National NOW Foundation Times >> Spring 2009  >> Article

Feminism 2.0 Conference Brings Together Grassroots and Online Activists

By Liz Newbury, Internet Communications Coordinator

How can action-oriented feminist organizations and the online feminist community work together to achieve equality for women? How can these groups maximize their combined power? How can we harness the Internet and social networking platforms to reach new people and effect change? On Feb. 2, hundreds of women asked and strategized about these questions and more at the Feminism 2.0 conference in Washington, D.C. -- and the prognosis was promising.

How It All Got Started

The conference assembled representatives from long-established women's rights groups, the feminist blogosphere, and others interested in the future of feminist activism. The day's objective was to discuss how traditional activism and social media (a.k.a. Web 2.0) intersect, what increased collaboration could accomplish, and what an expanded partnership might look like.

The brainchild of Turner Strategies, Fem 2.0's original convenors included NOW, AAUW, BlogHer, Culture Kitchen, Feminist Majority and Care2. At the opening plenary, NOW President Kim Gandy spoke about NOW's early entry onto the Internet (NOW first created an internet message board in 1986, and launched its website in 1995), the use of technology to advance a mission and message, and the challenges and imperatives of connecting traditional activism with online communities.

Enlightening Presentations

Ann Stone, from the National Women's History Museum, inspired participants with an overview of the feminist movement and women's role as technological innovators. She suggested that social networking and open source technology are the modern extensions of the early movement's grassroots orientation.

Apps for Democracy presented examples of new media applications that contribute to the greater good. Peter Corbett spoke of a successful collaboration between the D.C. government and grassroots developers that produced broadly beneficial software. Corbett suggested that feminists could use this model by making women's issues and services an objective for software designers.

Linkfluence, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, presented maps of online communities that looked like connect-the-dot puzzles, each dot representing a website and each line a link between sites. Their map of top feminist sites exhibited the close-knit nature of the community. Cohesive online communities demonstrate reciprocity, and feminist blogs were shown to link between and among each other, drawing the community closer together.

Technology Fosters Participation

Micro-blogging software Twitter, a middle ground between instant messaging and writing blog posts, was ubiquitous at Fem 2.0. In the main auditorium, a Twitter chatroom was displayed in real time on a projector screen behind the speakers. Chatters included both those present and those watching the live feed online. As the panelists spoke, chatters submitted questions via Twitter, commented on the discussion, and shared notable lines from contributors.

Those with portable devices followed the chat during breakout sessions. You can still follow the conversation by using the hashtag #fem2 and logging in under your Twitter account at TweetChat.

Social media activists in attendance used webcams, Blackberries, and laptops to capture the event. Their efforts expanded the reach of the conference and encouraged the participation of feminists beyond the walls of the event.

Breakout Sessions Tackle Hot Topics

The workshops, with their variety of themes, were a highlight of the conference. Some topics included: "Media and Culture: Feminists & the Media -- Speaking Out," "Tackling the 800 lb. Gorilla: Gender and Race in the 2008 Election and How To Honor Both in Our Movement," "Breaking the 'Waves': Moms Coming Together for Equality," "Bloggers and Activists: An Intimate and Frank Conversation," and the ironically-titled "Health and Welfare: Roe's Safe -- What Do We Do Now?" The exchange of diverse perspectives contributed to the breakout sessions' success.

Moving Forward

Fem 2.0 started a conversation, with participants eager to continue the dialogue via the conference website, Twitter and other mediums. Now, we must follow up that dialogue with action that utilizes techniques and technologies reflecting our different experiences to effect change locally and nationally.

Editor's Note: This is an abbreviated version of an earlier web story.