Sady’s post this weekend got me thinking about a series of conversations I’ve been having in my email, and elsewhere, about the state of online organising not just in feminist communities, but social justice-oriented ones in general. The State of the Internet is a topic I see coming up again and again, with a myriad of perspectives on the topic, and if there’s one thing that’s consistent, it is that the state of the Internet cannot be summed up neatly; it is not uniform, it is not universal, and people have radically different experiences with it. There’s one question I’ve been turning over of late, and it’s not something that has a neat, tidy answer:
What are your goals, in engaging with online spaces, whether you consider yourself an activist or not? What are our goals, in creating these spaces, in engaging with them? What are we working towards? Do we have a rubric to use to assess whether we’re achieving those goals? How do we know when we’ve reached them?
Online organising has a tremendous capacity which I don’t think I need to reiterate here, to amplify voices, to facilitate rapid responses to ongoing events, to exchange information and ideas that might be hard to access otherwise. People of all ages, and all walks of life, and all activisms, and all experiences, have come together online to create…something. But what are we creating? Why are we creating it? Is it doing what we need it to do?
I think we all share a common, overarching goal of liberation for all, although we may have different ideas about what that looks like. And online organising can be remarkably good at identifying short-term goals; get a sexist advertisement pulled off the television. Halt proposed cuts to health care services. And even medium-term goals; let’s get these people elected, so they can create change from within the government. But what about our long term goals? What do we want those to look like? We recognise that steps are the only way to progress, and that we cannot leap from the status quo to total, radical equality for everyone, which means we need long term goals, but…what are they?
Maybe you know! Maybe you have very fixed and stable ideas about your goals and how you plan to accomplish them and how you can determine whether they are being accomplished. And it’s not necessary for a movement, as a collective, to necessarily share the same goals; within a movement, people can seek each other out to work in solidarity on common interests. Some of us, though, appear adrift and uncertain about what we want to do, what the goal of, for example, writing a post is, what we want to do when we engage with a comment thread, where we are going with an article in a news outlet.
No matter how we are participating in spaces, what are we trying to get out of them? People say, for example, that they want to change hearts and minds. Okay, but where do you want to take that? You want to change social attitudes; one metric for assessing whether that goal has been accomplished is in examining how social attitudes express themselves. Are people less sexist? Less racist? Is legislation following social attitudes? Do we need more, or better, legislation to support an attempt at shifting social attitudes?
Are we creating good methods for accomplishing goals? I was reading an article in The Economist today about attempts to increase the representation of women in business in Europe. Several nations established quotas to mandate that companies increase the number of women on their boards. An issue (lack of women in business) was identified, a goal (increased representation) was set, and a plan for enacting that goal (quotas) was put in motion.
It didn’t work. Or, rather, it did, if you viewed the situation extremely narrowly. In nations with quotas, there are more women on the boards of corporations, though very few in executive positions. But many of those women are unqualified for the work, and are viewed as token hires:
Norwegian boards, which were 9% female in 2003, were ordered to become 40% female within five years. Many reached that target by window-dressing. The proportion of board members in Norway who are female is nearly three times greater than the proportion of executive directors (see chart).
The problem here wasn’t with the goal, but with the plans implemented to enact it. Just saying ‘okay, all companies need more women on their boards’ is not sufficient when the lack of representation for women in top positions is the result of multiple structural and social inequalities. Women are less likely to be encouraged to pursue business careers. They are less likely to be promoted at the lower level to acquire the necessary experience to succeed. They are more likely to be penalised for maternity and family leave. They still face pay inequalities. To fix this problem, we need a bottom-up solution, starting with girls and teens who need to be encouraged to pursue careers in business. The representation of women on the board should be the assessment used to determine if the framework for improving the status of women in the business community is working, not the framework itself.
I am not writing this post to tell you that I have all the answers, because I don’t. I’m writing this post because I am curious: What are your personal goals with online organising, activism, or engagement with spaces where these things occur? Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach? What are you doing to accomplish your goals or to support the goals of others? What do you perceive as the goals of online organising? Recognising that things like liberation, equality, justice, can be hard to define and very nebulous, do you have an overall end goal? Do you think it will be reached in your lifetime? Is the community, as a whole, doing enough to support your goals? Its goals?
I would rather see a bunch of imperfect people fucking up for the right reasons than see a bunch of perfectly competent, brilliant people doing nothing because they don’t want to take a risk or represent feminism “incorrectly.”
In all these discussions about the problems with/future of the movement, are we perhaps forgetting that the next step, the step after you identify a problem, is deciding how to fix it? Setting a definable, measurable goal, and talking about how to accomplish it? Are we, perhaps, lost in a forest of meta?
Which I’ve just added to with this post?