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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Interview with Julie Mastrine About Care 2 and Activism

Julie Mastrine, a self-described libertarian feminist, can often be seen on Facebook and Twitter sharing articles and petitions for many social justice issues. As a hard-working and effective activist for liberty, I felt like she would be a great person to interview. Especially as someone who utilizes social media for her work, I thought she could provide some background on what she does at Care2, as well as share some handy tips on how to make a positive difference with the causes you believe in. 

Hobbies: Fire spinning (performance art), poi, hula hooping, dancing, crafting, and sitting in San Francisco's beautiful parks!

1) How would you describe what Care2 does?

Care2 is the world's largest social network for good. We have over forty million members who are sharing stories and starting petitions that inspire action. We are an online petition site where anyone can start a petition for free or support a cause they care about. We also help nonprofits connect with the people who support their causes.

2) What kind of work do you do at Care2?

I do social media, PR, and influencer marketing for Care2. That means I help everyday citizens, celebrity influencers, and nonprofits to start online petition campaigns that get the attention of decision-makers and mostly, the media. I talk to reporters, help to stage on-the-ground events, and craft social media campaigns.

3) What are a few accomplishments of Care2 that you were involved in and are particularly proud of?

So many! I'm proud of the work I did with the Drug Policy Alliance to gather over 118,000 signatures on a Care2 petition to help a 7-year-old girl named Sophia get medical marijuana to control her epilepsy. In fact, I've worked on a number of petitions to expand marijuana access to folks suffering under prohibition in various states, including a successful petition to get a medical marijuana program underway in Pennsylvania, and another to help a woman who was undergoing chemo for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in New Jersey, which only permits marijuana if you are undergoing chemo for cancer treatment.

I hope that my work on these types of campaigns underscores the importance of decriminalizing marijuana nationwide. A lot of people hear that states are creating medical marijuana programs, but they don't realize how truly narrow the list of qualifying conditions really is. Often, people with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and other ailments are still left to suffer because they are prohibited from using marijuana for their ailments even with a medical marijuana program in place.

I'm also really proud of the Care2 petition campaigns I've worked on to help sex workers fight for their rights and end stigma and exploitation. One of these petitions is asking Alaska to make it illegal for police to have sex with sex workers who are under investigation. It's a totally disgusting thing that happens to these women, and is state-sponsored rape. This petition has resulted in a bill. Another petition asked California's Gov. Brown to meet with sex workers to discuss decriminalization. The women behind this campaign went to the capitol to present the signatures in person, and we were able to secure some excellent media coverage.

I'm really honored to help sex workers elevate their cause; I think these women are incredibly brave for coming out of the woodwork and making their struggles public. Sex work is still clouded by so much misinformation and stigma. They are among the bravest advocates.

4) Which political and social issues are you most passionate about?

I'm most passionate about civil liberties issues. This includes drug policy reform, privacy protection, immigration/open borders, sex worker rights, criminal justice reform, and ending mass incarceration/prisons/police brutality.

Lately, I've also been very interested in reforming local and state policies that lead to the arrests of nonviolent people. For example, food safety laws in Stockton, California resulted in a single mother of six being threatened with jail time because she sold homemade food over Facebook. I started a petition to drop the charges, and she ended up avoiding jail time. We then teamed up to work on a separate petition, alongside a startup called Josephine, to support a bill that would legalize homemade food sales in California. We organized an event at the Capitol to encourage lawmakers to vote yes, and we gave out free food. We garnered some amazing media attention, and the bill has passed out of Assembly!

I also recently started a petition to fire a police officer who violently tackled a woman who was selling flowers outside of a graduation ceremony. And we had another petition that was successful in convincing Philadelphia not to shut down a man who was giving free haircuts to the homeless (the city cited the fact that he didn't have a vendor license).

I think our society needs to think critically about how well-intentioned laws end up having unjust institutional outcomes. It may sound great to outlaw homemade food sales or require a vendor permit because we are concerned about people's safety, but the actual outcome of these laws is that they help the state reign in revenue on the backs of poor people through fines, court fees, etc. These laws also shut down perfectly harmless operations and send nonviolent people to prison just for trying to help people or to make a living. And it's everywhere. Some cities crack down on Little Free Libraries. And in the UK, police even fined a 5-year-old girl for selling lemonade!

Julie fire spinning [Image credit: Darren Kruger]

5) How can people incorporate tricks of your trade into their activism?

Very easily! Anybody can start a petition for free on Care2. It's as simple as that. Start a petition, explain your issue, and share, share, share.

Organizing a delivery event or rally to get attention is easy, too. Just print out or make some cardboard signs, decide on a time/date/place that makes sense, start a Facebook event and get a few people to commit to show up. I think activism is easier than people may think. You can also easily find contact information for local reporters and let them know what you're up to, invite them to come cover it. It doesn't have to be an intimidating process.

6) What would you recommend people do if they want to professionally pursue your line of work?

Start volunteering for activist campaigns in your free time. I know no one wants to do free labor, but this is truly how I got my start! It can be as easy as dedicating an hour or two a week to spreading the word about activist campaigns on social media, showing up to community meetings, or organizing a small rally. Then you can tout that info on your resume. There are lots of organizations that need people who have advocacy know-how. Aside from that, we're living in politically tumultuous times, and your efforts can really make a difference.

7) Engaging in activism through online means has garnered a bad reputation, and terms like "keyboard activism" echo this sentiment. Why do you think this is? How would you recommend for people to avoid situations, especially online, that give the pretense of furthering a cause, when what you're actually doing is stalling progress or even detracting from its value?

I think this negative reputation has arisen because democracy often requires a lot of work. It requires staying on top of the news cycle, doing lots of research, showing up in person to a rally/protest/community meeting, voting, calling your elected officials, and engaging with people who may disagree with you.

Democracy is a system that a lot of us may not feel we have the available time or energy to engage in. We're all working jobs and maintaining relationships and taking care of ourselves and our families, so how then are we supposed to find the time to follow closely what our representatives are doing and show up to meetings and call our officials and organize rallies? 

The internet, and petition sites like Care2, actually make engaging with elected officials much easier, as we can engage in the democratic process on these sites without sacrificing a ton of time and energy. Any criticism of online activism needs to take into account that representative democracy itself requires a lot from the individual, and the internet and sites like Care2 simply make this process a lot easier.

(I personally advocate for decentralized systems and societies that would minimize any given person's power over others, eliminating centralized political or corporate power and with it, the need to put so much energy and time into convincing a politician of your stance - but that's an essay for another day.)

I also think criticism of "keyboard activism" assumes that there isn't a ton of work being put in both online and on the ground, and there is. Online and on-the-ground activism can and do exist side by side. I mean, how are you going to turn out anybody to a protest these days without using social media? 

As far as determining online situations where progress is actually being stalled or detracted, I think it's important to think clearly about who it makes sense to target to make the appropriate change, and whether what you're asking for is lofty or actually doable. For example, I may want prison abolition, but I am okay with working to eradicate local laws that put nonviolent people in prison as a stepping stone to that end.

Liked what Julie Mastrine had to say?

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