BY EMILY MAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
On Saturday morning, March 6th, 2011, an email went out over our listserve from Inti Maria, our site leader in Buenos Aires. It read, “”I’d like to see her to tell her I would break her asshole with my cock” This is what a JOURNALIST wrote about me today — on the printed page they changed it but he made a POINT of including his original version on his blog.” The changed version wasn’t much better. It read, “break her argument with my cock.”
Tears immediately welled into my eyes. Hollaback/Atrevete Buenos Aires launched only a month ago. I knew our work was controversial, but I never thought it would lead to a public rape threat from a prominent journalist and professor. This wasn’t just an asshole. This was an asshole with a mouthpiece.
I quickly g-chatted Inti Maria. She was shaken, but OK. She decided to leave the country for a few days to be safe.
Both Inti Maria and I knew we had to take action, but what do we do? Our model was premised on the power individual activists who were committed to bringing the movement to end street harassment home. None of our site leaders have funding or on-the-ground infrastructure. It is the beauty of our model, but now I could see it was also a tremendous risk.
I spent a day reaching asking a lot of super-smart people for advice. The advice was across the board, and it struck me that this decision was going to have to be made based on gut instinct. As we weighed our options, I just kept coming back to one of our core organizational values: “we’ve got your back.” We needed a response that showed Inti Maria that we had her back, and showed all our site leaders that if this happened to them, we would have their backs too. We also needed a response that would set a precedent: Hollaback takes violent threats and actions seriously. And if that wasn’t a tall enough order, we needed it to be based in Buenos Aires. Engaging our networks in the United States would quickly lead to a US v. Argentina dynamic that would be ineffective, and just quite simply wasn’t our style or our message.
We decided to launch a petition on change.org in Spanish, with the English translation under it. Our lead blogger Violet wrote it, Gaby who runs Hollaback/Atrevete Mexico City translated it, and all our site leaders united to blog it, facebook it, and tweet it. Ultimately, over 3,500 people signed it from 75 countries.
When the publication that Juan Terranova worked for – El Guardian – wouldn’t budge, Inti Maria, Violet, and Gaby worked with the incredible team at change.org to target the magazine’s two main advertisers. We organized another petition that put pressure on Fiat and Lacoste pull their advertising, and it was signed by over 1,700 people. In historic and precedent setting move for the Argentinean media, both companies pulled their advertising and publicly announced their disapproval of Terranova’s threat. Lacoste wrote, “our brand has suffered from being associated to comments we disapprove of.”
The rest is history. A public apology was issued by both Juan Terranova and El Guardian, and Terranova’s column was cancelled at the request of the magazine’s main stakeholder. And although we don’t take joy in another man losing his job, we are pleased that another journalist will have an opportunity to write a column absent of rape threats. And as for Terranova, hold your sympathy. Rumor has it he’s getting a reality show.
But this story isn’t just about some asshole with a mouthpiece. It is a story of what happens, when people ban together to do the right thing. It is a story of what it means to have the backs of people you’ve never met. It is a story of an incredible team. Inti Maria wrote,
“The other day I made a comparison to a friend between Hollaback and a bee hive. I said I felt like a bee because we are organized, strong, active and when we get mad — we act together. He said, “you are a strong bee,” haha. But the point is I feel strong because we are all strong together. Right now it feels like we’re taking down the bear of institutionalized misogynism in the media!”
Even Juan Terranova agrees with us on this one. In his apology, he wrote, “Hollaback is a powerful organization, influential and organized, and I am sure they will get what they want.”
In nonprofit terms, we are a tiny organization with only one full time and one part time staff member. But in real terms, we are a team of over 100 people in 10 countries and six languages. I know for many, it is hard to understand how Hollaback works without a traditional office space, or a traditional organizing model. It is hard to understand how people who have never met each other can work together to create impact, and why all these tremendous activists are working ten, sometimes twenty or thirty hours a week unpaid.
The only way I can explain it is this: have you ever been part of an incredible team? Was there ever a time in your life when you completely trusted the people you worked with, when you would have done anything for them, when everyone had everyone else’s back, and when those things made you work faster, smarter, and better than you ever thought possible? Chances are you have. It may have been fleeting, but you know what I’m talking about. And chances are you’d give anything to have that feeling back.
But that is what it feels like to be part of Hollaback: we are an incredible team. Independently, we are like bees. Weak, small, and always buzzing that street harassment is not OK. Collectively though, we’re working together seamlessly to make the impossible possible. To bring awareness to an issue that has been ignored for too long, and to lead this movement in our own communities.
I feel honored to be buzzing alongside the most badass bees on earth, and knowing that no matter what comes our way, we will always have each other’s backs.