Channel Your Inner Activist

the womxn project

With everything going on in the world today, I’m guessing there’s some issue that has made you wonder, “How do I become an activist?” Basically, an activist is someone who is using their power to create positive change. And what I’ve learned is that becoming an activist is like a free personal development seminar–it helps you become a better person by teaching you how to use your voice, how to listen to others, and how to collaborate.

Today I’m talking with two women who helped me embrace my inner activist both through their example and through the organization that they co-founded, The Womxn Project. Jocelyn Foye and Jordan Hevenor are both moms, and both live in the same town.

Jocelyn comes to activism through art. She’s a sculptor and a designer who loves to get people seeing and thinking about things in new ways. And Jordan is a former Congressional staffer and campaign veteran who decided to shift her activism from her career to her life so she could spend more time with her kids.

Their organization, The Womxn Project, was instrumental in getting the Reproductive Privacy Act passed into law in Rhode Island in 2019, after 26 years of getting stuck in committee. 

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Jordan and Jocelyn, it’s really great to have you here. Love it when different areas of my life overlap!

I know when I stayed at the state house until 1:30 in the morning to give my testimony in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act, it shifted something in me. It showed me how much my voice and my story mattered. And it feels like a real before and after moment in my life. Was there a moment for each of you when you realized that you wanted to become an activist? 


Jordan:
So having worked in politics as a first career, but then come back to it in 2016 during the presidential election, there was this moment in 2016 where secretary Tom Perez came to do an event in Ohio in the town that I was working in. And I have a huge fear of public speaking. So when it came to do the introduction from him, I chose not to do it. And I listened to the person who did do it, who gave a great introduction. But my voice was nowhere in that nor the story of people who might have a similar voice like mine.

So I sat there on election night and thought about what I could have done differently in the 2016 election. I thought maybe if I could have used my voice in that moment, that would have spoke to people in a different way. And I chose not to.

So when Jocelyn and I worked together  with other folks to found the women project, one thing that I tried to embrace was places that I personally had always been hesitant to use my voice. And how to inspire other people in myself, to speak up and to figure out what they could say and when. And when they could say it, and how they could say it in a way that works for them.

Well, I was going to say that I think a lot of times activism comes from this place of discomfort. Like I love thinking of you sitting there listening to somebody do something that you had been too scared to do and thinking like, Oh, why didn’t I do that? I could have done a really good job. And there’s a lot that can come out of that uncomfortable feeling if you let it inspire you into action. What about you, Jocelyn?

Jocelyn: So I came to activism and in a very organic way. Not same kind of trajectory at all. I had moved back from living in Los Angeles for 13 years to New England. And I was looking for community and I found a local art gallery. That was a member based organization called Hera gallery in our town. And they really opened the door and opportunity for us to use their organization for creative means and educational needs.

And so as soon as 45 was elected president, I met with one other organizer and member of Hera. She and I organized this educational lecture series immediately the day after. And one of the first people we called was a local immigrant rights lawyer. We said, can you come and talk to folks in our neighborhood who are milling about paranoid, not sure what to do. We can try and give them an education so that they can act from that.

And so we started this series, he came, he was incredible. Basically he said, we have no idea what’s going to happen, but we know it’s not going to be good. This is how to prepare yourself. And lots of other organizations came as well. And Jordan and I got introduced through that and with two other organizers. And I didn’t have a background in activism per se. I had a background in being a professor of design and sculpture and creating spectacle-based installations. I lived in LA where everything was a spectacle.

Up until this point, my more formal thinking of activism was that it was more political and being at the state house and making phone calls . I very quickly learned through this core group of folks who started the woman project, that we can make it whatever we wanted. And that really fit how Rhode Islanders needed us. And so we really charged up a lot of folks who were like me. We found other ways to activate folks.

Very cool. Like me. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the word activism. Maybe it seems scary, or maybe like something they don’t have time for. What do you say to the folks who are interested, but who might need a bit of a pep talk to get involved?

Jocelyn: I would say coming from my own personal experience, cause I think that’s healthiest is to say that we, again, trying to meet people where they are. We called it artivism. We combined nontraditional ways of having conversations and gatherings and educational sessions with different types of creative processes. And believe it or not, I think language obviously matters and that inspired people to ask more questions.

And then when we would talk to them and Jordan can tell you more about that too, I think is we would learn that we would find out where people were comfortable and we would try and fit different types of things to what that person was comfortable with. And that developed in an organic, um, form of build.

So Jordan, somebody’s talking to you, you know, they’re saying like, Oh, I know I should do something, but I am nervous. Or I don’t think I have time. Like, what do you say directly to that person?

Jordan: I think I just try to listen to where they’re at. Like the things that they do, maybe even their hobbies, interests, how their schedule is and their time is. So The Womxn Project has done a lot of different things. We wrote tons of postcards. And that was hugely popular because people could just take them and do them in their home. I think just paying attention, leaning into your friend network.

You know, the first thing, The Womxn Project advocated for the reproductive health care act here in Rhode Island. And some of our first meetings were just talking to our friends and family about abortion, here in Rhode Island, which is a largely Catholic state. And while people overwhelmingly supported the right to safe and legal abortion here in Rhode Island, we found that folks weren’t having tough conversations with their family. They just ignored that topic before.

So in the first year of The Womxn Project, a lot of our supporters were just having those dinner table conversations with members of their friends and family. And actually realizing that they all felt the same way. And yet they’d never opened up that dialogue before. So like, it just depends where you’re at and what you’re ready to do. And then also lean into your friends and family, ask what they’re doing, what can make it fun and a collaborative thing to support each other as you come out there. Cause I think about your testimony, Kate. So many of your friends were there with you that day. You brought them along with you for that piece. And I imagine that made it feel a lot better to put yourself in what may it feel like a vulnerable situation.

How does activism help you become a better person? 

Jordan: For me, I think activism helps me listen to other people and what’s going on in their lives. And I think you can only do this successfully if you are attempting in some way to center those that are most marginalized or impacted. So I think it really helps me check my own privilege  that I have in my life. And think about the privilege that I have to show up in certain situations and also how I can make and share space. And that makes my life richer and more, you know, well-rounded.

Love that. Jocelyn?

Jocelyn: For myself. I am, I would argue more of an extroverted personality. And uh, for me, I’m ultimately in a place where if I’m not doing something because of the way I am as a person in the world, I, as a result of all the problems that we’re having, societally from the federal system down to the local town, if I weren’t doing something, I would be unhealthy. I wouldn’t be able to, to be. So I need, I need an outlet to be helpful, whatever that means. The Womxn Project has been able to learn how to be responsive in the ways that Jordan is saying. And to be able to be more uplifting to other spaces and voices.

But in addition, I would say that a real positive, regardless of the pandemic and the challenges that we’re facing now, is that it’s also about learning or meeting new people and developing a community of being surrounded by strong women. And people who feel comfortable in talking about the way they see injustices happening and where those changes and shifts need to be. So for example, my reach is only so far because of the research I’m doing. But ultimately the education that I gained through meeting more folks and having these conversations is incredible.

Awesome. I love that you see activism as self care because I think to a lot of people, it might just sound like one more thing to do, right? That’s going to keep you away from the self care, but from a better person perspective, you know, I think that we think about this in the middle of the night, like, Oh, I need to do something.  I need to be better. I know I want to, I have more to give. And so if you’re finding ways to give back about things that you care about, it really does help make you a better person. It also helps alleviate that worry that maybe you’re not doing enough. And that’s super important, especially in these, these nutty times, for sure.
Something you both alluded to is that true activism is about getting a diverse group of people to work together toward a common goal. So, you know, I know this is a huge topic. We could talk about this for three hours, but just really quick. What’s one thing you learned about being inclusive, that you wish everyone who wants to get involved in a cause knew?

Jordan: I think one thing the Womxn Project did, and maybe people don’t realize, but during our first year sort of year and a half, we held community meetings around the state. And they were just small meetings and we didn’t have agendas really for them. We opened it up the group and tried to do like the takeaways. So while we were focused on passing the reproductive healthcare act, we always saw these meetings as an exchange of ideas and to learn.

And I think one thing that’s really amazing is when I think about the folks that are still working with us, a lot of them came from those meetings or those folks who were in those early meetings have gone on to run for office. Maybe they were inspired to start an organization that completely focused on the issue that was most important to them. And we can work in collaboration with them and just how having a space to talk, to feel safe, to have conversations about things that can be really tough. And maybe you don’t want to sit with, but are really important and continuing to push into that. I think we spent a lot of time trying to do that and we still try and do it.

So as we move forward, we’re asking ourselves, are we doing this in the best way possible for folks? And where are our blind spots? And how can we make sure that we are paying attention to that?

Fantastic. So for folks who want to know more, where can people connect with you?

The Womxn Project in all sorts of virtual locations. As we are trying to focus as much of our energy and activism around COVID safety. So you can find us at www.thewomxnproject.org. And we also have a strong presence in many social media platforms. So you can find us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. And we have a budding YouTube channel with a lot of video work, um, of panels that we’ve recently held with elected officials from across the country recently that have been incredibly inspiring and uplifting to what our future could hold, um, through the voices of incredible folks who were originally activists and now started running or have been running and won for office. Very cool. That’s a good way. And we love to talk. So you’re also welcome to always call or email.

Daily Tiny Assignment

If you’ve ever wondered, how do I become an activist, I just want you to take a moment to think about your moment where you really felt like you had to do something about a problem that you saw in the world. Where either you felt sad or angry or enraged like Jordan and Jocelyn were talking about what their moments. And decide what cause is it that you’re going to devote some time to. We’re three days into this week on activism. So it’s time to do something to make it real.

The very first thing you can do is just say the cause that I care about and then I’m going to spend some time helping is blank. For extra bonus points. Tell someone else what you wrote down. And for extra extra bonus points, go find one small thing you can do to get involved in that cause and go do it. Whether it’s research or signing up for a zoom, or writing a letter, doesn’t matter what it is. I’d love to what Jocelyn said about how she has realized that activism is self care. So go take care of yourself while also taking care of something that needs some help.

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