Friday, July 27, 2012

Breastfeeding and Social Change: Share Your Voice!

It has been an interesting year for breastfeeding advocates. There have been highs, such as the State of Massachusetts banning formula samples in hospitals, and lows, including the backlash from the now infamous Time Magazine extended-breastfeeding cover photo. Breastfeeding moms continue to be asked to cover up, go elsewhere, or consider weaning their “older” children. Women still lack many rights when it comes to nursing. But what we see in all of this is a wealth of conversation and a groundswell of connection among people striving to normalize breastfeeding.

What makes this groundswell possible? Community. Real community. Connecting – both in person and online – make people more able to affect social change. The act of gathering is in and of itself transformative and when we connect, face-to-face and virtually, our common ground is found and we can share ideas, create action plans, support each other, and literally create a cultural and social shift.

Virtual community has been radically transformed in the past decade by technology and through the evolution of such social media networks as Twitter. Globally, millions of people can share information and ideas instantaneously in powerful ways. As Malcolm Gladwell noted in The New Yorker, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter may well be “our greatest source of new ideas and information.” Raising awareness is undoubtedly the first step in evoking change. Social media and virtual networks enable us to engage in awareness-raising, the goals of which “is to build understanding in the wider community . . . to highlight your work and its importance, and to persuade others to become involved as concerned individuals, allies and activists themselves.” The downside to social networks, however, is the superficial level of engagement. People may flock to causes and networks online because the level of participation and the action required to do so is so minimal. “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires,” argues Gladwell. Engaging in real life communities, such as the Holistic Moms Network, is what moves people beyond low-level participation into a higher level of social activism.

And yet it is the level of “weak-tie” engagement which lays the foundation for activism and thus is a necessary and vital tool for creating change. Low-level virtual connection makes in-real-life engagement more possible by exposing the channels, resources, and communities that exist to build stronger levels of interaction and foster action. By showing the power of our virtual community and “normalizing” the goals and importance of an issue, we can begin to affect social change.

On the cusp of World Breastfeeding Week we plan to do just that. On Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 the Holistic Moms Network, along with our Sponsors Divine Mama Bars, Earth Mama Angel Baby, and Motherlove will host our second annual World’s Biggest Breastfeeding Twitter Party at 10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT, #HolisticMoms, #Breastfeeding. By gathering the supporters of breastfeeding, the parents, organizations, professionals, agencies, and activists into a virtual community event, we can help to normalize breastfeeding, raise awareness, and build weak-tie connections to pave the road for stronger activism and change. Simple participation is all that is needed to showcase the support and power for normalizing breastfeeding. But real action comes when we strengthen those weak-ties and connect with those who are also engaging, building a format for collective action.

Join us and be heard! And then take your knowledge and connections into a plan for action. Join us on Twitter and then dive into World Breastfeeding Week with the passion and commitment we need to make powerful change!

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