Open Letter to Britni…RE: #AbuserDynamics & Oppression Within The Hollaback! Organization

I am replying to Britni as another site leader tossing some opinions in the hat. It is not my preference to discuss this matter on twitter.

I am also replying in acknowledgement of your pain and frustration, Britni. I know that my response is not the one you’re looking for and that can only come from the people in charge of this organization. Even though your actions are extremely hurtful to me, I can empathize with wanting to be heard and wanting to have your pain acknowledged. I hear you. It is not my aim to tell you that your feelings don’t matter. It is not my aim to tell you that I don’t believe that you have gone through a traumatic experience during your time with this organization. I will however, put my foot down when I see misinformation being spread about things other than your personal experiences. I will speak up when I feel like the wrong person is trying to speak for me. I will speak up when I am able. This conversation can go on forever and most of this will not be resolved in public.

Dear Britni,

How about giving people a minute to process?

How about giving people a minute to sort out what they are feeling when presented with something you have admittedly been thinking about presenting for a while. Something that you have clearly had a support system to discuss with for a while. Something very truly hurtful. Why do we have to be hostage to your timeline to respond? Why have you not asked me why I feel betrayed and hurt by your actions? Are my feelings less important than yours for the simple fact that I am hurt by your actions specifically? You purport to care for all the site leaders.

 

I felt this same way when things were blowing up after the “10 Hours” video. You are online a LOT and often. I can’t keep up. It’s impressive, really. The thing is, not all of us have that same capacity to engage and that should be okay. The Mothership calling for patience then was not excessive considering the circumstances post video. You stated that the NYC chapter has 40,000 followers and compared it to an average of 400 for others…you are right, that it’s a huge difference in reach. I’m sure we can safely assume that not all 40,000 of those followers are keeping a supportive eye on the NYC chapter. I don’t think I could or would ever want to comprehend the level of threats they must have received as reactions stormed in that were directed at them and Shoshana, who they were also concerned about keeping safe.

 

So, with that said, a big criticism I have towards former Boston and Philly chapters in particular is that your sites publicly demanded so much from the Mothership to help maintain your own reputations that you never once checked in with any of us people of color that are your colleagues…whom you are so willing to shelter now and speak for to keep up appearances. After the “10 Hours” video, it was like “The Great White Flight of 2014” when site leaders were so afraid of being called racist that they quite swiftly stepped down, formed new entities, and publicly and non-constructively criticized the organization that fostered their activism up to that point. To be clear, I think it was totally fine that you each had your own fires to put out and prioritized in a way that was best for you. Just don’t make it seem like you had my back then any more than you do now.

 

Something that was also disturbing to me was that you both honestly hijacked followers of Hollaback! Boston and Philly without followers’ consent by getting the FB and Twitter names of those pages changed. Yes, you built that following…but as a Hollaback! chapter. Not to mention that you imposed so much misinformation and negativity to that audience about the organization they showed up to support. You just decided for them that they were going to be on your side, full tilt. You have left the hypothetical future site leaders of those chapters with a lot of work to do to build back that following, which you know is so hard to build and that you called out NYC for not aiding in boosting. When I took over for Hollaback! Houston, I was so lucky to be able to carry on with the work that was already established before me. It really sped up my learning process and helped me feel encouraged to grow. That’s all I hope to continue doing is build upon the work that was already established to make things even easier when it’s time to hand things over. All this progress, the goal of our work all takes time and collective effort.

 

A point that keeps being brought up is the alleged “removal” of the Hollaback! chapter sites once the leaders have announced they are stepping down. Of course the websites have to be deactivated. If there aren’t leaders available to maintain the sites then it is a disservice to that community when they submit a story or reach out for support and there is no one home. Also, speaking from my own experience…which I pointed out last year to deaf ears…the Houston site is an actual example of how this process works. The previous leaders stepped down more cordially, but still the site was not deleted but essentially made dormant until I came along and lo and behold…every story post, page, comment all preserved intact and revived because we have the technology to make that happen. Yet, so many have campaigned on that issue as a big strike against the organization under the misinformation that stories that belonged to the public were lost; when actually they haven’t been. It’s true that while the Hollaback! sites are dormant, the stories already submitted won’t appear on the map.  But, this is something we can and should be able to change with technology.  This is something that we are and should be talking to the Mothership about.  Especially after the release of the “10 Hours” video, ALL constructive criticism is being addressed, in a confidential, internal manner, and improvements are being made.

 

There are a lot of true things you brought up. The problem is that you framed it in a really awful and non-constructive way.

 

Yes, it’s true I’m not paid for the work that I do, but it’s not because I’m being exploited. It’s because I signed up to do this work at my own capacity as a volunteer because this issue is relevant to me and I wanted to contribute something. I figured, sure I could manage social media and take the time to learn more about the issue and gain some activism experience…at my own pace. There was never any promise of money made to me. No bait and switch routine. Even if I could, as much as I love being part of this movement, I wouldn’t do it full-time. Hollaback! would have to pay me better and have better benefits than where I’m at now plain and simple and I don’t know how that can happen right now. That’s just the nature of activism…most of it is unpaid but so very necessary so we do it anyway. It sucks. How long does it take for one to get a dream gig being an activist and being able to support your family completely from just that one job? If I make some groundbreaking strides in Houston, I know that I will be credited. When I first started, all I would ever hear about was what Boston and Philly were doing. All the time, everywhere. It was phenomenal and I wished I could get on that level eventually.

 

Also, I really don’t know what site leader work you speak of that the Mothership has gotten funding for that sites haven’t seen. Although…it’s worth noting that last year, HB! fundraised and also got grants to reimburse site leaders’ transportation and boarding to the HOLLA::Rev conference and weeklong workshop in NYC. I was one of those site leaders that went and I wouldn’t have been able to afford the time off/expense otherwise. There is also the innovation challenge that gives funding to sites that propose a project they want to take on:  http://voqal.org/hollabacks-innovation-challenge-winner/

I have noticed, especially in the past 6 months, that the Mothership is much more active in finding ways to fund local chapter initiatives.

Beyond that, people can look at the awards and funding page and pick out what looks inappropriate:  http://www.ihollaback.org/about/donors/

 

It’s like there is some sort of collective amnesia about the way non-profits function. Regardless of how active any of the chapters are, we are still volunteers. We have so much great leadership present across the board and so much combined intelligence and success. So we have a lot of folks used to a certain amount of authority outside of the movement. I would be surprised to find out any of the site leaders that left hadn’t coordinated volunteers before in any sphere they’ve been in and hadn’t seen inappropriate assertions of authority.

 

We have all agreed to do the work in our own way and are not held to any unfairly demanding deadlines, benchmarks, quotas etc. What we receive in return is amazing. Free tech support, expressed availability for emotional support, ongoing training and consulting, wide broadcasting of our successes, promotion of our related projects, the above stated travel grants for the last conference and recent funding for innovation, notice of various external opportunities, and a great deal of autonomy in shaping the message that is best for our region.

 

Maybe some of the site leaders have such extensive experience that none of that registers for them and means more to people like me? Being treated as an equal in this movement has been so uplifting for me. To be someone who has insecurities in the activist/feminist realm about not having the decorated background, degree, career, being a woman of color and to be accepted and nurtured in this group means so much to me and feels like real equality. I gladly continue to stand proud of this movement and my place in it. I’ve never been made to feel pressured to make excuses for myself while I’m learning the ropes and carrying on at my own capacity.

 

While we have this autonomy it feels like people are somehow overlooking the fact that this is still a functioning non-profit that we are volunteering for. Locally, we have each created our own benchmarks and workloads. Yes we did face backlash at varying degrees for the video created for our benefit, however, while unpopular it is clear to me that we are not owed a FINAL SAY on who the Mothership partners with, just as each of us gets to decide whether or not to participate in Slutwalks or One Billion Rising for example. This doesn’t mean that when we disagree or when mistakes are made, we should not hold the Mothership, or other local chapters, accountable.  What each of us does affects all of us to a certain degree. We naturally get asked for various feedback about things so it’s not like it never happens. If we were truly an authoritarian org like some have suggested then we wouldn’t be allowed those partnership and programming freedoms, which I personally value; we would be replaced by those who are willing to conform to strict guidelines and business would go on as usual without us…no matter how much we have contributed.

 

If people want to be more of a shareholder in overall decision making, there is plenty of opportunity and support to incorporate a model after an entity like Collective Action For Safe Spaces (CASS) in DC. Similarly, if people feel the need to protect their intellectual property or copyright materials, separating themselves may be the best option for them to have total control. Maybe no one likes sharing as much as they say they do? I feel like I see credit given where it’s due. Maybe rules on intellectual property are too lax or nonexistent? If it doesn’t exist, I guess it needs to be considered. It sucks. More rules always suck but are sometimes necessary when people can’t play nice.

 

To those sinking their teeth into that 10% of funding thing…it’s outlined in our start up packet and publicly on the main website:  http://www.ihollaback.org/about/the-movement/. This isn’t exactly secret info. It’s basically like franchising. The only circumstances that warrant that kick back is if any site incorporates. I don’t know if any sites have done that before as a Hollaback! site and so those that haven’t, which is most of us…they manage their own donations and aren’t required to send anything back and people know that. I, personally am not willing to take on all this:  http://nonprofit.about.com/od/faqsthebasics/f/nonprofchapter.htm

 

It is documented that the reason Hollaback! started forming other chapters to begin with is because people asked for help creating local movements with the same model. It wasn’t some get rich quick, imperialistic scheme. I don’t even know how, at the current stage of the org, a staff could be hired and salaried in every city that has an active chapter. Also, how restrictive would that be to those wanting to participate? What would representation within the movement look like then? I’m not a sucker for staying nor am I blinded by any sort of “toxic loyalty”. Nor is anyone else. Maybe Hollaback! shouldn’t have expanded participation if they didn’t have a perfect model for it to begin with? Maybe we wouldn’t be here now? Maybe we wouldn’t know the people we know or grown in our activism the way that I know I have? Was it worth it? Is it worth it to be part of a work in progress organization? How do we fix it? How do they troubleshoot? Knowing how non-profits actually function, is it fair to expect a true democracy in the decision making process? Even after everything that people have been through privately or publicly within this movement…I want to know…would you rather have never had the chance to participate at all? I don’t mean that it’s about gratitude but rather accessibility. I would never say that any of us should be pitifully grateful for being a part of this organization, but it is clear we all have gained in some way from this work. Sites that have branched off appear to be continuing on with a similar model and even replicated programs.

 

Also, as you know, I am one of the “marginalized ppl” you are attempting to speak for and I don’t appreciate it. I don’t appreciate it because you are using my existence to bolster your argument. That is not being a good ally. It is the opposite of a good ally. You want to talk about co-opting? How about a majority of white/white passing women co-opting the language of oppression and speaking for people of color? Just don’t. You preface your storify as a compilation of your experiences and with the exception of contributions by others, you still share your analysis of the experiences of people of color within the HB! movement. We don’t need to center this issue around your feelings about the way you think I am oppressed. In the same breath you criticize Emily May for citing Rodney King, Anita Hill, and Rosa Parks(in a video shared confidentially with site leaders after you left the org.)…as she has many times before in materials…you yourself cite three women of color that inspired you to speak your mind on this:

“@ChiefElk, @bad_dominicana, & @so_treu”.

 

image (1)

 

You have violated so much trust over and over again since you left the organization last year. I have watched you commit so many of the same offenses you criticize Hollaback! publicly of and watch as others follow along without context.

I don’t blame any other sites or the Mothership themselves for not wanting to get involved in having a different opinion than you. I know you know what scary possibilities await when you relinquish anonymity on the internet. It’s also super scary to risk being trolled by another feminist for simply disagreeing especially when you have seen similar behavior by that person before. So that’s why I specifically addressed you antagonizing anyone who felt hurt or betrayed while also likening it to an abuse victim mentality. You claim to not have known who made the statements you shared publicly on twitter and it doesn’t matter. You admit to being “told” that was a response but not who said it. Then you tried to say that you got tons of emails and it was absurd for me to take it personally when others may feel the same way. It doesn’t matter whether or not you in fact knew I said those words or if they were actually relayed anonymously to you. I told you that I felt that way and that puts me in the category of people who specifically feel “hurt” and “betrayed” by your actions.

image photo (1) photo (2)

 

While the words “hurt” and “betrayed” seem pretty mundane, the reason it was brought to my attention was that by the time you made your original tweet, I was the ONLY person who used those exact words…or even had a substantive reaction to your storify…in what is supposed to be a confidential, off the record, and safe space. Again, I felt betrayed by whoever was giving you more ammunition and how you were using it. Again, that space continues to feel less safe, which for me started after your actions…which clearly I now cannot go into detail about because you did not act alone…in that same safe space. You effectively silenced anyone who was not in agreement with you with these same tactics of constant monitoring and arguing. So, I was rightfully offended that your reaction was not to apologize but to thank me for the info, glaze over the misstep, and delete the incriminating tweet along with an important piece of context for my reactions.

 

After seeing you knowingly being complicit in sharing information given to you from an inside source, it makes me question how much of the other accounts where shared without consent.

 

This quote from Feminist Public Works keeps floating around:  “calling out those closest to you is oftentimes the most difficult, but also the most important, stand you can take.” I know we’re not close and have never met in person, but does this adage not hold true for someone like me when it is you that I call out for antagonizing my feelings publicly? I never discounted your feelings for anything that you say happened to you. The things I was witness to and that are documented, I can speak on.

 

I’m not here to inflict anymore pain for you. I want Safe Hub Collective, Feminist Public Works, Safer Spaces Winnipeg, People’s Justice League, and other groups that have formed and may form in the future to thrive. We’re all doing important work and I want more than anything for us all to continue focusing our energies towards progress. I know you feel that this is part of that process from where you stand and I can’t deny you the ability to do that. However, if you are truly wanting to be constructive, I’m not really seeing or feeling that. It just feels like sensationalism. My saying that doesn’t negate any truth that exists in the personal situations of your own and those of others you spoke on behalf of. Again, I’m just addressing the framing of your public shaming of Hollaback!

 

The only themes I find consistent is in encouraging other site leaders to leave or strongly suggesting that potential leaders stay away. It feels like the same paternalistic attitude we all fight against. To want so badly to decide what’s best for everyone else. My hope is that people will feel like they can make their own decision about whether or not they want to participate with the org, maintain participation with pride, or simply continue to support the progress of HB!…based on their independent experiences while still keeping all the points you raised in mind to either clarify, dismiss, or investigate further. Everything is already out there. It all gets to stay for better or worse. It’s not for one person to decide. I also hope that people are sincere about seeing things change and aren’t just fueling a fire to watch it burn.

 

While I can’t speak to every issue that was brought up on twitter, as I stated already, I chose to speak out against the perpetuation of misinformation, antagonism, and glaring saviorism. I also wanted to remind people that others like me are hurting too. Sure there are undoubtedly changes that need to be made to improve site leaders’ experience but it’s not scandal-worthy it’s just logistics. It’s also not a reality show that whole world will get to watch.

 

Check this out…I have all the freedom I want to express myself on this page. My site won’t get shut down if I don’t run these thoughts by the Mothership first. It also doesn’t just get to stay for standing in support of the organization. It just gets to be…because here it is.

Sincerely,

Hermie Escamilla

Site Leader, Hollaback! Houston

If anyone feels like reading a lot more about how Hollaback! is run, a bit about finances, and a little history on the movement, this journalist did a pretty good job by simply asking around and researching for those details:  http://techpresident.com/news/25358/hollaback-can-storytelling-make-safer-streets

One response to “Open Letter to Britni…RE: #AbuserDynamics & Oppression Within The Hollaback! Organization

  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I’ve been sad to see such nasty discourse in the formerly feisty-but-friendly community. The work is so important and the growth of the movement is so clear, it’s still a changing space and it is unreasonable to expect everything and everyone to be fully baked at all times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *