Reflections on the losses of online revolution

My relationship to the country has transformed. People never used to talk to one another. This has been broken, and this is why I now want to stay — because I have a right to be here, I have a right to my identity, I have a right to this place.

This is a quote from Omar El-Zuhairy, a 22-year-old film director, told to a New York Times reporter about how he was changed by the revolution in Egypt. While reading the deeply moving piece, in which he was featured, I began to think about a conversation I had last week with a group of diverse feminists in a St. Louis living room while on a speaking trip. Bear with me on this one…

Essentially, we were discussing the fragmentation of the feminist movement, something I have written about both in my columns and here at Feministing, at length. In short, I believe that the movement has become less cohesive as it has become more intersectional. The upside of this evolution is that there is all kinds of amazing grassroots activism going on all the time that falls under the big tent of feminism. The downside is that we are less able to leverage our collective power and, as I remembered while reading this piece, we very rarely have visceral experiences of our feminist numbers.

Protest marches, in an era when we can mobilize thousands via the internet fairly quickly, often seem ineffective and sort of quaint. When I went to the March for Women’s Lives in 2004, I found it invigorating and fun, but never expected it to actually make much of a political impact. But reading about the protests in Egypt, and the way in which the physical togetherness, the in-the-flesh uprising among like-minded community, make me nostalgic for the days when feminists gathered and looked one another in the eyes, when there were more frequent opportunities to feel a sense of power in numbers, of collective action, of the momentum of foot pounding, sign waving, and song singing. Today we’ve got scroll and click, forward and sign, tweet and retweet. It doesn’t quite enliven the soul in the same way, even I–a massive proponent of online organizing and the feminist blogosphere–must admit.

As much as feminism has gained from the internet, there have been undeniable losses. Sometimes, as I’m typing away, the whole thing makes me pause and long for a time when my in-person feminist experiences weren’t mostly limited to dance parties and editorial meetings (as totally awesome as those are). The great news, is that this weekend is going to provide one of those wonderful, rare experiences. Myself and just about the entire Feministing crew will be at at the Planned Parenthood-inspired rally to Stand Up for Women’s Health. See you there.

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