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“To belong is to feel loved, cared for, to feel accepted. When the world keeps telling us we do not belong. We fight, struggle, find ways to create our own spaces. These spaces remind us of the care we all get and need in our organisations, our movements, our lives. We are here because we've been cared for and accepted. This installation is an ode to personal stories of being held and accepted. Our stories are personal, our stories are political, our stories matter. This installation remembers and reminds us of the care work that has held us throughout our difficult and mundane days. The care work we do for us and our communities, and the collective care that inspires and appreciates each one of us in this moment, in this time. We are not alone. We have each other. It is time we document all of our stories.”

– A collective letter: From the Museum of Movements at MFI 2022

Eight years after the first iteration of the collaboratively developed Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs), APC’s Women’s Rights Programme (WRP) convened “Making a Feminist Internet: Reconnect. Reflect. Reset.” in Bangkok, Thailand from 31 October to 4 November 2022. The convening, abbreviated as MFI 2022, focused on partners from the Our Voices, Our Futures (OVOF) project, of which APC is a consortium member, as well as allies from past and ongoing engagements with APC WRP, including Feminist Tech Exchange (FTX) and the previous Making a Feminist Internet events.

While the convening was grounded in the FPIs – a cornerstone set of values that have guided the development of new and different ways of thinking about, experiencing and interacting with the internet and other digital technologies – it was also an opportunity to explore new ways of thinking about the FPIs and an invitation to deepen, shift or expand what the existing FPIs mean to feminists, activists and communities of people working towards a more just and representative society.

While writing this piece, I read through the rich and detailed documenters’ notes from MFI 2022. The notes reflected how the politics and practice of care were woven into the mosaic of the design, and without prompting or planning, came up so often at MFI 2022. It felt like it was the guiding star of the convening, not only in the shaping and practicalities but also in the hearts and bodies and intentions of participants and facilitators. In the small actions of care between participants, in the crafting and re-crafting of the agenda by the facilitators who listened and watched how the process was going with lenses of compassion and moved with the expressed and felt needs of the participants. The presence of daily acts of care, from noticing a participant who looked tired and offering them a cup of tea, to feeding the hungry dogs roaming the streets around the hotel, added up to care and compassion that were not scripted into the agenda. That’s the thing about what we call “care” – we can write it into the convening agenda, but it is the people present who collectively “make” a space of care and embody their lived experiences of feminist practice and make it a feminist principle.

From knowing that self-care is entirely personal and is different for each person, depending on identity, location, ability, life experience, to insisting that a key area of engagement is that of donor advocacy around funds for self, collective and organisational care, MFI 2022 was carefully convened. The gathering itself was a “moment” of care in the continuum of our movement building. In this confusing, crazy and upside-down time in our history, as activists for a more just and kind world, we need so many collective moments of care, space for caring for self and organisations that respect and respond to the myriad traumas of self and systemic violence. The thing is, amidst all of this, there was dancing, there was joy and such wide-open hearts, minds and arms to embrace the wonderfulness of being together, to be able to look into each other’s eyes without the mediation of devices. The “technology” of embodiment brought great delight.

As one participant said, “I found a conference which is kinder to me than myself. It’s like, ‘If you are tired, go take a nap!’ And I am like, NO, I am an activist, if I stop everything will end. Very compassionate in that way.”

MFI 2022: Reconnect, reflect and rest

MFI 2022 brought together a diverse group of over 50 participants from across our partner ecosystem seeking to fulfil several key organisational objectives. The WRP team provided the agenda design, facilitation, logistics and technology support. This included a beautifully colour-coded spreadsheet of dietary requirements to ensure that culinary care was expressed for participants.

The core idea of the MFI 2022 was to bring together new and old allies in the same space. Participant selection prioritised geographic and inter-generational encounters between those who were new to the Feminist Principles of the Internet through their work in the OVOF project and those who had been a part of the FPI journey over the past eight years. The themes of MFI 2022 were Reconnect, Reflect and Rest, which embedded “building resilient movements in the digital age that centre care and well-being.” The process design included a deep awareness that, given the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first face-to-face convening after more than two years of local and geographical distance.

What about the care?

An MFI 2022 participant says, “Self-care is a practice. Self-care is personal, because what is self-care to you is not self-care to me, it’s more subjective than objective.”

APC WRP works to root self and collective care in its work, balancing agency and accountability and acknowledging the power rooted in systemic oppression and that we come to spaces with diversities and various traumas which impact our ability to participate in collective spaces.

The responsibility of organising a convening (both face-to-face and online) includes deeply practical issues of care as well as being open to a variety of emotional and “interior” experiences, ways of being, and current personal and lived realities of participants. As a political and feminist commitment, we see our convenings as holding a delicate balance of them as exchanges of identity, knowledge and experience and our responsibility of holding and facilitating the space and being accountable to the safety and well-being of our allies and partners. With each convening, we learn more from participants through daily and post-convening evaluations and reflections.

We’ve developed principles of intersectionality and care over the years which are continually revisited as global and local contexts change (COVID-19 being a massive change!), political issues arise, civil society spaces shrink and become more dangerous, and awareness and engagement with these grow. Some examples are feminist principles of participation as well as principles when working with technology as feminists. As the FPI on access says: “A feminist internet starts with enabling more women and queer persons to enjoy universal, acceptable, affordable, unconditional, open, meaningful and equal access to the internet.”

Convening around Making a Feminist Internet acknowledges the wildly differential access, use and control people have, so care needs to acknowledge the intersectional realities of participants and turn this into a richness rather than yet another systemic injustice.

Design, methodology and agency as care

Lead facilitator Susanna George writes in her report, “Reflection on the Process Design of the Making a Feminist Internet 2022”, covering the MFI 2022: “From the very start of our process design work, we acknowledged that participants were likely coming into this meeting in different states of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion given the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic that everyone experienced.”

The five days were “carefully” designed by a small team of APC WRP members together with Susanna. We had a strong desire that the meeting be a space that was fun, energising, inclusive, cohesive and generative, which would inspire collaborations between allies and partners and inform the APC WRP team in their own strategic trajectory moving forward. As a care “strategy” and as a way of not imposing one dominant care agenda, the design was clear that participants would take charge of their own learning and engagement and of their individual wellness needs, while also being mindful of the needs of the collective. This was key to agency, ownership of one’s own needs and of clear trust in our allies and partners. Being mindful of our responsibility and accountability as convenors whilst not using that as a “power tool” to drive the process, but rather holding lightly and opening the space as a co-creation space was important to us. Owning and being open about the power that comes with being an international organisation and the myriad privileges it brings, can, to some extent, enable more open challenges of that dominance. As the facilitators, responsible for the agenda design, we centred awareness as an act of care.

One MFI 2022 participant said, “This is the most collaborative moment I have ever had.”

Forefronting diversity as a strength, the agenda was built, as much as possible, on, for example, not giving power or specialness to extroverted ways of being, giving participants the choice to select their spaces of comfort in engagement and their own ways of showing up, and respecting various comfort levels in relation to different sorts of conversations.

Susanna writes in her report: “The emotional and psychological aspects of care were attended to by holding certain principles at the centre of the design – these included the notion of choice, encouraging participants to keep themselves safe, including time self-reflection and coming into contact with our own perceptions and thoughts throughout the course of the meeting.”

As a methodological way of trying to include the above areas of care, the Open Space Technology (OST) was used by the facilitator for two days during the MFI 2022 as well as fun and embodied exercises such as talk-show style teaching moments; a “Museum of Movements” for small group work and creative plenary sharing; shorter sessions so focus could be relatively well kept; and aiming to respect and keep to time. Using exercises such as the timeline of engagement with the internet, gallery walks of posters of organisational activism and a more presentation style of what the facilitator called “meta narratives”, were ways of encouraging different forms of engagement from individual self-reflection to small group work to wider engagement in plenary.

A participant said of the timeline exercise, “Even though we see the rise in hostility, the hopefulness is still here – and it's through the work that each of you are doing in different kinds of ways.”

Offering a variety of ways to share and show up takes into account the myriad forms of self-expression rather than a dominant or rote way of convening. One participant was not able to communicate in English and was helped by colleagues in really kind ways, like translating discussions to them in their language and helping them understand the conversations with other participants, which enabled them to engage as fully as possible.

A participant shares their experience saying, “I have been working in technology space since 2012. I had hoped to be in a space like this… with people and just be yourself. I had the space to be that here. With the internet, the human part is being taken away but the internet is about humans and this group brought the human back to the internet.”

Museum of Movements and care

As an example of a methodological way of bringing in care, let’s look at the Museum of Movements. Storytelling, as we know, is a strong way of knowing each other in our different bodies and geographical locations; it links us to our ancestries, traumas, joys and activist struggles. This process starts with participants bringing artefacts as a conduit to telling a personal story of self, engagement with different movements and of weaving this into a collective art installation of resistance, creativity and struggle. It becomes a physical way of showing and honouring our histories. We grouped participants and encouraged deep listening to the stories evoked by the artefacts and encouraged finding points of commonality and then creating a physical representation of the collective weaving of their stories. In plenary, a kind of story circle emerged as groups spoke to their art installations, their points of connection and difference – it was a collective honouring and respectful listening and great learning. After the plenary, the facilitator asked people to share one or two words to describe what they heard as collective experience – interestingly, self-care came up as first.

Here is the word cloud:

self-care, community, sense of belonging, care, creativity, fun, story-telling, inspiration, sharing diversity, volcano, open, honest, inclusion, beauty, powerful, mind-blowing, stronger together, negotiation, advocacy and resilience

Reflections and care

Convenings are structured and shaped using the content and principles, knowledge of participants and with an agility to respond to what arises. Each day participants were asked to share what they felt worked, did not work, and what they would do differently or wanted more of. Facilitators met at the end of each day, shared their reflections on process and content and worked out ways of accommodating participant feedback and suggestions. This reflexivity and care help to hold to the politics of co-creation as closely as possible and to bring into the process the wisdom and knowledge of all in the room, not just the facilitation team.

One facilitator said, “Every day when we met (as facilitators) to debrief we would say, ‘Oh my goodness, we are so lucky to have these partners. We totally lucked out.’”

Care as practical and as practice – power sits there too!

Travelling across borders shines a terrible light on the vast inequities of access to visas, flight connections, racist and transphobic surveillance, prejudice and violence towards gender non-conforming and LGBTIQ people from border and airport personnel. It upfronts the injustices of colonial borders, and privileges the global North over Majority World citizens. Add to this the COVID pandemic still being a very real health issue, and the result is that ensuring safe, secure and comfortable travel for participants was complex and vital and a deep responsibility for the convenors. Care starts with the idea of the convening and each step has to be taken mindfully and with the well-being of participants at the centre. We chose as safe a space to accommodate people as possible, ensuring comfortable single rooms (to avoid any COVID emergencies), places to be quiet, to exercise, gather safely and ensure that meals spoke to the dietary preferences and health needs of people.

Meetings rooms were airy with natural light and spacious enough to enable people to take time-outs, walk, stretch and engage in ways that took into account physical diversities. We designated a care room next to the main meeting space where people could retreat to if they felt overwhelmed or needed a quiet space to write, sit, paint, draw, meditate or just take time for themselves. After three days, we moved the comfortable furniture and art equipment into the main meeting room so people could take a time-out but still participate. The care room became a meeting space which was physically warmer than the main meeting space and spoke to the need for more warmth for some participants.

COVID protocols and prevention strategies were obviously a priority. So we organised self-testing kits for each participant and asked that they test on arrival and after the first day and after day two and three. Unfortunately, one participant tested positive on arrival and had to quarantine for the duration of MFI 2022. They were well cared for, food that they chose was taken up to them, people visited (masked and distanced) to ensure that they did not feel entirely excluded. People shared news with them, sent messages and came to greet them before they left. They tested negative before departure and we followed up after they arrived home. The attention this participant received was really an example of great kindness and care from everyone at the convening.

A participant who got COVID during MFI 2022 shared their experience this way: "The care I was held with during MFI was incredible and reminded me why the community of APC WRP matters so much to me – because there is an ethics of care there that is practised and cultivated.”

They added, “Getting COVID as someone with compromised lungs was something that had become my greatest fear over the last few years. Luckily I was vaccinated and had an incredible team of doctors back home who checked in [on] me regularly via email. I also had the MFI organisers and fellow participants who were checking in on me, bringing me medication and food, updating me on happenings at sessions and keeping the laughs up and the big downward spirals to a minimum. The isolation and the fear are lonely, especially when you don’t know how your body is going to respond to a virus you’ve spent so long dodging. If there was any group I would want to go through a difficult thing with, it would be the wonderful and care-full (sic) humans that were with me during this time."

Dancing as care

As we know, “if we can’t dance, we can’t be part of the revolution” or something like that! Our podcast producer is a respected and talented DJ and kindly collated an incredible global playlist from participants’ suggestions. There was great dancing as introverts and extroverts moved around the dance floor to let go and laugh. The vibes shifted from African tunes to Bollywood dance moves, quirking to expressive movement – exuberant and joyful – the way it should be when we’re with people who are changing the world.



APC-wide activities