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Feminist Summer Camp: The Next Wave of Real-Time Activism

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A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner, two inspiring feminist activists whose words have changed the world in stunning ways.

Separately their accomplishments are remarkable, and collectively, they've powerfully come together to give women a voice and make social change more than just a buzzword. In addition to their own individual books, Jennifer and Amy co-authored Manifesta, which was highly endorsed by Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler and Naomi Wolf, as well as thousands of young female and male readers; in 2010 Jennifer and Amy released Manifesta's 10th anniversary edition.

Their latest effort is Soapbox Inc. -- a feminist speaker's bureau that is growing dramatically to now include what Amy and Jennifer call "Feminist Bootcamps." Next month, young feminists from around the country and Canada will join Feminist Summer Camp 2011.

We recently reconnected to talk more about Soapbox, the upcoming Feminist Summer Camp, and their vision on the next wave of feminist activism.

Laura Cococcia: What was your initial inspiration behind creating Soapbox Inc.?

Jennifer Baumgardner: After Manifesta, we got a lot of offers to speak around the country. After doing a dozen or so, we were approached by a well-known speaker's bureau to represent us. We signed with them, and soon realized that we didn't need a bureau. We knew how to do all of the stuff they do (make contact, promote, negotiate fees, handle travel) and had our own ideas about the way it should be done. We believed in being flexible and open -- interacting with students informally, for example, instead of just doing a keynote -- and we liked to schedule satellite events around the original event in nearby towns.

So, we decided to create our own agency and handle tours for others. Initially we were 80 percent of Soapbox bookings. Now we are 20 percent and we book others far more. That was in 2002 and we've been going strong for a decade.

LC: Looking at the lists, it's evident you've created powerful partnerships with remarkable speakers and an equally solid list of organizations. How do you see Soapbox evolving?

JB: We are in the process of changing (evolving) Soapbox right now. Amy and I created the feminist boot camps, summer camp and winter term, and want to possibly franchise them or find some way to produce them regionally. We are both doing less speaking and our interest for Soapbox now is to turn it into a one-stop shop for feminism. We are working on expanding the camps, creating academic modules (short videos about feminist issues), and creating other feminist initiatives.

LC: I'm curious about the story behind Feminist Summer Camp. What's been most exciting about getting the program launched? The most challenging?

Amy Richards: Feminist Summer Camp is an extension of what we have done for years -- exposing what feminism looks like in real time. It's also an inverse of what Soapbox traditionally does: rather than bring the speaker to a campus, we are bringing the campus to our speakers or, specifically, to the messages and ideas current in feminism.

Each semester we get a fired up group of students who come from all over the United States and Canada. Seeing them make connections between what they have theorized about and what they will eventually do in life is so rewarding. Watching them connect and form into a cohesive group is also exciting. We have been a part of many such groups ourselves and know how important it is to have these milestones and also to be rewarded with a like-minded community.

Logistically it's a lot of work to bring 20-40 people to NYC for a week of feminist activism. It's quickly overshadowed by how thankful everyone is -- including us -- to have had this experience.

LC: How can readers help support the work Soapbox, Inc. is doing?

AR: Soapbox is a platform and source for feminism today. The best way to help Soapbox is to incorporate that into the values and practicality of one's own life. In lieu of that, it's also helpful if you can mention Soapbox to anyone in need of an infusion of feminism. Specific to our Feminist Summer Camp and Winter Term, we are always looking for new New York City-based groups to host us -- particularly those groups that practice and preach feminism. We'd also love to team with those in need of an intern for a day to help expand our mini-internships. We are looking to reach those who need or want us the most, primarily, those wanting a stronger connection to feminism today.

You can read more about Amy and Jennifer's work on their Soapbox Inc. site.

For more interviews with others who are aggressively working to make a difference, visit The Journal of Cultural Conversation here.