I recently finished Democracy for America‘s online activist training “The War For Women” in the hopes of combatting current Republican efforts to undermine women’s rights in the United States. To see the series of events that set off the need for this training watch this depressing video and refer back to this blog. Even Al Jazeera is exploring America’s feverishly religious abortion debates. The training was entirely virtual (and entirely FREE–thanks DFA!) and took place once a week for an hour; because of the time difference this meant I tuned in from 3-4AM to participate but, as any good student will tell you, sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for knowledge. This highly interactive War For Women training consisted of six topics, each featuring experts in their respective fields and downloadable action kits full of ideas, links and practical information for activists wanting to get their hands dirty in the fight for justice. What follows is my take on each session.
1) Heath and Reproductive Rights
Inhabiting the same (albeit virtual) space as Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood) was a little overwhelming. Her fervor and success in fighting for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is inspiring. The furor with which the religious right-wing is attacking women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy is terrifying, maddening and outrageous. Check out this timeline of reproductive justice that takes us up to October 2011 before the onslaught of War on Women legislation this year. Because of my extensive background in SRHR much of the factual information presented I was already familiar with, but the action ideas for fundraising house parties and creating more community dialogue and support for Reproductive Justice will be useful for even the most seasoned activist. Check out this session’s action kit here. Its 14 pages are full of useful ways to make sure women’s reproductive health and rights are not diminished by the government. Other downloadable tools for this topic include a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Toolkit, a WAW Volunteer Sign-up Sheet, an Obama/Romney Contrast graphic, and a WAW Pledge Card.
2) Victory Over Violence
Violence against women was one of the first topics as a young woman that enraged me, and consequently pushed me into feminism and activism. The highly successful and extremely established presenters of this session (Debbie Tucker, the Executive Director of The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Susan Celia Swan, the Executive Director of V-Day) likewise have devoted their lives to combating gender based violence in the US and around the world. A considerable portion of the presentation is devoted to getting trainees up to speed on the sickening recent delays in passing the Violence Against Women Act. The hands-on training is facilitated by Ruby Reid, DFA’s spectacular Online Training Organizer who also emcees the other five sessions. Reid takes activists, step-by-step, through the proper etiquette for successful lobbying of elected officials. Lobbying should always be the first action those wanting to make change take; when lobbying fails, however, there are a host of strategic nonviolent actions to fall back on. Reid and Tucker share best practices for contacting supportive/undecided/non-supportive legislators, a great To Do/Not To Do list for lobbying, and tips on organizing a successful (and media flooded) rally. There are useful tips in the training for men who want to take action against violence against women too! The Victory Over Violence action kit can be found here.
3) The Economic Gender Gap
The feminization of poverty happens all around the world and in the United States the issue of equal work for equal pay is somehow still contentious. Host of The War Room, former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm ties the whole War For Women together in a four-and-a-half minute video explaining how the underrepresentation of women in politics and science, and how injustice in reproductive health all affect women’s earning power and thus the economy of the United States. Shockingly, if all women in the US were paid equally it would add $523,900,000,000 to the consumer economy! This session gives lots of other surprising and outrageous information about how unequal pay affects women’s lives, but the focus of the action-training is on branding. The “friendraiser” Jennifer Daniels, an expert in messaging, takes us through how to craft an effective narrative that addresses issues that affect you. The detailed and useful information here builds on the lobbying training from the second session and comes into play again in the fourth session. Here is the 13-page action kit for the Economic Gender Gap which includes an extremely useful tool for any strategic nonviolent activist: Creating a message that resonates.
4) Women and the Media
Used in conjunction with previous subjects like how to craft an effective narrative and how to be successful in lobbying (and because of the overwhelming importance of media coverage and access and how few women are represented in the decision-making processes of media,) this training may be the most important. The trailer for the 2011 documentary Miss Representation opens this session and a short analysis of how representations of women in the media affect everyone’s ideas of what women can and should be follows. MSNBC Analyst Karen Finney leads a discussion of how women can be seen as authority figures and effective leaders in the media across the spectrum of topics. She also addresses the fact that a woman has not anchored a presidential debate in the past 20 years. Since the training took place it was announced that CNN anchor Candy Crowley will moderate a town hall-style debate. Kimberly “Dr. Goddess” Ellis addresses what she learned from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the unequal and sexist coverage of the Olympics in the US. Her major point is that we must support women in media by watching women, supporting/funding women who are trying to make their way into the media and not tokenizing women or people of color. John Brougher, Founder of the blog Male Feminists, addresses how women’s allies can use their personal and political power to work for women’s progress. DFA’s Communications Director, Linsey Pecikonis, leads the training in earned media, explaining the differences between (and how to use) press releases and news advisories and how to make pitch calls to media outlets. The action kit for Women and the Media, including templates for news advisories and media kits, is available for download here.
5) Women as Voters
Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners and prominent strategist and pollster, uses research to oust incumbent Republicans from office. Her video highlights what issues have historically been important for women voters, how disparities in voting affect women and how to get women back to the polls. The NAACP National Training Director, Jessica Pierce, tackles the intersectionality of oppression and how voting affects issues that are critical to women, people of color, the working class, etc. She also addresses recent voter suppression efforts and how the NAACP is using all kinds of media and outreach to get more people to vote all over the country. The activist training portion of this session, lead by Ruby Reid, covers tried-and-true get out the vote “GOTV” tactics that work for women. Women as Voters action kit includes great tips on how to register voters and how to identify supporters and contact voters. The National Mail Voter Registration Form (which can be used in every state except New Hampshire and Wyoming) is also there for download.
6) Women as Candidates
With women representing an abysmal 17% of Congress, the importance of women running for office could not be clearer. Check out Emily’s List‘s Impact Project to see how important it is to have women in office. Jennifer Granholm is back in this session to share her experience as a candidate and encourage us to build bridges between women in office and those women who are considering running. The 2012 Project, with its tagline “Don’t get mad. Get elected.” is working “to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012.” Debra Shore, of the Illinois Water Reclamation District, takes us through practical aspects of running for office for the first time including crafting your narrative, the importance of fundraising, the impact of running on personal relationships and finding support in unlikely places. Angela Zimmann, a candidate for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, shares her experiences as a candidate and how to overcome dismissive detractors and feelings of inadequacy. Erin Molchany, Candidate for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 22nd District, explains what made her campaign successful: hard work, inclusivity and accessibility to voters. Regina Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Analyst Institute, shares her very interesting work in understanding how voter outreach affects elections, how to make campaigns as effective as possible and more successful GOTV tactics.
Overall these six sessions were very enlightening and worthwhile. Take six hours of your life and watch each webinar video, then take another three and go through each of the action kits to make yourself the most effective activist possible in the War For Women. If you’d like to participate in any of the upcoming virtual or local DFA trainings, contact them here. To contribute to their very important work and make trainings like these more accessible for everyone, go here. Thanks for reading, now go out and change the world!