This past weekend the fairer sex proved it wasn't backing down from its year-old promise to take on the patriarchy and fight for justice in a post-Trump world. Revved up further with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, millions of marchers hit the streets across the US and abroad on Saturday, a beautifully temperate day that seemed to echo the defiant but focused attitude that centered on a brighter tomorrow.
As women and men organized local marches from Burbank to Shanghai, the message was “vote" and the sentiment was all about change-making.
“I want to make voting fun again; that's a theme running through a lot of the marchers," says activist and founder of the Pussyhat Project, Krista Suh, who marched alongside an estimated half a million others in Los Angeles. “It's so important with the midterm elections that we don't drop the ball on this one. This is a chance for us to flip the house and it's an exciting time."
As it was last year, pink was everywhere. Thanks to nearly omnipresent knotted rose-hued kitty-shaped hats, the brainchild of knitting afficanados Krista Suh and Jayna Zerimann, the pussyhats have quickly become something of modern day feminist lore.“There's something meaningful about making your own protest gear with your own hands," says Suh. “I was a beginner knitter but I thought If I could knit this hat, everyone could."
Krista Suh by Rachael Lee Stroud
How the pussycats came to be is really a testament to what happens when coincidence meets action. In late 2016, Suh, an artist and screenwriter and Zweiman, a design architect who was rehabbing from a serious injury and unable to perform any rigorous activity, decided to take a crochet class at the Little Knittery, a local yarn store in Los Angeles. After discovering a joint passion for women's rights and activism, the two realized that brightly colored crocheted hats-named to reclaim the women's anatomy from the President's choice moniker-could serve as a statement of solidarity for women at the march, and those- like Zweiman, who would be unable to attend.
“It went from one hat to a sea of pink," said Suh, who estimates millions of hats have been made and worn between the two marches. “I thought about the aerial shots from overhead and I got so excited about it. At first there weren't as many sister marches, so this allowed people from everywhere to knit a hat and sent it in, and contributed to all these on-the-ground networks."
To help get as many women involved as possible, the duo called on Little Knittery owner Kat Coyle to design a simple pattern that would be easily executed by those who may not know their way around a pair of knitting needles. Thanks to social media and the word of mouth nature of the international knitting community, more than 60,000 people downloaded the pattern. On January 21, 2017, millions of protesters across 600 countries helped create a "sea of pink" thanks to the hundreds of thousands of pussyhats that helped color the crowd. And just like that, an iconic fashion accessory was born.
Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman
“Last year we organized and got a lot of first time activists into the fold; now it's about leading them to the next step," says Suh. "We're hoping to transfer the urge to march and protest into a civil action."
This past weekend, Suh tells SWAAY the power of community activism was evident, proving that even those who can't make it to NYC or DC consider themselves part of the Women's Movement. To wit, sister marches sprung up locally in communities across the country and world, including in China, where Suh says expats marched in solidarity with their American sisters. “We've proven we can impact on a huge level and now we're realizing we are everywhere," she adds. "It's powerful to see the sea of pink marching together, but also when you see that woman at the grocery store wearing the hat."
Some might ask if Trump has been the catalyst of change. Would the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have unfolded in a Hillary presidency? Maybe not. Some would argue that the urgency of the message comes at a time when Atwood storylines are becoming frighteningly feasible. As is evidenced by the solidarity shown at the Golden Globe awards amongst its female attendees and the massive outpouring of women across all industries who are finally calling out sexual predators, it's clear there is a lot on the line, and we are going to fight for all of it.
“All these issues are related, and they are all centered on the idea that it's really hard to be a woman in the US and I don't mean that in a victim way, just a plainspoken way," says Suh. “Caring about yourself is a radical act as a woman. It's about our safety and freedom to exist. It's a human rights issue. The personal is political."
For Suh, changing the narrative means helping women realize that the system was created to keep them out of positions of power, and it's not their fault that they haven't gotten there. Rather than fighting to become the one token female success story, Suh says we need to uplift more women into positions of power by giving them the same tools that are afforded to men, namely sexual respect, mentorship and access to capital.
“In the past people wanted to divide and conquer," she says. “There was this idea of the one exceptional woman. They've always had a place for that woman in the patriarchy- but it's only one spot like say for an Ivanka Trump. If you don't make it, they say it's your own fault. It's a clever trick but women are waking up to that now. The deck can be stacked against us and our sight is set on how to redo the system."
Krista Suh at the 2018 Women's March
In order to get the message out, Suh has just penned a book, DIY Rules for a WTF World: How To Speak Up, Get Creative and CHANGE THE WORLD, which she says acts as a handbook for those young ladies who are looking to help “demolish the patriarchy." “For me, it's a lot of showing people not only can you be politically active, you already are," says Suh. "I want to teach people that whatever wild, crazy idea they have that's really scary to them, they should nurture rather than squelch. Women have great ideas all the time and don't follow up on them or talk themselves out of them. I think the book will create an even more massive revolution than the one we've already started"
And speaking of revolution, which for all intents and purposes began during a knitting circle, Suh reminds women not to underestimate the power of mixing pleasure with protest, as it's an easy way to mobilize. “I didn't have to reinvent the wheel," says Suh. “Women have been getting together and talking in knitting circles for centuries. It's like men fishing or golfing; that's where deals are made. The assumption is women in knitting circles are just gossiping but it's a lot more than that."
According to Suh, this year's iteration of the Women's March is just as much about symbolism as it is activism. She reminds women not to forget the importance of taking part in rituals that celebrate and elevate all of us.“This year's march marks progression but it's also like renewing our vows, reconnecting with what got us so fired up last year" she says." I think it's important because rituals are so important. Men tend to downgrade the rituals of women. When women organize something it's seen as frivolous. We have to reject that as women. Patriarchy is this haze all around us, and when [people] say 'what's the point of the march and the hat,' they are downgrading the rituals of women. I think it's important to recognize that because we don't even realize the goal posts are being moved all the time."
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.