Well, it’s decided. Anyone who says that online organizing isn’t “real” activism is officially out-of-touch.
Just three days after the behemoth breast cancer foundation Komen for the Cure announced they would defund Planned Parenthood—about $600,000 in grants for cancer screening for low-income women—the organization was forced to reverse their decision when the online backlash became too big too handle. And just this morning, the Komen official widely considered responsible for the debacle, its new vice president for public policy Karen Handel, resigned with a surly letter that implicated the whole Komen board in the decision.
The blowup spanned across email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and individual blogs, with over 1.3 million tweets written by the end of the first week and tens of thousands of Facebook comments left on Komen’s wall. The swift and resounding victory is more than a win for women’s health and reproductive rights—it’s proof that online feminist activism is effective, powerful and the future of the movement’s organizing strategy.
When the news that Komen was pulling their funding from Planned Parenthood broke, the breast cancer organization claimed the decision wasn’t political—it was just a part of a new policy banning organizations under investigation from receiving money. Planned Parenthood was the only organization out of thousands whose funding was affected.
Within hours, Komen’s Facebook page was slammed with thousands of angry messages, and Twitter was aflame with support for Planned Parenthood. Fuel was added to the anti-Komen fire as more information was revealed about the organization’s sketchy decision-making process. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported that Komen’s new policy was designed specifically to cut off Planned Parenthood. Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel blogged that Komen’s Handel had tried to run for governor of Georgia on a platform that included defunding Planned Parenthood.
Former supporters said they would never give the organization another dime and would donate to Planned Parenthood instead. Others posted pictures of cut-up pink ribbons. Women who had raised thousands in Komen’s massive Race for the Cure events vowed never to run again.
In the face of this overwhelming opposition, Komen remained eerily silent, save for deleting negative comments from Facebook (a terrible online strategy if there ever was one). While Planned Parenthood was sending out mass emails and pro-choicers were on Twitter and Tumblr raising money, the breast cancer charity had seemingly abandoned all of their social media sites. A note about prostate cancer in a two thousand year old mummy remained at the top of their Twitter feed for more than a day.