I spent the weekend at the Women, Action and Media conference up in Boston, and it was so fantastic I’m not even sure where to start. First, a million thanks and a big round of applause for WAM organizer (and Feministe guest-blogger) Jaclyn, who put together a really wonderful conference and whose hard work is deeply appreciated. Second, apologies for not posting during the conference or immediately afterwards. I didn’t present at the conference, and I wanted to take the full three days to just take it all in and fully process it before I put up a post. Then I got home last night and saw this, and it just put a damper on my good feelings about the weekend. But WAM was awesome, and deserves to be written about, so here we go.
Friday night started with a keynote from Helen Thomas, one of my long-time journalist heroines. When I was a bitty journalism student at NYU, I wanted nothing more than to be Helen when I grew up, and her speech didn’t disappoint. Ann from Feministing introduced her, designating her “the patron saint of not shutting up.” Thomas eviscerated the media for not properly questioning and challenging the current administration, and told a series of stories about the nine presidents she’s covered in her career. Thomas is pretty old-school when it comes to her feminist views — and considering that she’s 87 years old, that isn’t so surprising (also, fun fact: Her birthday is the day after mine). So there were a few things she said that I wasn’t quite on board with, but her insights and wit were nonetheless a wonderful way to kick off the conference.
After her speech, a few of us headed out to a crowded Cambridge bar. The highlight was when a dude at the table next to us asked Ann if we were there for a bachelorette party. The look on his face when we explained that, no, this loud and rowdy group of women were not pre-wedding revelers but rather feminist media-makers was priceless.
Saturday morning started out with a keynote from Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi journalist in exile. Video of her speech will be up in a few days, and I’ll post it as soon as I see it on the WAM site, because her speech must be heard to be believed. She spoke out in favor of democracy and human rights under Saddam Hussein, and was imprisoned and tortured for her efforts. And she says that now, things are worse for the Iraqi people than they ever were under Saddam. Her keynote was exceptionally brave and beautiful, and I’m not going to be able to do it justice here, so I promise to post video when it comes out so that you can fully experience her words.
The toughest thing about WAM was deciding which panels and workshops to go to. There were so many amazing women talking about so many interesting topics that selecting only a handful was really difficult. I started out at a panel titled “Breaking the Frame: Revitalizing and Redefining Reproductive Rights Media Coverage,” featuring Emily Douglas, Aimee Thorne-Thomson, Amanda Marcotte, and Christina Page. Emily helps run RH Reality Check, one of my favorite resources for reproductive health information, and Christina is the author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America — which is one of the best books on birth control rights I’ve ever read. Amanda, who most of you are probably familiar with, is the always-fantastic blogger at Pandagon and a contributor to RH Reality Check. And Aimee Thorne-Thompson is one of my all-time favorite reproductive justice activists. She’s been at the forefront of shifting the reproductive politics dialogue to a more comprehensive, justice-based view that encompasses the broader issues that influence women’s lives. Or, as she said on the panel, “Reproductive justice exists when all people – and particularly women and girls – have the economic, political and social power to make health decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.” That is a crucial point, and one that traditional pro-choice activism doesn’t focus on nearly enough. Aimee is a brilliant, ground-breaking mind in the reproductive justice movement, and I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with her work and the work of her organizations, the Pro-Choice Public Education Project and EMERJ. Vanessa live-blogged the whole thing — head over there and read her summary. Because I was at the repro justice panel I couldn’t make it to BfP’s panel on immigration, but she’s posted her powerful speech on her blog — it’s a must-read.
Next up was “We B(e)lo(n)g: Womyn of Color and Online Feminism,” which was my favorite panel of the bunch. It featured BlackAmazon, Sudy, Alexis and Nadia, and opened up a space for everyone in the room to talk about their wishes and share their love. It was intense and touching and beautiful, and I felt really lucky to be in a room full of women who were so passionate and so angry and so proud. The presenters did a great job of organizing their presentation in a very equitable, unorthodox way, and the responses they received were phenomenal. One woman in particular offered an inter-generational look at where women of color in this country are now, and where her family has been and where they’re going. It was the one place in the conference where it felt like a collective blood-letting, and where most of the women really seemed comfortable and in their element. It made me think quite a bit about the value of creating those kinds of safe spaces, and the reality that while a feminist conference feels like a safe space for me, that isn’t the case for a lot of women (and for women of color in particular). The presenters were able to establish such a space, and they were generous enough to allow me — someone who has not always been the greatest ally in the past — to sit in it. I hope I’m able to return that goodwill by being a better ally, a closer listener and a more engaged conversationalist in the future. I hope other feminists and activists will start to do the same, and that we can learn from these examples how to build communities that are more equitable and more open. I certainly walked out of that workshop feeling overwhelmed and full of excitement and love for the good work and the bridge-building that so many other women are doing.
That panel was made even better by the fact that some of my favorite bloggers took part in it. Liza greeted Brownfemipower by leaping across several tables, and giving her the kind of hug that I’ve always wanted to give someone as great as BFP. I sat between Miriam and Octogalore, with Shark-Fu sitting behind me and Donna in front of me. It doesn’t get any better than being surrounded by women like that. Aimee was there too, along with Latoya, Wendi, Thea, Elisa Gahng (whose organization you must check out), Roni, our own wonderful Holly, and a whole lot of other women who shared their experiences and hopes.
After that it was “Battling Backlash: Strategies for Fighting Back, Rising Above and Making Progress” with Jessica Valenti, Miriam Zoila Perez, Patti Binder, and Carmen Van Kerckhove. That one got live-blogged by Vanessa too. They answered a lot of questions, and a lot of people in the audience — especially younger women, who seemed to be a majority of audience members — seemed really concerned about how to fight sexism in their own personal lives. It hit home the importance of sites like Feministing and other forms of outreach to younger feminist-minded women. When feminists are asking questions like, “What do I do about my fiancee who jokes around about feminism and says I should make him a sandwich, even when he’s just kidding?,” we have a problem. And, given that some of us (like myself) are slightly impatient — my response would have been, “He’s not kidding, sister, so DTMFA and go on a booze-addled honeymoon with your best girlfriend” — I’m glad that there are women with the patience and clarity to address these issues more thoughtfully than I could.
WAM also felt like a series of swooning moments. So many of my favorite writers were there, I felt like I was in a constant state of adoration. I got to hang out with old pals like Holly, Amanda, Jessica, Vanessa, Deanna, Ann, Kay, Miriam and Jaclyn, which is always a blast. I met the editor who oversees me at AlterNet (and who I’ve long been a fan of) for the first time, and we spent both evenings keeping each other awake far too long chatting and swapping stories; she was just as fantastic as I had hoped. And I met lots of people who I’ve long admired, including (in addition to all the people I listed before), Amber, Hugo, Roy, Lisa, Andi, Echnidne, Adele, Tracy, Evan, and literally dozens of other people from all over the country (and from out of the country as well). For me, it felt kinda like some sort of rock-star convention that I was invited to randomly attend.
Plus I rode the bus back to NYC with Holly, and she brought me to the best Chinatown massage joint EVA. We got 30-minute accupressure rub-downs, and I went home happy.
So that was WAM. Lots of other people are posting about it, and you should check out Amber’s liveblogging as well. Also check out Veronica’s live posts. Did any of you go? Are other bloggers you read writing about it? What did you think?