Get Angry. Go Viral. Use Social Media for Change!

Groped on the street? Can’t get good medical care for your family? Want to topple a dictator? Tell your story online—and start your own revolution. These women did.

Alexis Jetter
Photograph: iStock

HALF A WORLD AWAY, in Seattle, is fighting for change, not so much in the streets but on Capitol Hill and in the halls of the country’s legislatures. With one million members and a reach of three million people through blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the media-savvy mothers’ advocacy group has made an art of collecting women’s stories—lots of them, by turns wistful, plucky and livid—and packaging them to provoke legislative change.

Sheryl, from Ohio, posts:

The economy has certainly hurt our family. My husband is working (yeah), but he is still making the amount that he made on unemployment (which is barely enough to cover the bills for our family). I just had a stillbirth last March. Had it not been for Medicaid, I would not have been able to pay the medical bills incurred due to that loss.

And this, from a graphic artist in Wisconsin:

I have been told—to my face—no less than 3 times during my adult life that when a particular job I had applied for or wanted to advance to had come down to 2 candidates (me and a man), the man “had” to be selected because, after all, he has a family to support . . . The third time, I was the corporate art director . . . still married with 2 children and a 3rd on the way. A new male hire, 15 years my junior with NO relevant experience whom I had just 2 weeks to train to his new position, was suddenly and without explanation made the new art dept. head . . . I subsequently quit and filed a gender discrimination suit. Enough was enough!!!

Written by users or by the 450 bloggers for the MomsRising website, the stories are bound together in customized, thematically arranged “storybooks” and delivered to legislators, in person, by a Moms-Rising committee. “Often what we think ourselves and hear from our members is, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m the only one who this is happening to,’ ” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the turbocharged Seattle-based author who cofounded the group in 2006. “Many women don’t feel like experts on legislation [for health care or paid parental leave]. But when we ask them to tell their own stories, they do know what’s going on in their own families—and then we deliver those stories to Congress.”

Studies show that what works best on the Web, Rowe-Finkbeiner says, is a personal story backed by a few facts—“rather than full-fledged, fact-heavy wonkiness.” MomsRising clearly has the mix just right: The group is widely credited with helping to pass the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which makes it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less than they pay men for the same job. The strategy was a textbook example of social change via social media storytelling: First, the group solicited an arsenal of well-documented, -guaranteed-to-tick-you-off stories of pay discrimination, which it posted on the website. Then Moms-Rising migrated the action to the offline world, meeting with the staff of 44 senators in their state offices. Members also sent nearly 85,000 constituent letters to both houses of Congress. When Senator John McCain dissed the legislation, saying women didn’t need fair pay—just “more education and training”—MomsRising members descended on D.C. and happily blizzarded his office with thousands of members’ résumés. Guess what, the women said as they hand-delivered the stacks. We are educated. We are qualified. And we still need equal pay for equal work.

First Published August 24, 2011

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