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While most of us are consumed with the merry fisticuffs of the presidential primary race, an alarming number of discriminatory policies are being passed at the state level. Thankfully, the backlash has proved swift and punishing.
Companies are threatening to reduce business operations in North Carolina and Mississippi following legislation that legalizes discrimination against LGBT people. Meanwhile, Indiana women are waging what has been jokingly referred to as a "terror campaign" against conservative leadership.
Yes, it's safe to say that April has been a rough month for Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
More than a thousand protesters rallied at the statehouse on Saturday to protest the controversial anti-abortion law Pence signed into law in late March. Among other things, House Bill 1337 prohibits a woman from terminating a pregnancy due to genetic abnormalities in the fetus, which effectively means she could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term even a doctor tells her it is likely to result in a still birth. The law also mandates the cremation or burial of fetal remains following a miscarriage or abortion.
Indiana already severely limits access to abortion -- its prior laws most closely mimic the embattled policy passed in Texas last year -- and many Indiana women feel the new set of regulations is even more intrusive.
The rally gained a few minutes in the headlines, but the medium they chose in the weeks before is what really garnered attention: Since Gov. Pence seems to be so concerned with the reproductive functions of Indiana women, they took to social media to tell him what's going on down there.
"[The law] was being discussed a lot in the news. I read the bill and realized that it is both intrusive and confusing," Sue, the woman who created the Periods for Pence Facebook page in late March, told Broadly. "I said to my husband, 'If he's this worried about what goes on in there, maybe I should just call and tell him about my period.' And I went back that night and started the page."
Indiana women used inspiration from the page and the #PeriodsforPence hashtag to connect with Pence and the bill's author, state Rep. Casey Cox (also a man, in case that needs clarifying), to tell them about their menstrual cycles and ask for gynecological advice. A typical post looks something like this:
The hilarity that ensued proves why this is the perfect example of leveraging social media to spur change at the policy level. One tweeter proclaimed the hashtag was "hours of entertainment," and those giggles and pop-culture references clearly added up to attention: Thousands tweeted using the #PeriodsforPence hashtag, and the campaign's Facebook page had nearly 50,000 likes at press time.
.@GovPenceIN My period is 2 days late, but I have been abstinent, so no worries! I'll keep you updated #periodsforpence
— kate warren (@DowndogKate) April 11, 2016
@GovPenceIN if my vagina bleeds but you don't see it, did it really happen? @periodsforpence #periodsforpence #existential #womxn #vagina
— Brittany Machado (@BrittLynnMach) April 11, 2016
Women were also encouraged to call the two legislators in their offices with questions and period updates, and the Facebook page is full of conversations with their exasperated staff.
The page's organizers received reports that Pence's office briefly shut down phone lines last week, and one tweeter reported being blocked:
Got my number blocked from calling @GovPenceIN 🙌💃🏻🙏 #periodsforpence @periodsforpence
— Olivia (@theOwlPost) April 11, 2016
Here at 3p, we've learned firsthand what kind of impact social media engagement can have. We recently gave readers the opportunity to engage directly with the CEO of one of America's most controversial companies, Monsanto -- and the result was a positive and productive conversation. Another Twitter chat gathered young influencers to discuss the future of an inclusive tech industry. We're often genuinely surprised by the conversations social media engagement can spark -- and campaigns like this one only further prove that social is the new megaphone of civil society.
And if that's the case, companies and governments better watch out.
In only a few hours, an Indiana woman went from watching TV with her husband to mobilizing hundreds -- and then thousands -- of her peers to fight policy they deemed unjust. Democracy Spring, another campaign organized largely on social media, rallied hundreds of supporters for a week-long march from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., culminating in a sit-in at the U.S. Capitol on Monday that resulted in more than 400 arrests. Civil disobedience continued through the week, resulting in more arrests, as demonstrators called on federal lawmakers to get corporate money out of the election process.
If all of this is possible, imagine what else can be accomplished through the power of social media.
The moral of the story? If you oppose policy at the federal, state or local level, don't stay silent. Let lawmakers know you're not happy, and that it will affect your decision when you head to the polls. Go online and find social media groups doing the same thing to rally your efforts behind those of your peers. With the right hook, more will surely follow.
Image credit: Periods for Pence via Facebook