Drawing from Justice Studio’s experience and our recently conducted study of feminist activists in the UK, here are 11 tips for your successful feminist campaign.
- Aim big
What makes a feminist movement is the ultimate goal to alter unequal power structures based on sex. As Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigner Nimco Ali explains, ‘I’ve come from a feminist project not a harm project – it’s a structural thing – challenging the roles of women in society – it’s symbolic of how women are seen in society’. Before you begin your campaign, ensure that you understand the ways in which inequality underpins the lived experiences of the groups you want to assist, and keep your eye on that prize.
- Have a clear strategy and plan
Your strategy is your main concept – it is the way you are going to achieve your objective. A strategy should be simple and memorable: boil it down to two or three words. Within your strategy, develop appropriate tactics and plan ahead. Work out two things: a) how should it begin? and b) what cumulative steps can you take to be able to reach your overall goal?
Once your strategy is conceptualised, however, remain flexible. You will need to create and search for opportunities whilst being ready to quickly adapt and react to, situations that might arise unexpectedly. As Carys Afoko of Level Up says, it’s about ‘being able to jump on an opportunity really quickly’. If you have a clear strategy then it will guide you in the most effective way to respond to both positive and negative surprises.
- Attack the weak spots
Rather than try to fight an institution or ideology where it is strongest, identify its weaknesses and legitimacy, and work from there. There is always a weak spot. Kat Banyard from UK Feminista identified in her book Pimp State that the biggest threat to the commercial sex industry were the establishments – such as banks, credit card companies and governments – that were keeping their profits flowing. Making these establishments uncomfortable will stop the lifeblood of the industry. As UK Feminista and Object found with their #losetheladsmags campaign, it was the publishing house that ran the mags that led them to close because it no longer wanted the negative attention. Keep a keen eye on where the most effective spot to target is, and capitalise on any mistakes in judgement, policy and action.
- Carve out some time
Campaigning takes time, and places sudden, ad hoc, demands on your life. Many feminist activists work for free and fit their campaigning around their work. Be aware that you will need to carve out a significant amount of time for your campaigning in order to be successful. As Kat Banyard from UK Feminista says ‘once you start a campaign, you don’t get to choose when things happen and when you can respond’. Be realistic about what time the campaign needs and what time you can give from the beginning.
- Get a Network
The networks that you create are crucial for a) getting your message out and b) providing a safety net of support. As Nimco Ali says ‘you have to be well networked’ because ‘it can also help you to become your support.’ The other campaigners that you meet will likely support your cause and be a source of encouragement. It’s that old-fashioned word solidarity. We are stronger together. Successful feminist movements and campaigns work together across generations, across ethnicities, across class and across countries. The more connected and supportive individual campaigners are, the stronger the movement will be.
- Store up resilience and determination
Not all, but a great majority, of feminist campaigners, suffer from trolling, harassment, abuse, and even rape/death threats from those who do not want to see the campaign succeed and society change. It is unlikely that this will get better any time soon, and indeed proves just how important and relevant feminist campaigning is today. Be aware of this, protect yourselves as much as possible, and build up some steely resilience.
As Liv Letty from gal-dem told us, the recipe for success is ‘a lot of determination’. Whether it’s being confronted with trolls and naysayers, or exhausted from working a full-time job, or tending to others in need, it will simply be your determination that spurs you on. Keep your eye on the end goal, repeat your strategy, and commit to forging ahead, knowing that it is always darkest before the dawn.
- Practice self-care
Make sure you are looking after yourself. Eat right, exercise, take time to rest, do things away from the cause. Campaigning is emotionally and physically draining. As Tracey Wise, founder of Safe Gigs for Women, says ‘you need a lot of stamina.’ Practising self-care will mean you have more stamina. Also, learn to say no, ‘there is nothing wrong with being selfish for a change’ says Nimco Ali. Ensuring you have an emotional support network at home, as well as within your campaigning network, will help you to stay positive, motivated and give you the energy you need to keep going even when it gets tough.
- Have a way to pay your rent
At present, there are more feminist activist groups on the ground than there are grantmakers willing to fund them. However, there are a few. If you feel that you will need more money and resources for your campaign, check out this handbook and this database, both of which provide information for funding movements across the world. Level Up used Crowdfunder.co.uk to good effect, whilst Laura Coryton used Change.org who provided in-kind support to her #EndTamponTax campaign.
The key is to be resourceful – use the tools that are readily available to you when money isn’t. As Laura Coryton reflects on starting her campaign ‘It’s really surprising how little you need. Now we have social media and these online platforms to really help us, its so much easier to galvinise all that energy and focus it into making something a success.’
- Channel your passion
You’re in this because you’re passionate about it. Indeed, even angry about it. Many feminist activists fight because of difficult personal situations that they have faced as a result of patriarchy. Channel this passion. Indeed, as Faeeza Vaid from the Muslim Women’s Network says, you need ‘passion, commitment’ and a ‘willingness to keep going even when the money isn’t there’. What’s more, Nimco Ali says, ‘it’s challenging to be an activist to care so much, but at the same time it’s quite rewarding. Being true to yourself and your cause means being in the fight and giving it your heart and mind. Do not shy away from the strength of your feelings or your anger, use it as fuel to push forward towards your goal.’
- Put the cause before the campaign
Success is when the world doesn’t need your organisation/campaign/movement anymore. When your vision or goal has been achieved, then you can take a rest, or join another campaign. But make sure that you acknowledge when it is finished or when you may need to seriously re-visit your strategy and tactics. Ensure you are learning, and remaining reflective as you go along. Don’t forget to put not only the ultimate goal, but also the integrity of the campaign before any personal needs for fame, subsistence or approval. Liv Letty of gal-dem magazine noted ‘We say no to brands all the time because were not here to be tokenistic parts of diversity.’ Once there is a change and the campaign no longer needs to exist, call it a day. Then, take a well-deserved rest or move on to the next thing. Until then, keeping fighting your corner!
- Just do it
Once you have your goal, strategy and tactics in place, then just jump in. It is scary, but requires a certain amount of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. As Kat Banyard says, ‘you just need to do it and learn on the job’ and Level Up’s Carys Afoko agrees: ‘it’s always better to just do things and get them out there’. Go on, do it!