OWN IT 2016: Redefining Activism

Danny Smith/The Hoya

Danny Smith/The Hoya

Activism can be as simple as carrying a dildo.

That was one of the many messages relayed by the “Redefining Activism” panelists, who kicked off the afternoon half of the OWN IT Summit on Saturday. Moderated by Jamia Wilson, feminist activist and executive director of Women, Action, and the Media: WAM!, the panel touched both on the practical work of the three featured speakers and their advice for student activists.

#CocksNotGlocks organizer Jessica Jin drew widespread laughter as she described how she stumbled onto the gun control activism scene. After the University of Texas at Austin permitted students to carry handguns, Jin — initially as a joke — created a Facebook event for people to carry dildos instead as a sign of protest. Then, she went to bed.

“The next morning, it was raining dildos,” Jin said. “Suddenly, I was a gun prevention activist.”

According to Jin, the key lesson of the otherwise comical protest demonstrated the impact any individual could have.

“The dildo protest lowered the threshold for participation,” Jin said. “All of you have the power to make your voice heard.”

Founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Shannon Watts said she was drawn into gun control activism after the Sandy Hook shooting, when she realized that women — particularly mothers concerned for their children’s health — had perhaps the most powerful voice in pushing for gun control.

“There’s this idea that women can’t take on this macho, testosterone-filled gun lobby,” Watts said. “But we can, and we are winning.”

In the new era of activism, Watts discussed the prevalence of hateful messages targeted at her through social media, which she acknowledged as difficult to fathom at times. Yet, she also noted the transformative power of technology in activism.

“There’s this incredibly positive side to social media,” Watts said. “Moms who have time when their kids are at school to do this hashtag activism — it actually works. We got Chipotle to change their gun policy over a weekend.”

Sarah McBride, an LGBTQ activist who currently works at the Center for American Progress and a former American University student body president who came out as transgender during her senior year, told the story of her husband, Andy, who was also transgender and died from cancer. McBride emphasized the power of storytelling and individual voices in activism.

“Empathy is an incredibly powerful emotion. So many people — particularly so many women — think that they don’t have anything to contribute, that their voice isn’t the right voice. But when you tell a story of love, friendship, kindness, people respond to that,” McBride said. “Never ever doubt that your voice matters.”

McBride said it’s important people recognize that sexism, transphobia and other similar challenges are connected.

“I think Own It just demonstrated one of these things, which is to very clearly and consciously make the statement for inclusion, that transgender women are women and transgender men are men and that we should all be respective in our identities,” McBride said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think the second is understanding that sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are inextricably linked.”

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