“Sacred White August,” we called it. It was a month that a dozen or so of my friends and I took a vow of introspection, self-affirmation, and sisterhood. It was a month we vowed to wear white each day as a visible reminder of our commitment.
Some of us gave things up. Like pork and alcohol. And wearing black.
For me it was a month of reflection of where I stand in the world. Of what matters to me, and where I matter, how I matter, and who I matter to.
Boundaries were a theme.
As the end of the month neared, I became despondent, then angry. It was more than the rotation of the boring four pieces of clothing I was stuck with for twenty-two days and counting. It was an emotional volcano of uncertainty of where I was funneling my energy. “FUCK this white bullshit,” I thought to myself one week from the end of the month. The next morning, I pulled out black leggings, a black mini, and a black shirt.
“What is the most emo?” is one of the Cards Against Humanity cards that was played the other night at my partner’s birthday party. It wasn’t in my hand, but I’m pretty sure the most emo is a forty year old displaying her rebellion via a clothing statement.
I’m not sure I’ve always made the best choices in the midst of my rebellious outbursts, but during my day in black I felt focused. I felt near a breaking point. I needed a break.
A social media break.
‘Two weeks,’ I said. ‘I’m off for two weeks.’ (I had never taken more than a day or two, at most, since starting this blog.)
I scheduled old blog posts for each day to go up on the Facebook page and I signed off. I took all of the apps off my phone. I still occasionally received pop-up alerts on my computer if I happened to be on at the moment they occurred. And because I’m forty, I had no idea how to weave into the tangled wires to learn where to unplug it, so I just glanced and used restraint.
The two weeks elapsed quickly. More quickly than I would have guessed. And besides the initial reflex to check my phone an obnoxious amount of times, I didn’t even have a fleeting amount of withdrawal. (Though I did spend a weird amount of time on Pinterest – I now have plans to cover my basement ceiling with burlap, muster the courage to cut my hair into a crazy long mohawk, make a vertical garden, and cook, bake, and sew all the things.) To my credit, I did make my preschooler a pair of pants, and my boys and I sewed reusable “paper towels” as a birthday gift. We almost killed each other in the process, but that’s beside the point. Oh, and I made these badasses:
I returned to Facebook last week with trepidation. I had more than two hundred notifications on my personal account. I read maybe ten of them. And the ones I read mostly made my head spin.
Open letters ….
Responses to open letters ….
More pregnant women being charged for crimes against their fetuses
And mostly a lot of talking to women like they were a bunch of buffoons.
And, I don’t even want to talk about it. I don’t want to engage in the cyclical conversations. The bantering, the back and forth. The ownership, the slapping one’s name on anything and everything. The need to stake a claim to all of the conversations. To have the loudest voice, the most noticeable voice, the most authoritative voice.
When I came back to the Birth Anarchy Facebook page I was greeted with a message in the inbox. It was (yet another) farewell monologue. ‘I love what you do, except…. XYZ, and so I’m leaving your page, blah, blah, blah… I thought you should know… and get educated…’
After two weeks of presence and focus and emotional re-centering, I’m thrust back into the discombobulation of competition – for time, for energy, and whether or not I want to play the game of Who-gets-the-last-word-and-who-has-the-loudest-voice.
Social media is a brilliant gem in activism.
It allows us momentum in movements that we could never have had in movements of the past. In a single day – an hour even – voices can unify in a loud cacophony that can shake the interwebs.
For a hot minute, anyway.
There’s a sort of dilution that happens in that process, though. The information overload, the ability to dip our fingers – just a bit – into any and every conversation, but not really invest in getting greasy all the way up to our elbows can allow us each to feel like we’re really DOING something by clicking once and signing something, by sharing and hash-tagging. It’s all do-able between wiping butts and typing papers and punching a clock. It’s a pretend land where skimming the surface is allowed – expected, even – and feigned humanity is ruled by a self-appointed Facebook monarchy.
How much of a difference are we really making in the realm of activism with this much reliance on social media? How much is social media a tool and how much is it a trap? I’ve watched the Twitter feeds of internet activist celebrities. I wonder if they ever sleep. Or eat. Or have real life conversations. And how it is that they’ve made Twitter their full time job? Because their feed never stops.
I now know this about myself:
Social media has the ability to not only distract me, but to completely consume me. It pulls me away from my projects; it keeps my mind pre-occupied when I’m cooking dinner or on a walk or playing with my kids or riding in the car.
Social media has the capacity to make us believe things about ourselves that aren’t true. Like that our humanity is insignificant. Or that it matters more than it should.
When I took my break, I was concerned about the human relationships in my life. My presence on social media is huge. I use little restraint and I post often. I knew a social media absence would be notable. But I wondered…. would it matter?
A handful of internet friends reached out to me while I was on my break via other means – a dear New Zealand OB badass sent me a book she was reading that she decided I must have; a Denver activist that I met at a conference earlier this year texted me to say “hello;” and another dear colleague and I continued ever more focused work on our ongoing birth work and advocacy project. And my family had my full attention when I wasn’t working.
It felt wonderful. I felt appreciated on a smaller, but really meaningful level. And I was present. Fully present for all of those interactions.
And then I sat down to read the book I was sent, “Galileo’s Middle Finger.” In it, historian Alice Dreger writes:
Temporal depth perception spanning millennia means you not only can see the potential to enact meaningful social change in terms of identity politics, but also you can see that, no matter what you do, you’ll eventually be forgotten. There’s something really liberating in knowing you don’t matter.
And there it is. The juxtaposition between ego and relationship.
There is a lot of ego-driven work in social media activism. “That’s MY thing…. I’m the mouthpiece for that.” As though any one of us owns a conversation or leads the charge for a movement or holds authority over an evolving discourse.
I’m reminded of what Freire said in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” (another book I read while on my media fast):
This person [the radical] does not consider herself… the liberator of the oppressed, but she does commit herself, within history, to fight at their side.
I’m left meditating on what it is that motivates my work.
When I’m feeling defeated or challenged or distracted, this is what I come back to. ‘Kathi, what are you doing? Is what you are doing serving your ego or is it serving the movement? What work are you actively doing (or what work do you need to stop) in order to move justice and freedom and equity for women and pregnant and birthing people forward?’
Today is the first day I’ve really struggled with the urge to be on social media since my fast.
My name is Kathi and it’s been an hour and two minutes since my last Facebook login.