I’m Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet. The story of how I became a leader in the anti-racist, feminist movement is a complicated one.
I know firsthand what motivates the other side of our fight. I hail from a conservative, Christian, and privileged household in Los Angeles, California.
Learning that my experiences with sexism, misogyny, and sexual assault were not my fault or episodic, but systemic, is how I came to activism and progressive organizing. And I realized that as a white woman with a lot of privilege, I was among the least harmed by white supremacist patriarchy.
I got lucky, because friends and allies educated me and welcomed me into a social change community where I could heal–and become part of the solution. You and I are two of millions of people, across gender, race, age, and place, who have experienced sexism and now take action together to defeat the structural factors that hold back progress.
Ten years ago, Nita Chaudhary and I co-founded UltraViolet to mobilize people-power to hold the rich and powerful accountable for racism and sexism. Today, UltraViolet is more than one million members strong, and I am more sure than ever that we are on the right path to building a gender-just future.
Through our collective power, we helped usher in equal pay for equal play for the U.S. national women’s soccer team. We forced companies to stop contributing to anti-abortion politicians. We took on powerful abusers in the media, including Les Moonves at CBS, Andy Lack at NBC News, and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News. We’re leading the women’s movement to take a proactive position in the disinformation war, combating misogyny online, and defending women of color candidates, political leaders and voters.
However, the backlash against anti-racist feminists is real–and getting worse. Social media platforms and the cultural landscape enable dangerous misogynists Joe Rogan, Andrew Tate, and Elon Musk. Rich and powerful men like Johnny Depp use their massive coffers and PR machines to denigrate survivors and the #MeToo movement. (But rest assured, these people did not break our resolve and can’t take away our power!)
We were outraged and grieved the senseless loss of life perpetrated by armed extremists in Buffalo, New York, and most recently, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We will continue working to push our elected officials to act urgently to stop mass shootings and hate crimes, and to hold social media companies accountable for the spread of harassment and hateful content.
Sadly, I’m not surprised by the backlash we’re seeing and the rise of conservative political violence and online hate and disinformation. Our political opposition is afraid and lashing out because we’re winning.
We cannot and will not give in to people like Rogan and Musk, or the cynical PR machines behind the attacks on Amber Heard and Vice President Kamala Harris, or the corporate enablers who pay lip service to gender and racial equity while funding Republican extremists whose policies are literally killing us.
Moving into UltraViolet’s next decade, we will continue to lead a multiracial feminist movement that centers Black, Latina, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous women and LGBTQ+ folks, and calls in the white women and men who are with us. We will continue our multi-issue advocacy tying abortion rights and the fight against misogynist disinformation online to economic, racial, and environmental justice. We will continue to demand gender equity as the floor, not the ceiling.
Today, I invite you to celebrate the progress that we’ve made together. We should be proud of the hard work we’ve done, which will bear fruit for future generations. But I am also reaching out to you because I know that you are committed to continuing our important work in 2023.
I am so grateful to you and the UltraViolet community. Every one of us is essential to the success of our movement. Every person’s perspective and background are needed to turn our feminist experiment into a movement where we are the majority holding power.
With deep appreciation,
Shaunna Thomas and the UltraViolet Team