Political Webathon

I’ve been following the Real Women Respond to Sarah Palin webathon, which is being (or was) streamed live on Ustream from 1-9 PM ET on October 30.  The webathon consists of performers, some of whom are celebrities, read letters and comments written by others in response to  a letter written by two women, Lyra and Quinn soon after Palin received the vice-presidential nomination.

The women typically read the letters in front of a minimalist black background, focusing our attention on the readers, who usually read letters from people who live in distant parts of the country.  While many of the criticisms are now familiar–citing Palin’s opposition of comprehensive sex ed, her lack of support for Medicaid, her position on abortion–the letters do seem designed to focus on female voters.  Many of the letter writers and readers also emphasize that they were former Hillary Clinton supporters or remind us that Palin and Clinton have vastly different policy views.

It’s an interesting idea conceptually, but I wonder precisely what rhetorical purpose it serves, especially given that most Clinton supporters have lined up behind Obama.  That being said, many of the letters are quite powerful, and it is interesting to see the letters being read not by their original authors but by other women who are interpreting them.


  1. Joanna Said,

    October 30, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

    My guess about the rhetorical purpose is that there are very few public outlets for women to express their revulsion at the choice of Palin in ways that are not mediated by some kind of communal denial that these issues are valid and “real”. I suspect that it starts with the desire to be heard or visible when most conversations online are either too insular (what is the right way to be feminist) or too aimed at pacifying hostile or indifferent audiences (TV, the press, most large audience sites) The public spaces where I have read any kind of discussion about her views on issues of reproductive health are usually shut down by hateful trolling pretty quick. You should check out what ensued when dooce ventured to criticize McCain’s airquote about the health of women: she always gets hundereds of comments, but there was some pretty hateful shit in there; to express dismay about Palin/McCain around women’s health issues was tantamount to be a baby-killer. It’s tiring, so folks set up a circuit where they could control the feed.

  2. Chuck Said,

    October 30, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

    These are all god points. I probably watched too small of a sample before writing the blog entry. After I went back, I was moved by the ability to see so many of the participants in their personal circumstances–one mother was juggling two, maybe three children when she read her letter–and it really did create bridges between women from different places and with different backgrounds who share similar values. It reminded me a bit of the YouTube debate, in which many of the best questions were very clearly situated in the producers’ experiences, both through the content of the videos and through the means by which they were created. I hope my remark didn’t come across as too dismissive. I should have reframed that question a bit.

  3. Joanna Said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 9:17 am

    No, not dismissive at all; your question made me think about the many conversations I’ve been observing and participating in, and the dynamics of trolling, flaming, throwing hissy fits, arguing about civility, that derail so many of them, etc. This particular action combined some of the ideas of street theater with closed circuit broadcasting so that it was both participatory and controlled access. I think the letter format inspired people to do more than rant, and resulted in more dignified and passionate messages than might have come through if it had just been a YouTube reply video. The tweets I’ve seen about it also have some comments about feeling a sense of identification: “I’m real, dammit, and she doesn’t speak for me.”

  4. Chuck Said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

    Again, good points. I definitely got the connection to street theater agree that the letters offer something more reflective than a standard knee-jerk YouTube video. It’s definitely a very cool project.

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