but I’m wondering where all these sexism cops from both sides were in 2008 when things were at their ugliest.

      • jjmtacoma says:

        Palin was reluctant to identify the behavior as sexist. I think she was avoiding looking like a victim. It seems like Hillary was also reluctant for a similar reason. They could only be further abused by naming the behavior while the responsible parties gas light.

        The grass roots were covered in the most common type of fertilizer for the whole thing.

        So called women’s groups were no help either but I don’t know why they never raised hell about the environment for women, they used to do that IIRC.

  1. Three Wickets says:

    Here’s Naomi Wolf going off earlier today on Occupy being too horizontal. Kind of entertaining.

  2. Three Wickets says:

    Obama Plans Big Effort to Build Support Among Women

    A New York Times/CBS News poll in mid-February showed that women, who in a January poll had disapproved of Mr. Obama’s job performance by 48 percent to 46 percent, now approved of him by 53 percent to 38 percent (men disapproved by 49 percent to 45 percent, about the same as the previous month).

    • DeniseVB says:

      I hope it’s better than his Support the Military efforts. Just a bunch of words, words, words while he kneecaps our benefits.

      So we’ll have another Offcial White House website to sign up on ? 😀

    • elliesmom says:

      If women buy his defecation again, I’m going to fill some plastic bins with yarn, use up all of my JoAnn’s coupons, and turn my office into a craft room. Instead of being the grandmother who worries about my granddaughters’ future, I’m going to knit them sweaters with chickens on them.

  3. ralphb says:

    From the story in the post, here’s something everyone should be able to get behind.

    Thomas and Chaudhary are now trying to escalate a campaign to stop former director of the White House National Economic Council Larry Summers from heading the World Bank.

  4. DandyTiger says:

    From down below, if this group is a pro-Obama move-on spinoff, they should call it what it is: MoveUnderTheBus.

    • Three Wickets says:

      I’m starting to see rabid Obots starting to say nice things about Palin online. Obama and Maher need to lose their jobs this year. Then we can call it even. 🙂 Would be better for Dems in the long run too.

  5. Lola-at-Large says:

    Just in case that penis line was a result of the P&L article yesterday, I’m not one who thinks that penised-Americans ought to be silent on women’s issues. But there is a way to talk about it that isn’t paternalistic, and you do a fine job of that here. I tend to agree that women need merely get off their lazy duffs and get shit done, but I’d add that it will require them to break from their own traditional notions of femininity and their partisan affiliations. Women have got to stop telling themselves that money doesn’t matter. It does.

  6. T says:

    I agree. We certainly don’t need to give any money to a 501C3 that will likely become the next Moveon or OFA or … KOMEN! Those orgs are about the pyramid scheme.

    Instead we need to save our money for plane tickets and a flash mob march in Washington. Wouldn’t that scare the sh*t out of them if suddenly out of nowhere a million of us were on the capitol mall. I can hear them –> “Oh sh*t they’re really pissed, what are we gonna do now!” If nothing else, it would give infinite joy….

    • T says:

      And when we gathered on the Capitol Mall, we wouldn’t say anything, we’d carry no signs, we’d just stand there blinking and glaring….can you think of anything scarier to the male gender than a woman pissed into silence.

      • Lola-at-Large says:

        This is actually how it was handled during the push for the 19th amendment. There was a group called Silent Sentinels and they stood outside the White House everyday, six days a week, for two years with signs, never saying a word, despite verbal abuse being heaped upon them, as well as being spat upon, kicked, hit, etc. Sandra Fluke could learn a thing or two from those ladies.

        • foxyladi14 says:

          she already knows everything 🙄

        • JeanLouise says:

          Sandra Fluke has done an admirable job of presenting her opinion (and mine) in a calm, measured way. She has responded to the hate speech directed toward her beautifully – except she really should not have appeared on Schultz’ show, considering his history. While I can apppreciate the power of intense, silent protest, everyone knew that those women were demanding the vote. There need to be leaders who can explain our demands and Fluke’s self-possession makes her a natural for that role.

      • myiq2xu says:

        can you think of anything scarier to the male gender than a woman pissed into silence.

        I dunno. The blade of a knife repeatedly plunging through a door from the other side is pretty gnarly. As I recall, she was screaming bloody murder at the same time.

      • elliesmom says:

        There are going to be 200,000 of those lesbian Girl Scouts on the mall in DC on June 9th. We could start there.

  7. T says:

    Went to the UltraViolet site. Funny how there was nothing about Bill Maher…..just a front group for Obama, I’m thinking….

  8. gram cracker says:

    If memory serves me correctly Nita Chaudhary is very connected to Obama and the Democratic Party establishment. Anything Nita is involved in is not likely to be a spontaneous ‘organic’ movement.

    I googled Nita and found this…

    “The Obama White House has hired a man named Jesse Lee to be its new Director of Progressive Media & Online Response or something … (otherwise known as Obama’s tattle tale site ‘Attack Watch’)

    Lee is married to Nita Chaudhary. Bio for Chaudary from 2008

    Nita Chaudhary, Campaign Director at MoveOn.org Political Action: Nita leads MoveOn’s campaigns on the Iraq War, Constitutional Liberties as well as running the fundraising program for MoveOn’s 2008 electoral effort. In the past she was the Director of Online organizing for the DNC. She’s also held several positions at People for the American Way, including Media Research Analyst, Web Editor, and Online Organizer.”

    http://nation.foxnews.com/media/2011/05/25/cspan-transcript-suggests-moveonorg-tied-new-white-house-online-combat-team

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