Sam Carter: I’m a cofounder and board member of Hollaback!. Welcome and thanks for coming, and for being part of Hollaback!. It blows my mind what people can accomplish.
I’ve known Emily May, the creator of Hollaback!, since we were kids, and then we went to NYu together. Once at NYU, I was in a conversation with Emily and a group of friends about street harassment, except there was no word for it then. The group was made up of four girls and three boys, and the girls told their street harassment stories and I was shocked. I had never thought it was such disruptive behavior, it didn’t seem right. This was transformative for me.
Later that summer, in 2005, a woman in the subway called a guy who exposed himself out and the Daily News ran a photo of it. We were transformed, everyone was paying attention to street harassment. We realized it could be bigger, since Flickr and camera phones and blogs were new and could be utilized. I wanted, I felt that I had an obligation, to make the conversation bigger, so we started Hollaback!. Now we’re here.
Emily May: I can’t believe this is happening. It’s a dream come true. This is a movement that will change the way we walk down street. We see it in Egypt and India, where there have been highly-publicized sexual assault cases. Hollaback! starts as a group in NYC and turned into a global movement powered by local activists. This is just the beginning. I’ve been doing this for eight years and it’s been awesome watching the growth. Last month, there were 40 news articles about street harassment, bringing legitimacy to it.
In 2010 Hollaback! became a nonprofit, in 2011 we launched in 45 cities, expected 5. The explosive demand hasn’t slowed down, there are 67 cities on the waitlist.
Today isn’t a conference or speaker series, it’s history. It’s such a robust movement. We’ve never before all been in the same room like this.
Thanks to all the sponsors.
We still have long way to go, women are still told street harassment is not big deal. Raise your hand if you were harassed on the way here. [A lot of people raise their hands.] But we have a community to rely on, and the haters don’t. We’re a global community of badasses. We’re ending street harassment for ourselves. We’ll look back one day and realize that the landscape looks different because of our work. Things will change, from the curriculum to the subways.
I’m happy you’re all here. Let’s get the revolution started!
Jamia Wilson: I raised my hand before, I was harassed on my way here. All those creeps can smell the culture change coming.
I believe that there’s a strong relationship between storytelling and social change. Storytelling sparks passion, it allows connection through shared experiences and lets people learn from their differences and bear witness. My family was part of the civil rights movement, and they taught me, through storytelling, that women’s bodies are a battleground.
They told me about the Orange Bird Massacre at South Carolina State University, when the police fired on and killed several segregation protestors. My mom was there and had a confrontation with the police. She had nightmares for years because of this, and because of being kicked at sit-ins, when she attacked by police and racists along with other women. I learned about violence and harassment through her, that aggressors disrupt progress through intimidation.
My father and grandmother told me about Joanne Little, my cousin, who used deadly force in the 1970s to defend herself from rape from a male guard in jail. She ignited controversy. I’m proud that she fought back, that I can say I’m related to her. She stayed in hiding for a while, but then she came out and several movements came to her aid and she was acquitted. She’s still living. Now, prisoners who experience sexual assault have a shot at self-defense because she told her story. At the time, when she was asked if she was afraid of hearing her sentence, she said “my life is in the hands of the people so I’m not afraid.” I feel the same way with Hollaback!. There are other Joannes in the world. Her story touched people, showed them her humanity, people could connect.
I’ve heard stories and felt memories. I was moved to document the stories and get the courage of the people who tell them. The media is only 3% women, Wikipedia is mostly edited by men, and the shapes the conversation. I feel bound to honor the truth and record resilience and ensure it’s not silenced. I honor the black storytelling tradition and force people to listen and recognize our full humanity. Our stories are messages from the community, we are the messengers. It’s on us to tell our stories, if we feel safe to.
After Trayvon, President Obama shared his story of being a black male and experiencing routine racism, which shifted the conversation. It was controversial when he did it, but it showed that the personal is the political, it linked to the larger struggle, inspired solidarity. We live in a world where there’s a paradox of connection and distance, but there are tools like the Hollaback! app and Twitter and chalkwalks and Facebook, where we’re building a virtual campfire like our ancestors. It sparks human connection and destroys borders, and promotes thought leadership worldwide. We’re telling stories just to assert that our voices matter. Audre Lorde said that silence doesn’t protect us. Connection leads to culture change, which we need more than policy change.
Jill Dimond: I first joined with Hollaback! three years ago, when I was doing my PhD. I built the Hollaback! tech. I did my dissertation on Hollaback!, as I was working on my tech corporation, which uses tech for social change, and creates a safe space for underrepresented demographics in tech.
Intimate partner violence is intensified through technology, but its victims use it as support - tech as tactics in everyday life. I heard about Hollaback! on Twitter, aback then it was just a blogspot. I experienced sexual harassment in tech, it was so personal. I wanted to be an activist, I felt that I could help in the movement to do change on the ground, not just as a researcher. I dove in and went into my computer science roots, and moved away from academia. I piece together the Android and Apple apps and the story submission feature on 60 sites worldwide.
The experience is fascinating. I wondered about the stories that were shared, since it has a history in consciousness raising groups, and the activist context of tech’s role. So I started researching whether sharing harassment stories makes a difference. I interviewed people who had submitted their stories, and I was surprised how much sharing their stories had an impact, an actual cognitive and emotional shift of the victims’ views towards their experiences. Participants viewed street harassment as a collective issue, which has led to it becoming an international phenomenon on the violence spectrum.
Storytelling online vs. offline - those who speak loudest decide what the problem is. Tech assists in making invisible experiences visible to the networked public. My street harassment in rural Michigan is very different than in San Francisco. Data has to be made sense of, so we can ensure that all voices heard. Tech discussions are now linear, which is not necessarily done to facilitate conversation. This should be rethought to help grassroot communities reach consensus.
I’ll leave with this: what if we build tech with the value of social change and imagine a world of cooperation? At the Allied Media Conference, I felt so safe because people could reclaim their space there. Using tech or not, have to have people imagine a world without street harassment.