Young Women are Speaking Truth to Power Online—And Showing Us All the Way Forward
For many of us, when we’ve thought about politics in the past, we’ve thought about images like this:
Funny enough—when these were the only voices shaping our politics, that had an impact on where and how average people connected to the process. A bad one. Fewer people felt like their voices mattered, or could relate, or felt like paying attention to politics was worth it at all.
Luckily, times are changing. While our government is still overwhelmingly white and male (and WASP-y), younger women are making their voices heard in leadership and in our larger culture, and showing us all the way forward as they do it.
EXHIBIT A: Last week, four freshman members of the House of Representatives—Jahana Hayes, Katie Hill, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and (Do Big Things client) Lauren Underwood—chased Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell around the Capitol to hand-deliver a letter demanding action to end the government shutdown. And they documented the entire adventure on social media, taking us right along with them as they posted video and unleashed Spice Girl jokes.
This photo looks like a Spice Girls album cover, but for reopening the government 😂
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 18, 2019
🎶 Now don’t go wasting our precious time/
If they get their act together we could be just fine 🎶 https://t.co/PkBS823wLd
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 18, 2019
These newly elected leaders aren’t waiting for permission to proceed. And they’re not relying on press releases to print media outlets to get their message out. In fact, they’re not relying on traditional media at all.
They’re taking the shutdown narrative into their own hands and directly to the people on their digital accounts, trolling our nation’s most powerful men with unapologetic glee, and bringing us all along for the ride. They’re doing what many of us “regular people” would be doing in their position.
Hey, @realDonaldTrump….it’s nice being warm and dry inside my apartment, but I’m willing to deal with the snowstorm again if you’re actually up for meeting. What do you say? ❄️ pic.twitter.com/aakPfmylYA
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) January 13, 2019
This approach is new. And it’s working—to the point that younger members of Congress are actually training their colleagues on social media use. And with the shutdown now the longest in American history, taking this kind of initiative might be the only way forward.
EXHIBIT B: Cardi B dropped an Instagram video reacting to the shutdown that went viral (and was soon remixed into a pretty bangin’ song, if you haven’t heard). Her condemnation, despite the mostly unprintable language, clearly resonated with a wide audience, gaining over 16 million views as of this writing. Why? Because it’s an honest, authentic, balls-to-the-wall representation of how most of us feel, expressed in language everyone can grasp—and remember. Cardi saying this probably got more people paying attention to politics than a dozen stuffy press releases or focus-grouped statements. (That excellent aquamarine shadow probably didn’t hurt, either).
The fact is, these newcomers aren’t afraid to be human beings. They joke. They get transparent about their emotions. They defend themselves with humor and confidence. (They even do it while busting a move). And it’s not just a gimmick for clicks; it’s effective. By being their authentic selves in spheres not used to voices like theirs, they are changing the rules—about how politicians and authority figures look, sound, dress, act, and move their agendas forward. It’s changing our national conversation about these important issues right now, in the short term, as well as changing our political norms and conventions for the long term in ways that are healthy and more inclusive. (Much healthier than this! ↓)
We’re all sooooo used to political messaging coming from older white men in suits—most of them using a certain volume, observing a certain temperature, abiding by deeply embedded codes of culture and class. For most of these Suit-Men and their allies, acceptability, respectability, and maintaining the status quo are top of mind.
But the fact is, not only can important, substantive, authentic political messaging come from other faces and voices with other backgrounds and worldviews—in the current climate, it’s actually more resonant and effective with audiences online when it does.
That’s the perspective and approach our women-led, majority-POC company brings to our work. Because we know: the world is changing. And in this new world, we don’t have to be embarrassed or fear being taken less seriously if we make Spice Girl jokes or drop some [REDACTED] truth bombs the way Cardi did. In fact, we know that’s exactly what we need more of to make change happen.
If that sounds right to you, and if you’re looking for a digital partner who can help you bring exactly this approach to your program—more boldness, more humor, more cutting through bullshit and speaking truth to power—then get in touch. Let’s Do Big Things, together.
Rachel is Vice President of Creative Strategy at Do Big Things. Co-written with Janani Sreenivasan, Content Director.