In February 2012, the country’s largest funder of breast cancer research and screenings, the Susan G Komen Foundation, announced that they would no longer be funding Planned Parenthood’s initiatives in the sector. The Internet lit itself on fire: the move was largely seen as political, and the outrage over politicizing breast cancer spread quickly.
I found many of my activist brethren focusing on the money aspect: they started raising money for Planned Parenthood, and organized campaigns to take money away from Komen. But I was thinking that this is so much more than just about money. This is about pain and the emotional devastation wrought by cancer. Plus, how do people who don’t have money to donate or take away get to participate in this moment? These were the women who would be most affected by a decision like this, too; people who would lose access to life-saving services.
The morning after the announcement, I created a Tumblr blog called Planned Parenthood Saved Me. In it, I asked readers to share and submit stories of how Planned Parenthood had changed their lives. It’s important to note that I didn’t just create the blog, post it on Facebook, and hope for the best. What I did next is critical for understanding how much relationships and network weaving matter in the digital world: I emailed about 20 colleagues who I thought might be interested in sharing this project. I told them it was new, that I’d like to start collecting stories, and I asked them if they had a moment to share with their communities. I chose people who work in reproductive justice, feminist bloggers, others who I thought might be influential in this moment. And I had existing strong relationships with all of them before this moment; I wasn’t cold-calling and asking strangers for favors.
The results were stunning– you can read more about them on the blog, or watch this video of me explaining the work at the Tribeca Film Festival. That summer, Planned Parenthood awarded me, and by extension this entire community, their first ever Maggie Award for Media Excellence in social media.
The bottom line? Stories matter. Relationships matter.