This is a submission for the March 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the theme of “It’s Great to Be Aro“. Also, while it’s targeted at potential aro activists, most of the tips here are super general and can work for any emerging identity group.
One of the things that I think almost everyone in the aromantic community can agree on is that there’s a huge lack of both resources and recognition, which on the whole is a huge negative for any aro who is struggling to find support and information. But while a negative on the whole, there is a sliver of a silver lining: because it also means that aro activists are often starting with a relatively blank slate to build on, in which even a single person can have the chance to have an outsized influence on aro communities present and future.
“If you want it, you’re going to have to build it yourself” is often a mantra for emerging communities without much outside support. But the flip side of that is, “If you’re willing to build it, you can make of it anything you want”.
More established communities are often saturated by established voices and hierarchies, and it can be difficult to break out with a new message or a new approach or to break out of the shadow of larger organizations with competing approaches without massive resources and tons of money and connections. But in emerging communities, where there are no established names in activism and education, you don’t necessarily need large coffers or advanced social networks: you just need a little communications savvy and a willingness to dedicate some sustained time and effort.
As someone who has been involved with and has studied a lot of the history of activism for another emerging identity – specifically, asexuality – I want to share some personal observations of the factors that led key groups like David Jay and AVEN in particular to rocket from being a single college student with a tiny college-hosted website to the most influential ace organization in the world, bringing asexuality to the attention of much of the rest of the world in the process – and that have led countless other attempts at activism to either succeed or fail.
You don’t necessarily need marketing consultant level SEO optimization to get started – but a few small actions can make big differences in how effectived your awareness campaigns will be.
Here are some of the factors that, IMO, can be keys to success when it comes to awareness activism for emerging communities (and which are often strategies that early aro activism has yet to achieve. Most of these come from my prior experiences from ace activism, which IMO has gone through many of the same struggles that aro communities are facing about 10-15 years ago, and can provide one possible path to follow (as well as plentiful examples of what not to do). These tips are also focused on awareness; community building and other types of activism require additional structures, although they start in the same place – because no one can be helped by your resources if they don’t know they exist. Thus, I present:
5 Initial Keys to Becoming a Communications-Savvy Aromantic Awareness Organization:
1. Have a short, easily memorized, SEO friendly url
That means a top level domain, not just a WordPress or Tumblr sub page, with one or two words that identifies your constituency, like “aromantic” or “aromanticism” etc. You want something that people can remember without writing it down, and that makes it immediately apparent what it is.
“.org” url suffixes in particular can be useful in lending a sheen of “legitimacy” to educational projects
This admittedly becomes increasingly difficult as more projects emerge and snap up urls, especially as some aro-related domains have been snapped up by other groups like lotion companies.
2. Have a static main page with a prominent self-hosted FAQ
This should include all the information a curious non aro might need to start off with. This should be a full FAQ – not just a list of external resources that bring people away from your site and to other places (although that can be good to have too).
By hosting your own resources, you can make sure that people get exactly the information you want them to get – rather than having to rely on outside groups who may disappear at any moment, or that may host problematic content outside your control.
3. An “official” veneer that presents itself as an activist organization, rather than just one individuals blogger or activist.
As much as respectability politics sucks, it’s a practical reality that giving your organization a shiny, official looking veneer can be the key to getting taken seriously, by institutional organizations that hold the power to share your stories in the media, or to offer grants, or to donate materials or space, or to spread awareness within other organizations or communities.
Technically speaking, an “organization” could still be that same individual with a shiny new name and website. But in the long run, it’s important to become a group organization in reality as well as in name (see the point about volunteers below)
The other big advantage of building organizational efforts rather than individual efforts is sustainability: an organization can be led by a long succession of behind-the-scenes individuals if original founders get sick, or get busy with other projects, or go off the rails, or just don’twant to keep doing it anymore; but personal brands can fall apart as soon as their face finds themselves unable or unsuitable to keep taking the lead.
4. Prominent email contact information for media or other activists looking for interviews or other further guidance, and a team of volunteers that can reliably respond prompty to such requests
A large part of outreach is working with news media and with related orgs (like lgbt orgs, or healthcare orgs) as well as individual friends and family of aro people (not to mention aros themselves), to spread awareness of aro experiences and available resources to wider audiences, especially offline ones and even online ones that aren’t often reached by current aro outreach (i.e. not tumblr).
You want to make it as easy as possible for them to find and contact you – having a dedicated email address is part of that (and it should be an actual email, not a limited “contact us form’ that doesn’t let people use their own preferred email clients). It helps even more to specifically advertise it as a media contact email.
Of course, having an email is useless if no one checks it. Therefor, it’s also important to have volunteer(s) who are ready, willing, and prepared to respond to these requests, whether it’s just questions about basic aro 101, or requests for interviews or trainings. Even if you can’t always respond to these yourself, you should at least be able to refer them to other activists who might be able to. (Which leads to the need for activist-support-networks that connect people involved with varying types of activism and varying regions, but that’s another topic).
5. Specific dedication to aromanticism (rather than broader LGBTQIA or Ace & Aro ofocus)
Pan-identity groups, like general LGBTQIA umbrella groups or new Ace and Aro joint community campaigns, can be an important stop gap until more aro-focused resources emerge. But they are just a short-term solution; while pan-identity groups can serve as valuable entry points, and can be vital in using their established audiences to thor support to new orgs as they emerge, they work best when working hand in hand with more dedicated groups that can spend all their energy and attention on a main constituency instead of having to split themselves between multiple groups that may often have conflicting needs.
Of course, all that’s just a start. Next steps can include building active volunteer bases, because having more people means more work can be done, and learning about the actual marketing-consultant-material like SEO optimization via promoting cross-linking from other organizations and targeting key search terms. And this of course doesn’t address at all the tough decisions of what to actually say in your awareness materials, including how to make sure you represent diverse groups, how to summarize complicated realities into easier to read 101s, and more.
The State of Aro Awareness Activism Today
All in all, I find that when it comes to structured, targeted aromantic awareness campaigns, there’s currently a lack of strategic infrastructure – it reminds me a bit of the ace community before AVEN started a real dedicated push for external awareness.
There actually used to be more sites that were attempting to hit most of these (the old aromantic.org, although they spent a lot of time with some sections “under constuction” and had only really tiny faqs, at least attempted to hit most of these before they later shut down).
But when it come to current resources, though, all the ones I can think of only hit a few of these. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that aro-specific communities and their culture and history are so unknown, even to other aro people.
(It’s also making me further appreciate how much the early ace community was boosted by the fact that early activists like David Jay were also pretty savvy webmasters and promoters.
Anyway, after writing this post, unfortunately have absolutely no time for new projects myself, but I also think it would be great to have a new aro visibility coalition page or similar successor organization (or even a more targeted outreach campaign by an existing organization). I hope that sooner or later, someone ready for the challenge will be able to step up, and when they do, I hope that some of these observations can be at least a little bit of help.
Also, on a practical level, I know that there are many established aro ace organizers (myself included) who have our time tied up by existing projects, but might be able to contribute material support like funding to cover web hosting and domain registration fees, or technical advice like how to set up domain names and find web hosts, or promotional and SEO support by linking and signal-boosting new projects. So if anyone is working on organized aro activism projects I’m not familiar with and could use that kind of support, please let me know!
In addition, if anyone has additional advice to offer in the comments, especially based on activism experience in other areas, I’d love to hear it!