Sunday, February 10, 2013

So You Think You're A Feminist?: My Experience with Soapbox, Inc.'s Feminist Bootcamp

2013 Feminist Winter Bootcamp Participants; Photo by Carly Romero of Two Spoons Photography

During winter break, I had the benefit of being part of the annual winter feminist intensive provided by SopaBox, Inc. The Feminist Bootcamp is an immersion trip allowing folks to see what "professional feminism" looks like; this was a particular interest to me being a soon-to-be-graduating Women's Studies major who wants to continue social justice work.

The week is based in New York City, and, during my time at Colgate, I've made more than a few visits there only to find myself overwhelmed and physically drained by its constant vibrancy. "I would never be able to live here" is what I thought before spending a week talking to to people who work at nonprofit organizations like the Third Wave Foundation and National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Spending my time with Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, and fifteen other feminists of varying ages and backgrounds probably had a lot to do with my sudden comfort with NYC. I got to know and bond with individuals who are dynamic leaders in various places throughout the US; some were strong feminists and others decided to attend this trip because they had no idea what "feminism" means. We also spent quite a deal of time together; often needing to be on the subway by 8:00am, only to finish our final visit for the day after 5:00pm. It's probably unnecessary to say each day was fast-paced and filled with activity. But since each day of the week had a distinct theme, I'll provide some of my highlights from the week:

Philanthropy Day

This day we spent visiting the "funding arm" of the feminist movement. We spent time with long running billion-dollar organizations such as the NoVo Foundation, which has its hands in multiple organizations worldwide that improve the lives of girls and women, and brand new ones like Catapult, which is part of the organization Women Deliver and akin to a crossbreeding of Kickstarter and Kiva. This day was dedicated to answering the question of "where does the money for feminist organizing come from anyway?" So, we got to talk about grant-making and even went through the process of judging which nonprofits deserved funds while visiting the Third Wave Foundation.

Feminist Work Day

The definite highlight from this day was my mini-internship at Bluestockings Independent Bookstore. There's a special place in my heart for radical bookstores, especially ones that make it a point to be as accessible and inclusive as possible. That's definitely the vibe I felt from the volunteers I spent my time with. By the way, all the Bluestockings employees are volunteers, which is impressive considering that it's open everyday from 11:00am to 11:00pm; it's one method of keeping the books there affordable. Being at Bluestockings was definitely a different feel since it wasn't an office on the twentieth floor of some building in Manhattan. And I spent most of my time talking to the other volunteers about why they dedicated their time to the bookstore, which I consider to be a more relational way of learning about the place of feminism in the "real world." And, of course, I couldn't leave without buying something so I was finally able to get a copy of Nobody Passes by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.

Reproductive Justice Day

We spent the morning split into groups visiting several different clinics that provide reproductive services. My group got a tour of Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens. Choices has quite a large facility and has been around for decades. Merle Hoffman, the founder of Choices, was on the forefront of advocating for reproductive rights even pre-Roe v. Wade. So it was definitely an honor to sit with her and receive a signed copy of her memoir. The clinic stays true to its name, providing prenatal care, contraceptive options, and abortion care and by making efforts to be accessible for lower income individuals and families.

Feminist Art Day

Our day started with a workshop with spoken word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Zsai, who I already had the pleasure of meeting during SORT's Africana Women's Week a couple of years ago. It was a new kind of bonding experience for the group since it was toward the end of the week and we did most of our activities in pairs, which included having to interview your partner and then writing a haiku about them. The meeting ended with Kelly performing two phenomenal spoke word pieces that I definitely ended up carrying with me throughout the day. After all, there's no more refreshing way to start off the day than with a bit of poetry and a new appreciation for the power of language.

International Feminisms Day

Our week ended by helping us think of doing feminisms on a global scale. We wanted to answer questions about what feminism looks like for activists in other countries and how to work in solidarity with other feminist movements without imposing Western ideology. For this, we talked with Amnesty International about the complexities of human trafficking and the International Women's Health Coalition about global reproductive rights, comprehensive sexual education, and the year feminist organizations "took over" the United Nations. Both of these organizations advocate on the behalf of issues that are often overlooked by those who have a US-centric focus in their feminist work. Talking to these organizations requires understanding the necessity of being aware of how our activism intersects with the struggles of organizations in other countries and acknowledging that for our work to have any significant impact it must be borderless.

I definitely think the Feminist Bootcamp is something everyone should have the opportunity to experience, whether they personally identify as a feminist or not. Although, the cost of the camp can be a definite deterrent for some who want to be involved with the program; it was definitely a struggle for me to navigate. But thanks to the Center for Women's Studies, the Office of LGBTQ Initiatives, and the Office of Undergraduate Studies,  I was able to gather enough support to have such an amazing opportunity. I'd encourage any Colgate student who wants to discover the career aspect of feminism to consider participating in next year's winter intensive or the summer program. And it isn't only for students, there's a program for professors and staff as well!

- Che J. Hatter '13

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