By Melissa Campbell
After the first SPARK Summit in October 2010, I wrote that I had never felt camaraderie and companionship like I had at the Summit. I talked about how great it felt to be part of a growing movement, to know that I was not alone, and to see change—to be change. “Make no mistake,” I wrote. “This is a revolution, and we are its leaders.”
A year later, the revolution is still growing. In early October 2011, 17 members of the SPARKteam were whisked away to New York (alright, well, some of us already live here) to start plotting the future of our fight against the sexualization of girls. What did we want? What did we need? And how we were going to get it?
We started approaching these questions right away, but it turns out that they have some pretty complicated answers, especially because the SPARKteam is such a diverse group. With ages ranging from 13 (for real! Izzy is in eighth grade) to 22 years and a variety of racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and educational experiences between us, even extracting and naming “The Big Problem” as we saw it was a challenge. How could we summarize what we saw as a huge variety of interconnected problems into 10 words or less ? (It turns out we couldn’t—we never did nail down that sentence. But we’re getting there.)
Luckily, we weren’t going it alone. Over the course of three days, we had a crash course in feminist history with Jamia Wilson and Shelby Knox; a video remix workshop with Elisa Kreisinger; a poetry-as-activism workshop with Renee Watson; a feminist game design workshop (!!!) with Rebecca Mushtare; a social media workshop with Deanna Zandt; a blogging workshop with Courtney E. Martin and Shelby; and an action-planning workshop with Jaclyn Friedman. As if all that wasn’t enough, we also saw Take What is Yours, an amazing play about Alice Paul, our first night.
Our workshops were punctuated with quiet moments of sharing, late-night computer slumber parties, 90s pop karaoke, and tons of amazing food (at one point during our last dinner, Jaclyn proclaimed our meal to be “like feminist Hogwarts!” because food seemed to appear out of nowhere). Nevermind that we’d only known each other for three days; it was like we’d been best friends since middle school. It’s something we’d talked about a few times over the course of the weekend: how once you create a space where sexism and sexualization are explicitly not present (say, at a women’s college or an apartment in Chinatown where 15 girls are sleeping…) young women come together without any of the cattiness, jealousy, or “mean girl” behavior that supposedly characterizes us.
I noticed on the last day that SPARKteamers Crystal and Joy had linked arms while walking down the street and were laughing loudly and talking about what they were going to do when they got home. “Did you two know each other before you got here?” I asked them. “Nope!” they said. “So you just fell in love here?” “Yep!” I thought immediately of a similar experience I’d had at the first Summit, where fellow panelist Carmen and I had bonded so quickly and beautifully that SPARK leadership was asking us if we’d been friends before we’d gotten there. But like Crystal and Joy, we’d never even met. That’s the power of SPARK: we’re not just building change, we’re building a group of dedicated, connected, amazing women.
I want to end this post with a word from Crystal, who blogged about her retreat experience here: “To loosely quote [SPARKteam member] Stephanie, “We debunk girl hate when we get into spaces with each other because immediately we have an instant connection.” I feel like I’ve known these women for years. And even though it was only 3 days, I know that I’ll know and be with them for the rest of my life. This experience will forever stay with me and has been life changing.”
Love you, SPARKteam <3