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A Girls’ Guide to Internet Protests

How to raise some hell from the comfort of your own bedroom.

HATTIE Sady girlsguide

I remember the first time I ever did something that I considered “activism.” I was in high school, and my action was pretty small: While researching feminism online for a class I was taking, I stumbled onto a news story about a woman who was on death row in Texas for shooting a man who had, by all accounts, been severely abusing her. Outraged, I asked my mom to show me how to work her fax machine (!!) and I wrote a letter to the governor of Texas, George W. Bush (!!!) urging him to grant the woman clemency.

That was it. One letter. But it made me feel that I was doing something.

I’ve since joined and started several activist movements, because I can’t sit by idly when something is going on that I disagree with. I have kind of a big mouth! If you do, too—if you find yourself piping up at any injustice, even when it has nothing to do with you, personally—you have the makings of a great activist.

But how do you become an activist? Well, you could find a local cause, go to meetings, and march on the street holding a sign. But many if not most activist groups meet during the day, when you’re in school, or in the evening, when you’re (at least theoretically) doing your homework. That is some ageist bullshit, but in the meantime you have a very powerful tool for protesting literally right in front of your eyeballs RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. You’ve already guessed that I’m talking about the internet, and because you are (presumably) a teenager you already know how useful the internet is for learning about things and for finding other people who like the things you do—that’s why you’re reading Rookie. You’ve probably already made a friend or two online, or become active in some online community or other. And maybe you have a blog, or a Tumblr, or a public Twitter or Instagram, so you’re speaking to the rest of the universe on a regular basis. All of this knowledge, and all of those skills, are all you need to become an activist.

So let’s say there’s an issue you feel strongly about. Bullying. LGBTQ rights. Homelessness. Sex education. Animal liberation. Whatever! But what can little ol’ you do, sitting there by yourself in your bedroom in the middle of nowhere? A lot, actually. Back in 2010, when the liberal documentary director Michael Moore and the liberal TV host Keith Olbermann publicly supported accused rapist Julian Assange, I called him out by starting a Twitter hashtag (#mooreandme) to demand apologies from Moore (who had been a hero of mine in my youth) and Olbermann. Thousands of people joined in, and it worked.

I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t have gotten the attention of Moore, Olbermann, or any of a number of newspapers, magazines, and websites that covered that protest if I had just written them letters or emails, or even gone to their offices and knocked on their doors. But the internet was basically made to help people like me (and you!) get our voices heard.

Another case in point: Last year a 14-year-old named Julia Bluhm started a petition on Change.org asking Seventeen magazine to run one photo spread each month that hadn’t been digitally altered. She was a blogger for the SPARK movement, an online activist group that focuses on the sexualization of girls and women in the media, and the petition was the whole group’s idea. “I offered to write the petition because I am constantly surrounded by tons of body-bashing among my friends at ballet,” says Julia. “I wanted to help girls like them see that they didn’t have to be ‘flawless’ to be beautiful!”

The result: “Our petition gathered 86,000 signatures in total,” she says. “We ended up getting national news coverage, and a few months later, Seventeen published a ‘Body Peace Treaty’ promising not to digitally later girls’ faces or bodies in their magazine.”

So how do you start? We’re about to tell you. This isn’t really a how-to manual for internet protesting, but hopefully there are enough pointers here to get you started. Consider this a girls’ guide to making some noise on the internet. —Sady

1. Find a Group

Let’s assume you wish the world were different in some specific way, or that you heard about something happening that made you really mad. You might be so fired up that you go out and start a campaign, organize a rally, and take to the streets without anyone helping you. You are our hero—go out there and raise some hell! But you don’t always have to start from scratch—sometimes there are already people working on your cause, and joining up with them will probably be more effective than striking out on your own. There’s strength in numbers.

Your first weapon: Google. Erin Jill, 15, who worked on the petition with Julia, recommends “searching for something like ‘activism in [insert your location here].” Also search for keywords on Tumblr, Facebook, blogs, and nonprofit sites. Erin likes Volunteer Match (“it’s really useful and can show you a lot of opportunities for both service and social action—I’ve been matched with a lot of really great organizations that way!” she says) and Sparked.com (“they’ll match you to potential opportunities to work for nonprofits based on your skills, talents, and experience”). Adds Julia:

Go on an internet safari. I’d recommend browsing Change.org for petitions on topics that interest you, and maybe shooting the creator a message to ask if you can help out, or see if they know any ways that you could get involved with the issue. Also, watch videos of TED talks by people who are already working on your issue. How did that person get involved? Do they work with any particular organization? But the best way to get more information about an issue that you are passionate about is to join a group of people with the same interests. I didn’t know that much about feminism until I joined SPARK.

The point is, no matter what it is that you’re interested in changing, you’re probably not the only person who feels that way, and the fastest way to find the others is the internet. As 15-year-old Izzy Labbe, another SPARKer who worked on Julia’s petition, says, “The internet is a glorious place where you can create your own template for activism by starting a blog or making a YouTube channel where you talk about your issue, or even by starting a Facebook group. You should never be limited if you want to make a difference.”

2. Introduce Yourself

So you’ve found a group of people who are as passionate as you about your cause—now what? How do you talk to them, or get them to pay attention to one of thousands of people using the site?

Start out by just reading for a while. After they’ve been working on an issue for months or years, people can get sick of answering the same questions over and over from newbies. Once you feel like you’ve got a handle on the issue and this group’s engagement with it, don’t act like an expert right away—first, ask informed questions. And ask how you can help! Another thing about people who’ve been working on something for a long time is that they are probably exhausted; they will welcome your fresh energy. “Some places hire bloggers,” says Izzy. “I was lucky enough to find an organization that hired me in its humble beginnings before it became super difficult to get into, but if you don’t see any notices, you could always send them an email asking how you can get involved.”

It’s also OK to reach out—politely!—to people who are regarded as experts in the particular area you’re trying to work on. You can @ them on Twitter, email them links, send them Tumblr asks; although a lot of people are too busy to respond, most, particularly writers and journalists, are more accessible than you think.

Let’s say, though, that you don’t find any organized groups that are working on your issue. You might have to go it alone, and gather people around you. Choose a platform to get your message out: Are you trying to show someone in power that a lot of people actually care about your issue? Twitter hashtags work great for that. Is your issue something people your age are particularly likely to care about? Try Tumblr—but make a really great-looking and informative poster to put up there, since visual stuff spreads faster and wider there. Do you want your message to spread to a lot of people quickly? Try creating a group on Facebook and inviting all your Facebook friends to join it.

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39 Comments

  • Blythe August 15th, 2013 12:08 AM

    This is great! Because I’m disabled (gah, I feel like I always end up talking about that here) I don’t get out much and I don’t have a lot of energy. So when I get worked up about issues, and people ask me what I’m doing about them, all I can really reply is, “blogging… angrily…?” I’ll try to keep these tips in mind to make more of an impact from now on!

    • soviet_kitsch August 15th, 2013 10:10 AM

      disabled pride! this article is great for people like us.

    • maddyr August 15th, 2013 6:04 PM

      Hey Blythe, if you want to do something for disability rights that is super quick and awesome and requires very little energy (and I feel you on the low energy – I have a chronic illness called Dysautonomia), call some senators in support of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities!

      Here’s the elevator speech: Ratifying the treaty would give the US a seat at the table for international disability rights conversations and would also demonstrate the political power of the disability community. 1 in 5 Americans are disabled, yet disability issues are rarely part of the political discourse.

      More info/numbers for the offices of crucial senators: http://hellomynameismaddy.tumblr.com/post/58203383063/obama-on-un-disability-treaty-get-it-done

      Ps even if you’re not disabled, you should care about disability rights! Take a couple minutes to learn about the social model of disability and then call some senators in the support of the CRPD!

  • Isobelley August 15th, 2013 12:20 AM

    Something I found really useful was the everyday sexism project. It’s where anyone around can submit a story about sexual discrimination. It doesn’t really do anything or get anyone arrested, but it proves that you’re not just imagining it and that sexism is a real problem

  • TinyWarrior August 15th, 2013 12:58 AM

    So..to be honest, I’m feeling super anxious about people replying to this post saying mean things to me, BUT I’M GOING FOR IT ANYWAYS!

    I’m Consistent Life which means that I oppose war, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and all other forms of violence. I’m also a passionate feminist (I’m fine with birth control, too, y’all), and actively support gay marriage/LGBTQ rights. My position on politics is completely secular, and I spent two years of my life identifying as an Atheist.

    Even if you don’t identify as Consistent Life, I urge you to check out Life Matters Journal (https://www.facebook.com/LifeMattersJournal).

    Here are some other pro-life feminist resources, if you’re curious.

    https://www.facebook.com/NewWaveFeminists

    https://www.facebook.com/FeministsForLife

    https://www.facebook.com/feministschoosinglife

    • intergalactic fork August 15th, 2013 10:22 AM

      thanks so much for posting this!
      i always felt like i could not be a feminist because i am pro life. and this is because of other hard core feminists telling me so. like this one lady was all like “i laugh in the faces of those who say they are pro life and feminist!!” and this is everywhere! its on every major feminist site.
      anyway, your post is really helpful :)

    • Chloe22 August 15th, 2013 10:45 AM

      Here I am, leaving you a very NICE reply! I have been a pro life feminist for so long, and so has my mom. She actually got some serious notoriety in the news for her activism at her college. It’s funny, I’ve never heard of ”Consistent Life”, but I definitely am! I oppose all of the things your opposed to. It’s so exciting to find other pro life feminists. Usually when I talk about that on Tumblr or something people interent-yell at me about being a white male sexist, even though I am a 15 girl who also blogs about boybands. Sorry for ranting, but ugh I just got so excited about your comment!
      http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

      • TinyWarrior August 15th, 2013 4:22 PM

        Oh oh goodness gracious! You guys are making me so happy! I’m so glad that my comment was helpful :)

    • periwinkle_dreams August 15th, 2013 11:42 AM

      Cool :) I dunno if I’d identify as Consistent Life, just because I haven’t given much thought to the war part and that’s something I’d have to really consider before declaring it entirely unethical (it’s a complex thing, and I always give a lot of time and thought to big controversial issues before I pick a definite side). But thank you for all of the links!

      p.s. I hope no one on here says anything mean to you; we’re all Rookies after all so we should stick together! I have a high opinion of the girls on here and I think we all know that we can be kind to each other even if we don’t agree.

    • strawberryhair August 18th, 2013 6:54 PM

      Thank you for this! It’s really nice and encouraging to hear about other pro-life feminists. That was very brave and kind of you :)

    • abby111039 August 19th, 2013 7:03 PM

      “I’m Consistent Life which means that I oppose war, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and all other forms of violence. I’m also a passionate feminist (I’m fine with birth control, too, y’all), and actively support gay marriage/LGBTQ rights. My position on politics is completely secular, and I spent two years of my life identifying as an Atheist. ”

      I’ve never heard of Consistent Life until reading your comment but what you said about it sounds extremely similar to my views. My take on abortion however is that it’s not something I personally believe in doing, but if other people do it then that’s fine by me. I believe everyone has their own choices in life. So I guess I’m more pro-choice.

      Anyhow, this Consistent Life thing sounds very interesting. I’ll have to research this some more. Thanks for your comment and I applaud your bravery for posting what some may see as the unpopular opinion. You go girl. ^_^

  • Manda August 15th, 2013 1:02 AM

    Rookie and Martha Plimpton should definitely collaborate together.

  • Tara A. August 15th, 2013 1:36 AM

    This is absolutely amazing. As in this might just be one of my favourite articles on Rookie. I’ve always wanted to make a difference through blogging and I’ve never been sure of how to do it. These tips will really help me. Thanks Rookies! :D

    http://unlockingpandorasbox.blogspot.com

  • trixie-scout August 15th, 2013 6:11 AM

    Hey guys, so I have two spare tickets to see Tavi speak in Melbourne, Australia that I’m trying to sell (her show is sold out). If anyone’s interested in buying, let me know :)

    • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake August 16th, 2013 1:51 AM

      OH MY GOD YES I live in Melbourne. How much and when is it? And how can I get in contact with you?

      • trixie-scout August 20th, 2013 9:04 AM

        YAY! So it is this Friday, at 6pm, which is super late notice, sorry :( I bought the tickets for $40 each, and my tumblr is http://trixie-scout.tumblr.com/ to get in contact (I don’t think we are allowed to post email addresses on Rookie) Yay! Hope you can come :)

  • Bumblecake August 15th, 2013 8:54 AM

    This is so awesome! I have been planning ( and I mean literally planning not just procrasinating!) on something like this for a couple of weeks now! I just have so much trouble honing in and focusing on one particular topic because there are so many that I care about!!

  • Chloe22 August 15th, 2013 10:57 AM

    My dad is going blind, and whenever people stare or leap over his cane, OR say he doesn’t deserve to sit in priority seating (yes, that has happened, recently in fact), it makes me so mad. I’ve always wanted to get involved with a disabled rights org or something.

    Also, did anyone read in the New York Times about the horrible discrimination that happened at the Astor place Starbucks in NYC? This group for people who are deaf were meeting there, and the employees wouldn’t take their handwritten orders. They even called the police saying the group wasn’t ordering enough food to meet there (even though they had ALL bought full meals). The article was all the way in the New York section of NY times, and I’m just afraid this case will dirft away and nothing will come of it. I’m considering starting a Change.org petition. Would anyone like to sign it?

    • maddyr August 15th, 2013 6:33 PM

      I’d sign it!

    • Jen L. August 16th, 2013 2:25 PM

      Me too!

      • strawberryhair August 18th, 2013 6:51 PM

        Me too :) If you do start one (and please do) could you post a link to it here? :)

  • Aoife August 15th, 2013 10:59 AM

    This post came at a perfect time , I was just thinking about how to get involved. You guys read my mind again lol.

    http://www.aoifebyrneblog.wordpress.com

  • KatGirl August 15th, 2013 11:26 AM

    Cool! The Internet is your friend -_-
    http://www.kawaiiunicornsandsparkleponies.wordpress.com

  • pendulous-threads August 15th, 2013 11:28 AM

    I’ve always felt lost on how to get involved on certain things like this. If I wasn’t on my computer at work, I would have already started my google search.
    I’ve always sucked at meeting people online (maybe cause I put in zero effort, just like IRL) I still need to start MY part in this search, but I think the comments here is a good start while I’m stuck at my office desk!

    born-to-go.blogspot.com

  • AnoHana August 15th, 2013 2:44 PM

    This article is great, but sadly it’s rather US-centric as usual… So if anyone has interesting activist things going on in Europe, especially Central Europe, I’d love to get involved!

    • Danielle August 15th, 2013 2:51 PM

      Thank you – this is a great point! We’d love to hear about activism happening with all of our Rookies, all over the globe.

    • charlottey August 15th, 2013 5:36 PM

      Hey AnoHana, there’s a lot of stuff going on in Europe you can easily join! There are lots and lots of online, semi-online and real life activist groups you can join, I’d recommend doing a google search on the topic your interested in + your country. There are tons of blogs by and newspaper articles about activists/activism in your region. I’ve been involved with feminism (mostly online and at rallies) and climate (justice) and environmental activism in Germany and on a European level for a couple of years now, if you’re interested in that, you can contact me here: http://firssandseas.tumblr.com/ask/. I might also be able to tell you about specific organizations or people I know depending on what country you’re from :)
      Right now and in the next couple of weeks, there are climate and activist camps in Germany, the UK, France, Belgium, a longer direct action training in Lithuania, in November there’s the Conference of the Youth in Poland… Those are great opportunities for meeting people in real life (activist friendships are the best! seriously, there’s nothing like a night spent passionately discussing what’s been on your mind forever and coming up with awesome actions and campaigns to tackle it with someone you just met at that conference <3), attending workshops, creating networks and there are almost always options for travel reimbursement from funds or possibilities to go there with an organization from your country.

      • AnoHana August 15th, 2013 5:57 PM

        Thank you so much for your reply! These things seem really interesting, I’ll check them out!

    • beyondrepair September 2nd, 2013 6:13 PM

      Hey! There’s quite a big issue going on in my country right now. I’m from Romania, and there have been lots of protests here regarding the recent approval of the cyanide mining project, by which Gabriel Resources, a Canadian company, attempts to extract gold and silver in a way which is harmful for both our environment and our people. They claim to provide jobs and help our economy, but the consequences could be disastrous. It would be great if any of you could help spread the word, we could use some international attention. Also, just want to say how great it is to see so many involved, intelligent, aware fellow rookies out here.
      Please share this video on any social media of your choice:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHqyTc54_Lc
      More information:
      http://www.mining.com/thousands-of-romanians-protest-gold-mine-39028/
      http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rupert-wolfemurray/romania-the-worlds-first-_b_3395413.html

  • silvermist August 15th, 2013 3:02 PM

    This is so great! It’s a pity I live on the other side of the world :( I am signing petitions on change.org like crazy though

  • Fee August 15th, 2013 5:12 PM

    I love change.org and it’s great to see when petitions you’ve signed have made a difference – I also felt really touched by the idea of a young Sady writing that letter because it’s truly selfless as opposed to some people I see today involved in activism where it seems to be more about boosting their CV or showing that they’re politically involved or whatever.

    http://contraluna.blogspot.com/

  • Theprincessleiahair August 16th, 2013 1:19 PM

    This was very inspirational thank you so much for the post!
    http://theprincessleiahair.blogspot.com/

  • Colleen Stratford-Kurus August 16th, 2013 9:53 PM

    Two days ago I signed a petition on Change.org to urge major corporations to pull their sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics, due to Russia’s recent anti-gay( read LGBTQ) laws. They are denying human rights yo. If you are interested in learning more and/or signing the petition here is the link!
    http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/stand-against-russia-s-brutal-crackdown-on-gay-rights-urge-winter-olympics-2014-sponsors-to-condemn-anti-gay-laws

    Also, Way to be Rookie! Your articles are always awesome!

  • rahima August 17th, 2013 7:47 AM

    Such an amazing article! It’s so inspiring and it really made me firm in my decision to join this online exhibit about what it means to be a muslima . It sort of aims to show the truth behind muslim women and breaking the common notion that they are voiceless. It’s really easy to join and they accept submissions from everyone around the world. One doesn’t even have to be muslim to participate. If interested in viewing and/or submitting artworks, it’s in their site: http://muslima.imow.org/ :)

  • abby111039 August 19th, 2013 6:58 PM

    This article is awesome. My twin sister is special needs, and one thing I’ve always thought about getting involved in was respect towards special needs kids in schools, and everywhere really. Like, when I hear kids using the r-word (I honestly don’t even want to type it.) whether it’s towards a special student or just as an adjective, it infuriates me. Just like when people use the word gay as an adjective. It’s just so damn disrespectful to me.

    Anyway, end of my rant. Thanks for this article, it’s so inspirational.

  • charlottey August 22nd, 2013 10:29 AM

    http://campaigns.350.org/

    350.org (a climate justice organization) offers some cool new online campaign building tools! they are supposed to be pretty easy to use, and 350.org has some great media attention already. might be interesting to those of you who want to work in environmental/climate activism. :)

  • Ri Watson August 22nd, 2013 2:05 PM

    Thank you once again, Rookie. I’ve always been very passionate about activism, but I’m not quite sure where to start. This really puts everything in perspective!

    OK, so I’m interested in reforming and expanding sex education. Here’s my elevator speech:

    “The elementary school sex education in Colorado gives students the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse and illustrates the anatomy found with each respective sex. I believe that the information given on anatomy and self-care should be given to both genders, to introduce calm, mature discussion, peers-to-peers, into the classroom.”

    Check out Planned Parenthood’s site for more info!
    http://www.plannedparenthood.org/resources/implementing-sex-education-23516.htm

    • Anaheed August 22nd, 2013 3:35 PM

      Have you watched The Education of Shelby Knox?

  • sissiLOL August 25th, 2013 6:40 AM

    Wonderful article, that is why I love rookie. Rookie is so other as all other magazines for teenage girls, it is feminism, creative…And it brings me to be a feminst and think about all things I never would think before. Also I am from germany and search GERMAN ROOKIES , or rookies from austria etc., all the time, and I search mail friends all the time. So when you like to mail with me contact me abot my blog: stylebruch.blogspot.com