The Monument Quilt: How We Used URLs and IRLs to Fight Rape Culture
Activist group Force uses the Internet and real life programs to fight rape culture.
Over the past two years, anti-rape activists have found the Internet to be a powerful tool. Anonymous brought national attention to the mishandling of a rape case in Steubenville, OH. Twitter users amplified their voice with the #restoretheblock campaign and had the company quickly responding to the demand. Even the emergence of “rape culture” as a term can be accredited to the growing online, highly vocal, political community.
The Internet propelled Force’s work onto a national stage. Overnight, we went from a small art project in our home city to an organization with international recognition. Our viral panty prank (where we pretended to be Victoria’s Secret promoting consent themed slogans on undies and thongs) spread like wildfire on Tumblr and Facebook. Our more recent culture jam, a spoof of Playboy’s top party school list call the“Top Ten Party Commandments” (a guide to consensual sex for college students) exploded on twitter. The spoof “playboy consent” was tweeted about more than “Playboy party school”, which was released by the actual Playboy Magazine a week later.
That a handful of volunteers can create a Twitter tide that not only competes with, but beats the publicity efforts of an international, multimillion dollar company is nothing short of amazing. And in our success at amplifying our message lies the power and the potential of the Internet -- and why we use it.
Many people who are fans of our digitally connected culture jams are perplexed about our current, mostly analogue project. We have been asked why, since the Internet culture jams were so effective, would we try something different?
As activists, we believe in using multiple tactics. Frequently, those of us working towards social justice can fall into a trap of arguing which tactic is most effective, with the assumption that one tactic is better than the other. We believe using multiple tactics is the most effective approach. There is not one way to end rape in the United States. To change large complex systems (like a rape culture, which manifests itself in jokes, TV shows, laws, interpersonal relationships, and violent actions) many different tools and methods are required.
Rather than talking about the limits of the Internet, let’s talk about the possibilities of physical space. It is not that engaging people in person is better or worse than engaging people online. It’s just different.
And, for Force, it’s also time. The Internet has been an amazing tool to broaden our organization’s reach. Now that we’ve recruited a substantial audience, we want to deepen and strengthen our relationships and, by doing so, the impact of our work.
The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of thousands of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. By stitching our stories together, we are creating and demanding public space to heal. The Monument Quilt is a platform to not only tell our stories, but work together to forever change how Americans respond to rape. We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.
Sections of the quilt will be witnessed across the United States through a tour, quilt-making workshops, and a historic display in our nation’s capitol. Blanketing over one mile of the National Mall, thousands of fabric squares will be stitched together to spell “NOT ALONE.” The Monument Quilt gives churches, schools, towns, and our country clear and accessible steps to support survivors of rape and abuse when, often, people don’t know where to begin. Through public recognition, the quilt reconnects survivors to their community.
Over the past year, Force started to travel to do workshops. We’ve met people working to end rape as college students, activists, crisis counselors and community organizers from L.A. to Vermont. When we connect with people on the Internet, rarely do we come to understand the uniqueness of their community and the radically varying needs therein. When we connect with people in person, that depth of understanding happens almost automatically. The Monument Quilt is designed to be adapted, to travel and change. We are excited to see how radically different the Monument Quilt will be in every community that uses it. And we are excited to see how those differences and connections shape a national conversation about supporting survivors of rape and abuse.
The goal of Force’s work is to start conversations. Difficult and controversial conversations are more likely to arrive at a fruitful place of understanding in person than online. We need the messages that are going viral on the Internet to come from multiple, varying, and sometimes oppositional viewpoints. For rape to end, we don’t just need people who think like us to participate in the process, we need everyone. This includes people who do not share our worldview. Our allies in this struggle may only share the basic belief that rape is wrong. On-the-ground organizing has the potential to engage people who would not engage online. On-the-ground organizing has the potential to engage people outside of leftist, feminist, and progressive Internet communities. And to us, that feels like a necessary next step.
With all the possibilities of physical space, most people will continue to interact with The Monument Quilt online. We’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and dismissing the amazing organizing power of the Internet. We’re utilizing the Internet for a project that not only uses multiple tactics but operates on multiples levels.
Last week, Force launched a new website for the project. TheMonumentQuilt.org is an online platform and hub of resources for people who want to engage with the Quilt. The website is bilingual in English and Spanish. Amongst all the resources, you can find instructional videos demonstrating how to make a quilt square using spray paint or sewing together a patchwork. Those interested in making a quilt square can find online and printable instructions. The site also contains self-care tips and resources for survivors. On an interactive map, you can find upcoming events near you and even register your own. We want to both empower and take care of the people who engage in the project. We want to give people across the country the tools they need to bring the power and the impact of the Monument Quilt to their lives and their community. With the new TheMonumentQuilt.org, all those resources are in one place.
While we collect quilt squares over the next two years, we are documenting each square for a digital archive. After the final display of the Monument Quilt on the National Mall, the quilt, in its entirety will continue to live online. The quilt is a physical, analogue project that, even in its afterlife, will be seen, spread, and grow online.