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How One Woman Is Using Cheeky Christmas Pranks To Upend The Establishment

Culture

She's the Executive Director of March On and Co-Founder of the Women's March On Washington. She hails from Washington, DC and has made producing socially relevant media, political organizing, and redefining the global narrative of modern African culture her life's work.


Her name is Vanessa Wruble and she is one of the founders of Okayafrica, now “the largest media company focusing on a forward-thinking, nuanced view of Africa today."

After graduating Cum Laude from Williams College, studying Women's Issues, Psychology, and Fiction Writing, and earning a Master's Degrees from in Social Research in Psychology from The New School and Interactive Media from NYU, she worked as the first international correspondent for Al Gore's Current TV; as a Communication Specialist for the United Nations; and as a journalist for several print magazines.

Her missions are to right the imbalance of power, fight on behalf of all marginalized people, and ensure the end of structural patriarchy. So, it should be no surprise that her latest endeavor – Impeach Boutique - involves ugly Christmas sweaters. Yes, you read that right. And, yes, they are ugly. But they are also fantastic. Almost as fantastic as the work they fund.

1. How did you get involved with creating/working on the March?

I was one of the co-founders and main organizers of the Women's March On Washington. After the march ended, I spent months connecting with the leaders of the sister marches that happened all across the country. We decided we needed to continue the work we started with the January 21st, 2017 women's marches, and thus March On, a new political organization, was born. We are resolved to take concrete, coordinated actions at the federal, state and local levels to impact elections and take our country in a better direction. And we're well on our way.

2. How did the idea for Impeach come about?

We launched our Super PAC, the Fight Back PAC, so that the people will have their own Super PAC and be their own “special interest." As part of the “24 For 24" campaign (that's how many seats we need to take back Congress), we launched the Impeach Boutique and the “Gift of Impeachment" -- it's a tongue-in-cheek Christmas gag, but it gets right to the point.

While we're not focused on impeachment, per se, we're making the point that without a majority in Congress, we won't get any of the things we want, including impeachment, if Mueller finds grounds for it.

3. Why do you think it's important to approach this with at least a little humor?

If we can't laugh in these times….I was going to say we'll go crazy. But you know what? We should go crazy, because what is happening in our country right now is off-the-charts insane.

I think most of us are on the same page when we shake our heads in disbelief at the state of US politics. The GOP supporting someone who appears to be a pedophile? I mean, come on. This is where we are right now. So, yes, we'll use humor the way we'll use media, art, anger, determination, and everything else we've got to fight this fight.

4. What makes you keep working in spite of everything that's going on as opposed to giving up?

It's a pretty clear choice for me, and it's one that I hope I can convince more people out there to make. Unless you're actively engaged in fighting back, you're probably feeling a bit despairing and hopeless at the state of our country. I don't feel that way because I know what I'm doing will change things. It's that simple: join us, and you will feel better. Better yet? You'll save the country.

5. What advice do you have for women who are feeling tempted to give up?

Don't give up! Despite the daily horrors we're assaulted within the news cycle -- our world doomed by climate change egged on by the GOP policies, the assault on health care, the level to which Russia influenced our elections, the infantile tweets of the supposed “leader of the free world" -- I mean, I could go on, but you get the point -- despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, we're perfectly positioned to massively change our political landscape for the better.

Everything is now being exposed, and it has activated people like never before -- regular people, like many of the leaders of the women's marches -- and so now is the time where you can really, truly make a difference. You can join us in a number of ways -- really donating your skills and your network and your time, or it can be as simple as supporting the resistance financially by donating to the Super PAC or to March On directly.

Look, if you need some holiday guilt to get you off your tuchus, as my grandfather would have said: it's your duty to use all your resources to fix the mess we're in.

6. What are your hopes for Impeach? Now and in the future?

While our “gift of impeachment" is a fun holiday fundraising drive, I think the Impeach Boutique has legs. Stay tuned for more great stuff.

7. If you had a few moments in the elevator with 45, what would you say to him?

I don't think he's capable of hearing me, so I wouldn't waste words on him. Also, I'm actually scared by the idea of being trapped in an elevator with him.

8. Can you tell readers a little about the March On Platform and the Fight Back PAC in terms of what they are and how they work together and what their goals are?

March On will soon be crowdsourcing our agenda in something we call “Operation Marching Orders." It's very important to us to build community and to make sure that March On belongs to the people, so this is our way of letting the people give us our marching orders of where they want to see March On go. We know that we will be focusing a great deal on our “March On The Polls 2018" program.

MOTP2018 will focus on the vote: getting folks to register, working to overcome voter suppression and then turning out our voters to the polls on Election Day in a “March On The Polls" (Imagine a march, via foot, car, minivan or otherwise in every community in the country to go vote together!). This work will require all-hands-on-deck. Doing this work is very “people" intensive. And we anticipate that March On will also endorse candidates at all levels, from federal down to local elections, again, through our crowdsourcing program.

In turn, Fight Back PAC will look at those endorsed candidates and pick a few to really support financially through what are known as “independent expenditure" campaigns. This will be the vehicle for our “marchroots" community to flex its muscle as it's own special interest and to help elect--or defeat--a slate of candidates that matter to our community. Think of it this way: March On is the vehicle for people activism; March On's Fight Back PAC is the vehicle for our financial power.

9. Do you think Impeaching Delta Tanago will change things or he is just the figurehead for an agenda that Mike Pence will continue to move forward with?

While Pence might be a slightly more conventional politician than Trump (no more threatening tweets to Kim Jong Un!), his policies are equally horrific. But here's the thing that stumps me about this whole investigation: If this crowd--every last one of them--was elected with illegal and nefarious assistance from the Russians, how can this election be seen as legitimate?

Hillary Clinton has taken some heat for suggesting the same thing, but to me, that's an unavoidable conclusion. If a sports team cheats their way to victory, the other team is deemed the victor. I could envision a role for the Supreme Court in resolving this whole mess. There is absolutely no precedent for what we are facing. Let's shake off our numbness and remember: no candidate for the presidency of the United States has ever played footsie with a hostile foreign power to win the White House. These are unbelievable times. And if this is the outcome of the investigation, I do not see how Pence deserves to become President. The whole Trump Administration is rotten through and through if these allegations are proved to be true.

10. Anything else you'd like to share with readers?

Join us at https://www.wearemarchon.org/ and https://www.fightbackpac.com/! We'd love to be your home for activism heading into the 2018 elections. We'll put you to work, but we'll have fun and we'll build a community along the way. We can turn this around, but we need everyone on board.

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.