The Future is Feminist: Inside Feminist Camp 2018
In January, Fovrth Fellows Anna Welch and Shirley Nwangwa attended Soapbox Inc.’s Feminist Camp in New York City.
NEW YORK CITY, NY — After a holiday season filled with friends and family asking “so…what are you going to do once you graduate?,” I was ready to get some answers. Joining 18 other young people, I headed to New York City for Soapbox Inc’s Winter 2018 Feminist Camp.
Feminist Camp is “a front-row seat to feminist work, activism, and action beyond classroom theories.” It’s a week where young people can meet feminists in philanthropy, organizing, reproductive health and justice, and art, with the goal of exposing young feminists to career options within the many aspects of the movement. Soapbox Inc. hosts several camps throughout the year across the United States and even overseas; I attended their New York City camp, introducing me to nearly 15 speakers, 18 visionary peers (my fellow campers!), and a week-full of insight on how young people can pursue feminist public service professionally.
Immediately, it was apparent that I would leave with more questions than answers; however, after one of the most incredible weeks of my life, I feel enriched and inspired. I did come away with one major truth: feminism is not a linear career path, it’s a belief system that will guide me no matter what I do to pay my bills.
I prepared for Feminist Camp by reading My Life on the Road, the incredible autobiography of Gloria Steinem. This book, combined the remarkable women I met and learned about, made me feel connected to feminism in a national sense that I’ve never felt before.
With each new commute between speakers, I learned about another pocket of feminist work happening in cities and campuses from New Orleans to Los Angeles to Minnesota and everywhere in between. These women are working to abolish the injustice in the prison system, holding people’s hands while they get abortions, performing art focused on healing the trauma women and girls experience every day, and generally answering the question, “why does the world need feminism?”
The people I spent the week with showed me that moving to New York City and contributing to the exceptional feminist work there is one path to fulfilling our feminist values. Yet, they also validated to me that this important work needs to happen everywhere… And that we are the ones who need to step up to do it.
There were numerous moments during the week when I internally gasped and thought “that’s what I want to do!”, only to listen to the next speaker and think, “wait…maybe that’s what I want to do!” My eyes were opened to a myriad of possibilities, which now feels equal parts invigorating and daunting.
As a Journalism and Gender and Women’s Studies double-major, Wednesday as Feminist Media Day was a personal highlight of the week. After an accidental subway detour to Queens, I arrived at the Democracy Now! Studio ready to soak in the wisdom of host Amy Goodman and her team.
I’ve seen the show, but watching a live taping was magical. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what felt different about this type of news, but I realize now that is because everything about the program is different.
As feminist icon Jennifer Baumgardner (and co-founder of Feminist Camp) pointed out during our post-show discussion, their headlines weren’t filled with words like “should” or “what if,” but rather, they were rooted in fact and questioning the greater systems at play. Amy Goodman affirmed this and added that, while mainstream news outlets will ask questions like, “should the U.S. military employ airstrikes or boots on the ground intervention?”, Democracy Now! asks questions like “should we be engaging in combat at all?” and “can the country afford it?”
During that day’s episode, Democracy Now! interviewed Norman Finkelstein’s, a political scientist and author, on to discuss his book Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom, which details the realities of Israeli occupation of Gaza. I had two main realizations while watching Goodman interview him. The first was that I knew next to nothing about Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the second was that this segment was perhaps the first time I felt news coverage of an issue had actually informed me well enough to allow me to form my own opinions on an issue in the scope of a single interview.
As a journalism major and a feminist, I have a love-hate relationship with the news. I think journalism is the most undervalued component of our nation’s system of checks and balances, and I will defend that belief to friends, family, and strangers. But, I also believe modern mainstream journalism is generally failing at its primary goal, which is — in my belief — to provide viewers enough information to form their own opinions. This challenge is an issue Democracy Now! recognizes and is actively trying to remedy.
I felt Democracy Now! also recognized that, although feminism is something a major news outlet might cover by reporting on the Women’s March, it is not something they would incorporate into their organizational values.
Democracy Now! both covers issues few outlets address (especially those that affect women and girls specifically) and reports on the same stories major outlets cover in totally reimagined ways. They give interviewees enough time to actually make nuanced points. They don’t fall so easily into the trap of false equivalence; they understand sometimes interviewing one person with a depth of knowledge is better than interviewing two people who will only yell at one another about why they are right under the banner of “balance.” Watching Amy Goodman report and interview with such steadfastness and genuine interest in both “the facts” and “the truth” lit a little match inside of me — it made me believe the type of journalism I want to see is still out there, and that I can contribute to keeping it that way.
Despite all of these realizations, my main conclusion was not necessarily that I had to get a job with Democracy Now!, but rather, that the changes I want to see in journalism, as well as our nation and world, are not too much to ask for. Examples of the best practices in journalism still exist, and all individual journalists can strive to uphold and emulate these standards in all of our work.
Ultimately, while the Feminist Media Day shines as my personal highlight, the week provided me with a wealth of insight into the many careers and life-paths available for young people striving to imagine and create a more just world. The camp is now over ten years old, available to college students, young professionals, and now high school kids as well. I’m grateful to have been able to experience such a unique and powerful opportunity, I want all young people to have this chance (so contact me if you’re interested or reach out to Feminist Camp directly!), and I feel prepared and excited to take my next steps in this worthy fight for justice!