What’s Next? Denver Women and Collective Action

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Virginia Santy | @ginnamccarver

Last month marked the six-month anniversary of the Women’s March. On January 21, 2017, over 100,000 people marched in Denver to demonstrate support for women’s rights and a range of humanitarian issues.

Six months later, what is happening to advance women’s rights in the city of Denver? This question is an important one for all of us broads to ask ourselves, each other, our elected officials, and the organizations and institutions serving women and girls in our city and state.

And the answer is as varied and vast as the marchers themselves. Those who marched remember a chant repeated through the blocks of downtown Denver.

“This is what democracy looks like!” echoed around Civic Center Park and wound its way through the ranks of attendees, lodging itself into people’s brains where it sparked or fanned thousands of democratic activities in the following months.

Democracy looks like both a thousand individual or small group activities and large, collective action. While social media chatter and the plethora of neighborhood meetups, Facebook groups, and panels or events addressing “women’s issues,” race, healthcare, and climate change indicate the former is alive and well in Denver, wide-sweeping, collective action is not as recognizable.

The sheer numbers of people who marched six months ago suggests an incredible collective force. Where is the action to follow? What does it look like? And how do we come together?

One national organization is working to answer these questions. And it is setting its sights on Denver.

The It’s Time Network encourages women and men to participate in collective action in support of the rights of women and girls. Focused on collective impact at a local, city level, the It’s Time Network currently has chapters in two cities, San Francisco and Denver, the latter founded in May 2017, when the Network hosted the Denver Gender Equity Summit.   

Betsy McKinney is the founder and CEO of the It’s Time Network and believes now is the time for women to come together and facilitate a collective agenda of change in pursuit of gender equality. “We are clear women are ready. The march showed that. We are ready. We have been. The question is always—what happens now?”

McKinney’s answers to that question involve infrastructure, data, and grassroots participation and ownership. “So many times, you get an organization responding to an injustice. They go in [to a community], stir up the crowd, and then they are out. Nothing comes from that emotion or stirring up. Our goal [through the It’s Time Network] is to help create the infrastructure that is missing. We began working on ‘what next’ and the answer was the Network City Program.” In addition to the Network City chapters in San Francisco and Denver, the It’s Time Network is launching new city chapters in various locations across the U.S. in 2018.

 
Learn more about Denver's Gender Equity Summit and its follow up report. 

Learn more about Denver's Gender Equity Summit and its follow up report. 

 

But collective action is no easy feat and there are plenty of reasons collective action efforts often fail before they get off the ground. Researchers posit three predictors for collective action and note all three must work in tandem for successful collective action to unfold: perceived injustice—feelings of anger or discontent motivating people to work together; perceived efficacy—belief in unified effort as a desirable path yielding positive results; and social identity—people’s likelihood or willingness to see themselves as members in a group.

Historically, the women’s movement has struggled with each of these factors, and most pointedly, with social identity. “Women are by no means a homogenous group,” says Dr. Valerie Renegar, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Southwestern University and an expert in feminist movements. “Women are 51% of the population, so there is going to be an incredibly wide range of operating definitions for what it means to be a woman; add intersectional identities like race and sexual orientation and socio-economic status and the notion of a group social identity becomes all the more complex. Women are as likely to be divided by the different categories as they are to be unified by them.”

McKinney acknowledges this and sees data as a unifier. “For collective impact to work, to achieve an agenda and to get something done, it requires a consensus on a shared agenda. That in turn is based on shared measurement tools to help us understand what is the problem and how do you understand the dimensions of it across race and class, etc., and how do you measure success.” For McKinney and the It’s Time Network, that shared measurement tool is a Women’s Well-Being Index, modeled in part on the work of the Women’s Foundation of California. “It’s needed in Colorado and all across the country. If we had one in every state, we’d effectively have women’s well being mapped across the nation among a number of indicators, and along demographics. How are African American women doing in Denver County compared to Latina women in Miami?”

Finalizing a Women’s Well-Being Index and bringing it to Denver is next on the It’s Time Network’s agenda. McKinney is working with The Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Denver Office on Women and Families to fund and grow this initiative. She’s also working on getting every woman in Denver to contribute to its success. “We ourselves as women need to fund it. We all have to come together in a network that we all own together. It is ours. It is not mine or some organization’s. Men aren’t going to do it for us. Corporations are not. Government will not. We have to become an independent network of our own, that we own as women.”

Owning a piece of this network, for the women of Denver, costs $12 a year. “Most of us can afford $12 a year,” McKinney states “and with 10 million women in Denver, that amounts to $120 million a year.” This grassroots self-funding is key to the success of the It’s Time Network and its future projects in cities like Denver. However, it may also be the Network’s greatest obstacle.

“There is a lot of complexity in messaging this effort to women, and to getting women involved,” says Dr. Janell Bauer, Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at California State University, Chico. “Calling people to action, even with a low cost, can be difficult when the result is ambiguous.”

McKinney remains dedicated and passionate. “I look back on what has happened historically [for women] and what still hasn’t been accomplished. We do not have infrastructure. We do not have women’s collective economic independence. We have to get it. And we have to do it ourselves.”