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Grassroots Feminism: Building a transnational community towards participatory culture and civic engagement

The preconception of youth, and in particular of girls and young women, as culturally unproductive and as passive consumers of mass culture and media is still very much ingrained today. However, girls and young women are capable cultural producers who create a wide variety of their own films, music, media, and festivals. To gain insight into and to document the cultural spaces girls and young women create and the meaning they have, it is vital to look closely at their own cultural spaces - and not only at media produced for them (which is done more frequently).

Contemporary cultural productions by female youth have rarely been collected in libraries as they are not seen as worthy of the canon of “high literature”. While I was working on the Grrrl Zine Network project the past years I realized that it is not only zines - or other independent media for that matter - but feminist cultural productions and activities overall that are not archived or made accessible to a larger audience and that an interactive feminist community portal was missing. Hence, I decided to create a central and interactive community platform for transnational grassroots feminist archives, projects, and resources.

Grassroots Feminism: Transnational archives, resources and communities takes as a starting point that today’s oppositional cultural practices by girls, young women and transgender folks are worthwhile to be documented and that we need to collect them as important social movement artefacts. By providing an interactive network portal and research platform at the web site, the goal is to make contemporary cultural spaces and practices by feminist and queer youth more accessible to diverse communities, activists and researchers, as well as to establish a “living history” archive. Working towards the recognition and renewal of the contemporary transnational feminist movement, the aims of the web site are:
- to archive activities of the grassroots feminist movement worldwide (be it cultural, activist or political)
- to provide and share information and resources on feminist practice and theory
- to offer possibilities for exchange, networking and interaction so we can connect across borders and re-envision feminist politics
- to encourage the participation and acknowledgement of young feminists

Its overall vision is to establish a non-hierarchical network of communication between feminist activists throughout the world.

Members can log in and list / link their projects, happenings, interviews, or they can add events to a calendar and search for other projects worldwide. The listed projects are searchable by country, date, the media and form used (film, music, art, zines, performance, workshop, discussion, etc.), content (violence against women, transgender topics, etc.), country, and contact information (if available). Importantly, the site also hosts a number of archives, such as Ladyfests, zines, feminist grassroots media, music, where files (audio, images, videos) can be uploaded.

The planning and programming of the Web 2.0 site has taken over a year. The site has been programmed with the open-source social software Drupal. This is a Learning Content Management System with a unique focus on collaboration and community that encourages user interaction through forums, blogs, open moderation queues, etc. While I am the main organizer of the site, Grassroots Feminism welcomes collaborations: My main collaborator from the very beginning has been Red Chidgey, co-founder of the Feminist Activist Forum in the UK and long-term zinester. She also facilitates the Ladyfest Archive. The Music Archive will be established together with Rosa Reitsamer, a feminist researcher from Vienna, Austria and the Feminist Grassroots Media in Europe archive with Jenny Gunnarsson Payne, a feminist scholar from Sweden, and Red Chidgey.

The project shares its vision with a transnational feminist practice rooted in the critique of Postcolonial Theory and in the concept of a unifying “global sisterhood” (e.g. Chandra T. Mohanty, Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan). While in some languages there is no translation for the term “grassroots”, in English it signifies a bottom-up, counter-hegemonic citizen resistance with a focus on the everyday practices and lives of ordinary people and an encouragement of participatory democratic practices. The use of the terms “grassroots” and “transnational” indicate the complex interrelationship of the local and the global. Transnational resistance operates on many sites and levels, from everyday activities to transnational coalitions.

It is my sincere hope that Grassroots Feminism evolves into a tool for transnational activists, cultural producers, and researchers to link their struggles and to develop connections between cultural, social, political, environmental, economic and other coalitions. Because, in the words of Chandra Talpede Mohanty: “everyday feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist practices are as important as large, organized political movements” (Feminism without Borders. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003, p. 4).

In solidarity,
Elke Zobl
Salzburg, Austria, December 1, 2008