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Saturday, January 31, 2015

We Are Warriors

Four years ago, I watched men sitting around a table testify before Congress about women's contraception. It was a truly shocking moment, a moment that made me angry, frustrated, and more than a little confused. If you want to know about women's contraception, wouldn't it make sense to talk to women?

Then it hit me. None of this-not four years ago, and not now-is about women's health. It's about power. Right-wing men want to decide if we can take the Pill, if we can get an abortion, if we can be raped. But four years ago, I was still naive. Four years ago, I never thought we would still be arguing about women's health. and yet, here we are. 

In the days that followed the all-male testimony on all things vagina, my anger was replaced by passion. Something needed to be done, someone had to speak out. I dragged my husband into the kitchen (because, according to many conservatives, that's where a woman belongs), shoved a video camera into his hands, and said "No more of this shit, let's make a video."

I scripted it, because I was still pretty new at this whole video thing. Now I can do one off the cuff, but not then. My husband set up the tripod, I took my place behind the counter, and we began. I had no idea what would happen once We Are Warriors posted, if anything. I expected the usual trolls, the vitriol, and the hate that flows so easily online. What I didn't expect was the video starting a movement.

Once We Are Warriors was posted, women began contacting me via Facebook. We decided to create an organization called We Are Woman, a take on "I Am Woman" by Helen Reddy. We kept Woman singular because in this fight, we are all one. 

We Are Woman is no longer the organization I and a few friends created, and I am no longer connected with the group in any way. Four years ago, though, it was Skype calls, late-night emails, blogging, Tweeting, creating the original website, and getting our message out. It was grassroots organizing of the best kind-people brought together for a common goal, without any corporate sponsorship. We were warriors, and it was amazing.

Four years later, we're dealing with more conservative men trying to take away our rights. The ban on 20-week abortion, the new proposed forced ultrasound bill, the redefining of rape, the minimizing of women's health in general. Sometimes, we need a reminder of why we still fight. We are engaged in a battle, make no mistake about it. A battle we have to win.

So this is my video, made in my kitchen, filmed by my husband. This was the moment I realized I had a voice, and I needed to use it. If we sit back, complacent, the powers that be will turn our country into The Handmaid's Tale. We have to defend our rights, our daughters' rights, our sisters' rights. If we don't, who will? 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Interview with Bobby Seale to be part of Western Americana Collection at UC Berkeley

Image of Bobby Seale from Forward Progressives

Interviewing Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the original Black Panthers, was an incredible experience. We spoke for over an hour-and-a-half by phone, and during that time, I learned so much about Mr. Seale, his life, and his beliefs. To say it was an honor is an understatement.

Once the piece was published at Forward Progressives, my friend and fellow writer, Arik Bjorn, suggested I contact California universities who might have an interest in archiving the interview. Mr. Seale lives near UC Berkeley, and I knew they had a Social Protest archive, so I reached out to them. Tuesday evening, I heard back from them via email:

Dear Erin Nanasi,
Your message concerning the interview you did with Bobby Seale was forwarded to me. The Bancroft Library would very much like to add a copy to our collection; can you get in touch with me about this at your convenience?
Look forward to hearing from you.

The email is signed by the curator of the Western Americana collection. 

This is a short article, because I am prepping for the State of the Union address. But I wanted to share this news with my readers, my friends, because if it was not for your unwavering support and affection, I would not be experiencing the joy and pride I am.

Thank you to Arik and Manny, and especially to Bobby Seale, a man whose story must be told. I am honored and humbled that he allowed to me to tell it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Coming to Grips

This is my blog. I've had two guest writers here, but everything else is me. My political views, most of The Bachmann Diaries, my personal stories, and quite a few interviews. And this blog has a total of 137,452 page views. I started this blog on June 7, 2011. In a little over 4 years, Poking at Snakes has amassed 137,452 views. Some of those are mine, checking on editing, or coming back to copy a link in order to send it in an email. So, including those, we'll say PAS has about 137,400 views.

That's awful, by the way. I know people who get those totals for one post. In a day. I'm sure the major aggregate sites, like Addicting Info and Upworthy, get over 137,450 views an hour. I don't. Not here, and not at Forward Progressives.

A few months ago, I had a brainblast, as Jimmy Neutron would say. My writing isn't meant for the internet. The problem with that is I need to make money writing online, and the only way to do that, it seems, is to stoop to the level of aggregate sites. Use click bait headlines that feature words like "destroy," and "pathetic." Write insultingly about people with whom I disagree. Write angry. Gotta write angry. Try to hurt, berate, demean, attack. I haven't aggregated yet, but give me time-my soul hasn't completely died.

I am coming to grips with the person I need to become in order to make money writing online. I hate this person, I really do. The person I like interviewed Bobby Seale. That interview, by the way, was ignored until a big writer, with connections to a huge aggregate site, agreed to share it on his Facebook page. I am extremely proud of that interview. Mr. Seale hasn't given me his opinion on it, nor has he shared it with anyone, but I'm still proud of it.

I am coming to grips with my editor at Forward Progressives, a man who would rather drink goat urine than use click bait headlines, telling me we have to use a little click bait, because that's the only way to attract readers. We shouldn't have to do that. We should be able to write great articles, moving, well-thought out and constructed essays, and that's enough. But in an age when the slaughter of 2,000 villagers in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram garners less interest than a video of a cop, lip-syncing to "Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift, we do what we have to do.

I'd like to write a book this year, and I am convinced this will be a total waste of time. The book, you see, would be written by the actual me, not the person I am forced to become to make $100 a month, writing for the internet. Which I don't actually make every month. There's no steady paycheck for me; I just cross my fingers. And there's no work available here in town, so that $100 every few months is the only income I am able to generate.

Artists, writers, and musicians are often expected to work for free. We should be, it seems, honored that someone wants to see, read, or listen to, whatever it is we produce. By writers, I mean people who write, not people who compose less than a paragraph of wraparound text, pop it up with a video, and sit back to watch the money roll in.

People, people I respect, have told me I can do this, this writing thing. I don't think Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, or Anne Rice, would have agreed to be interviewed by me if I couldn't write. I don't think AJ Jacobs was lying when he told me he liked my work. What I do think is that my actual writing style is not meant for the internet. When I channel Angry Bitter Erin, I do okay. I don't like that person, though, and I don't think it's healthy for me to have to become someone I dislike in order to get those clicks and shares.

I am coming to grips with the person I want to be versus the person it seems I have to be. And I'm taking a week off, starting this afternoon, to figure out which is more important: making $100 every few months, or staying true to myself. Is making the front page of Reddit better than not being ashamed? I told someone last week that there are things I refuse to do regarding writing online, things I find morally reprehensible. A horrible truth is the people who don't have those moral limitations are making money by the second online.

I used to think this had to do with my inability to promote myself. It turns out, that isn't the problem. The problem is no one is interested in what I'm promoting, because what I create isn't popular online. On an up note, some woman who opens Disney toys on the You Tube made almost $5 million last year, so maybe I can get into that.

In the end, my plan is to just write like me. Will people read it? Probably not. Is that because I can't write? Nope. And that's my mantra now. Like Stuart Smalley, I will set aside a little time every day to give myself a pep talk. Will I write a book? Probably. Will people read it? Family and few friends, sure. Now I have to learn how to live with that, which is the tough part. It's amazing when a NYT bestselling author tells you you're a good writer. Doesn't pay the bills, however, but for now, the bills are okay.

And so am I.