Over a half-century since feminism’s powerful upheaval of the U.S. in the 1960’s, the personal is once again very political. As an incredibly diverse wave of young feminists find their voices in the streets and in the new public square of digital space, they are sounding off on the issues of their time around the world—from public policy to the moral fitness of contemporary leaders. In the footsteps and on the shoulders of their foremothers, young people are connecting the dots between their personal experiences of discrimination and larger systems of structural oppression—and seeking to foster a feminist future for themselves and the generations that will follow them.
The #MeToo movement is a reminder that gathering together to share and listen to stories illuminates the networks that underlie seemingly random acts of violence. When we listen and look deeply, we see that systems of oppression like sexism and racism are complex networks of organized hate which reach deeply into our private lives and shape our public ones. Rarely do you scratch the surface of one and not discover another.
Bigotry, racism and misogyny are the triple-headed hydra whose root is the fury of privilege disrupted. We have witnessed this, both on a profoundly personal level, and also as the larger social phenomena that is menacing the very lives of our young people and future generations. There are no random acts of violence. There is a reason why mass shooters often have a domestic violence record, why Tara’s abusive partner was also a purveyor of racism and bigotry and why reactionary governments—close to home and far away—use sexist and racist themes to energize their base and promote their agenda.
But awareness is just the beginning of getting woke. Wokeness doesn’t let you sit still on the sidelines; it drives you to fight each day for a better world, a world where others don’t have to suffer the injustices you and your children, friends and loved ones did. Once the political becomes personal, so does the march toward progress.
The idea for WalkWoke was sparked during the first Women’s March, when Rebecca’s family participated with their homemade protest signs. Inspired by the many slogans displayed by protestors, Rebecca was determined to build an app that made it easy for anyone to build more impactful protest signs that would help drive change. She felt deeply moved by so many powerful slogans and displays of strength, resistance and thoughtful refusal.
During the first Women’s March, many people commented on popular images of three women seen across the country and around the world, and the symbols they included—symbols previously excluded from narratives of “freedom” and “protest” and “power.” Tara noticed how many people were uncomfortable with that image, which really testifies to its power. This kind of “speech” is perhaps the most powerful, the speech of bodies that were previously excluded, simply being, simply inhabiting the space of protest and being visible. When some people criticized the lack of message, they simply couldn’t hear it: the message was an existential one, one of arrival, occupation and determined embodiment.
We went back to read with newly opened eyes Judith Butler’s seminal essay on protest and politics of the street. Very relevant to us today is the nature of speech and action in the street, how that space is won and for whom. Is speech a right, or the privilege of the few? When some of us speak, who do we silence? We feel that enlarging the space of protest is very much the work of contemporary feminism. We knew we had to intentionally create a space where women could be seen, heard and included, where they can be safe and visible despite the inherent precarity of their existence in the modern state.
After discussing amongst each other, the components of WalkWoke began to form, and within a few months, the platform began taking shape. Staying true to its intended focus, WalkWoke enables people to use art-based signs not only to promote empathy but also to cultivate an inclusive and unifying environment. A key goal in WalkWoke is to engage people to feel tied to and accountable for driving change by having them add personal slogans to their chosen art piece.
In the context of public protest, images are a powerful vehicle for inclusion. This is why the Women’s March poster made such an impact by featuring women not typically associated with dissent and protest. Contrast that with the labor movement and its protest literature, so often illustrated with a single masculine fist. A tradition of masculine violence supported the gains of the turn of the century labor movement, and later even came to exclude and enact violence upon women who sought to join its ranks. Similarly, violence is still today enacted upon women who use their voices to call out and name these methods.
We must always remember that women have not and are not always safe in the public theater of protest and demonstration, whether on the streets or in digital spaces—where violence and harassment are often anonymous, faceless and unaccountable.
Images can confront us more starkly than even words and are key to disrupting and unsettling traditions that we can today ill afford. In contrast to the masked violence of reactionary fury, women’s faces and bodies, in all their astounding diversity, are becoming visible, tangible symbols of resistance and change.
Seeing how powerful, disruptive and unifying images can be, we developed WalkWoke to help grow this moment, while also opening up the space for new voices. As women, mothers and survivors, we wanted to empower women to become visible, vocal and viable in the theater of protest, on the streets and in the public square of digital space. Just as the printing press drove a collaborative effort responsible for the advances of early labor, the Internet is a powerful tool that can rapidly create, produce and disseminate powerful images and messages about what kind of world we are living in—and the kind of world we want.
The WalkWoke app was designed to magnify the voice of every human being and unite our efforts to enact real change. We, along with so many other women, have made the perilous but rewarding journey from the personal to the political. Through WalkWoke, we’re enabling women in making the return journey—raising new feminist voices at this juncture that are so very critical both for our nation and the global village.
As women whose lives were changed for the better by the power of collective action, WalkWoke is a product of our vision for activists and organizers to drive change, foster awareness and respond quickly and decisively to events in our fast-changing world. It’s a call to awareness and action, to empathy and inclusion and to a radical enlargement of the space of political action.
We hope you will join us and fight for a better world—today, tomorrow and generations ahead.