Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.
Lauren: Hi, I'm your host Lauren Walker from the Rhody Radio crew and Coventry Public Library. For this episode, I spoke with Tammy Brown and Emily Boucher of The Womxn Project, a statewide organization dedicated to building a strong movement that harnesses the power of art, activism, and advocacy. Tammy Brown is a lifelong Rhode Islander dedicated to making the state a better and more just place to live for all.
Tammy sits on the boards of directors for both The Womxn Project and The Womxn Project Education Fund and advocates both organizations to utilize the power of art to shift conversations and make change. Tammy loves to read, prefers mismatched earrings, is really into desserty french fries, and is always the last person to hang up on a phone call with friends.
Emily Boucher is a high school educator, an artist, and a compulsive crafter. She was an early addition to the original founders of The Womxn Project in 2017 and brings to the work colorful imagination, deep empathy, bright optimism, dark humor, and a heck of a lot of sequins. Emily sits on the boards of directors for both The Womxn Project and The Womxn Project Education Fund. She is a classic Sagittarius and a cat person. Tammy and Emily spoke to me about The Womxn Project and its RI4All video series to promote civic engagement.
Hi, I'm Lauren Walker from the Rhody Radio crew and Coventry Public Library. I am here with Tammy Brown and Emily Boucher. I will let you guys introduce yourselves.
Tammy Brown: Hey, this is Tammy. I use she/her pronouns. I'm one of the co-directors of this series and a board member [00:02:00] of The Womxn Project and Womxn Project Education Fund and I'm a lifelong Rhode Islander.
Emily Boucher: Hi, I'm Emily Boucher. I also use she/her pronouns. I am on the board of directors of The Womxn Project and The Womxn Project Education Fund as Tammy is. I came to Rhode Island in college and have been an educator here ever since.
Lauren: Great. What is this project and what's its goal?
Tammy: The project is a video series. The goal is to explain the legislative process in Rhode Island, basically how a bill becomes a law in Rhode Island. Every state is a little bit different and we want to use this series to focus people on statewide politics. A lot of people tend to focus a lot on national politics, and that's really important, but statewide politics is crucially important as well for creating policies that affect people's lives. With The Womxn Project, that's part of our main ways that we interact with policy is through state government and the state legislature.
We want people to understand the process a little bit more. I think Emily and I both came to this work as newbies. We weren't experts in policy or legislation or anything like that. In doing this work, we became acquainted with it, we learned a lot, and we want to share that knowledge with other folks so that they can get involved too.
Lauren: This series, The Rhode Island 4 All video series, what are the videos about?
Emily: It's a six-video series. One of the main throughlines of the series is really just encouraging people to find their power [00:04:00] locally. Me, myself, and a lot of folks that I've talked to, say that when they have interacted or been educated on civic engagement, it's usually like a top-down approach. If you think about any classes or anything that you've seen in school or had in school, they start with where power is the widest like the federal level, the national level.
Then the lesson proceeds on, and eventually, it trickles down, and you get mentioned maybe at the end of how you can get involved. Tammy said it perfectly when we were discussing that the two of us came to politics and figured it out as we went. When we were designing the series, we wanted to take a grassroots approach. We wanted to start with the individual and then build the education from a place where you are centered to say, "This is you, and let's find where you can touch into politics."
Some of the main themes of the videos are how you can get involved voting locally, and what that does, the strategy of voting in the primaries, especially in a state like Rhode Island, which typically leans in one direction, voting in the primaries is an incredibly powerful way to decide what candidates will be representing a particular party from the very beginning instead of just having-- I hear a lot of folks complain about the two-party system, and obviously, there's many more parties, but I think that no matter how many parties you're counting, it really comes down to who you can vote for.
The primary elections which don't necessarily get the same attention, they don't necessarily get the same amount of people showing up. That's really where we have the ability to decide who [00:06:00] is going to represent the parties on the main ticket for the general elections. That's another important theme of the videos. We also talk about the legislative process, which is basically how laws get made. That is unique to each state.
We try to go into the details and discuss where obstacles can lie specific to our state and the structures of where decisions get made and who has the ability to make those decisions. That way, anyone can know what to look for, can know when to pay attention, and know what their options are in terms of what to do.
Lauren: That sounds like it'll be really helpful for a lot of people. How and why did you come up with this idea?
Tammy: I was really inspired by the work that we did with The Womxn Project because it was very grassroots. The Womxn Project is an organization that uses artistic activism to push policy goals essentially. We paired a lot of our artistic actions with a specific legislative goal that we had, which happened to be the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019. I was really inspired by the fact that as an individual person, your voice can have a really great impact on statewide politics.
Just knowing who your elected officials are and being able to go to the State House, if that's something that's accessible for you, or calling your state rep or your state senator and just being aware of what's going on on Smith Hill, in Providence, is just such a powerful way to affect change in our society. I wanted to make all the stuff that we had learned accessible for [00:08:00] everyone else and give everyone else a way in to learn, "Okay, if there are certain things I want to change about my society, if there's certain things I want to do to make life better for folks here in Rhode Island, here's some specific things you can do to help to affect that change." I think it's really powerful. Once people know how to get involved, then they can use their voice however they want.
Emily: Yes. To build off of that, I think that Tammy and I-- I don't want to speak for you Tammy, so please correct me. I think we learned on the fly, we learned what are we doing as we try to do it, but we also learned from each other and from the community that we built. It was something that was very person-to-person, as well as responsive to the experience of trying to pass a law.
That person-to-person interaction really allowed for joy and happiness and inspiration and being seen, which was, really, I found remarkably important to the process because it can be a lot of work to pass a bill especially if you're talking about major change. I think that it's wonderful that there's such a diverse set of opinions in the world, but we have so much to learn from each other.
With that, comes a lot of opposition to any issue that you have. Being able to make a series that allowed people to see these characters that we embody, the characters in the video series have our same first names. They're elements of our personalities [00:10:00] that have been ballooned up for the sake of the series. They're fun to play. They're fun videos. They're goofy videos. We use metaphors, we use jokes, we use lots of visuals, and we try to make it so that way it's entertaining while you learn because life is really busy and hard.
Making someone attend a boring lecture, you might walk away with the most details, but how much of that are you really going to resonate with? Are you really going to feel excited? Are you really going to feel drawn to the work? Something that was really fundamental for me when I was working with The Womxn Project is I found that what we were able to do was redefined what activism looked like.
I often told people that we designed activism that didn't draw on the resources of individuals, but instead built from the skills that they had. Actually, me showing up at the State House, me doing a particular action, became something that would fill my bucket to use an expression that gets thrown around in terms of how to enrich yourself in your day.
We used to have volunteers that would bake cookies, and that became, all of a sudden, like a civic action, because we would bring cookies to the legislators that supported our bills. How does baking cookies actually become a political movement? Well, if you have the knowledge of understanding that all of these systems are built by individuals and people, and people love cookies. It can be that simple to just say, how do we reach people, how do we inspire people, how do we communicate to people?
Because [00:12:00] that's the gears in the machine. We have the ability to really be a part of our government because the government is us. Breaking it down to that individual level allowed us to have the creativity to be artivists, which is art meets activism. It's to say, "Okay, what do I do? What do I know? Who am I? What makes me happy?
What skills do I have? Then how can I use those skills to either talk directly to my legislators and express what I really want them to understand about this particular bill and how it's going to affect me and my communities, or how can I use that skill set that I have to reach other people, to inform other people, to get those other people to suddenly reach out to their legislators as well?" It's all about attention. It's all about community. It's all about discussions. I think that all too often, in a civics textbook, it doesn't get communicated that way.
Lauren: Yes, and it sounds like these videos are a really good way to communicate those things in a more accessible format for the average person. What were your favorite parts of creating this?
Tammy: Well, I mean, this has been a long process to create these. Emily and I love working together. We're really good friends. I think that's been one of the real joys is that it's forced us to have to spend a lot of time together. I think that's been really fun. We've also tried to involve other local artists as much as we can. We have another actor named Riley Cash who plays a part of Riley the puppet in our series. There is a puppet as well.
It was really fun working with him and just collaborating with each other. I think [00:14:00] to have such a broad concept of like, let's make the Rhode Island legislative process accessible to folks, and then trying to pare it down into what does that actually mean and how do we actually distill this down into stuff that is accessible and digestible and makes people excited to get engaged, has really been an interesting process, but it's been a lot of fun. I think now that the videos are going out into the world, that's another exciting part of it is seeing how it connects with people in the real world.
Emily: Yes, absolutely. I think immediately my brain went to an answer similar to Tammy as to say my favorite part has been all of the people that we have involved and seeing how generous and phenomenally skilled so many of the folks that are part of this series are. People just really understand the power of getting this message out. Folks are really returning our emails at 11:30 at night, and giving their cell phone number so that we can communicate to make sure that everything falls in place, and going above and beyond when creating really eye-catching openers and 17th-level edits of these videos, trying to get them as short and concise as possible and tight and funny and eye-catching.
In addition to the people, for me, I have a visual arts background. It's been really joyful to work on a lot of the props and the puppets and the visual metaphors and things. I think that that was a little playground for me personally to just get a little [00:16:00] sassy, sassy with a glue gun.
Lauren: Did you make the puppet yourself?
Emily: I did, yes. I did make the puppet myself. This was the second puppet I've made in my life, the first one for a Halloween costume. It's basically made out of recycled materials, by the way. We went really green with it. It's with a lot of end cuts from a fabric store that would have-- we get them for 75% off, so deals right there, deals on deals, and a lot of just plastic that used to hold guacamole from the supermarket, and then some yarn from the dollar store, and then we went to Favors to get baby clothes essentially, so that way the puppet would have a whole set of outfits because we wanted the puppet to look great just like we did. [laughs]
Lauren: That sounds like so much fun.
Emily: It was. I tried to make the legs at one point out of beer cans. I work at a brewery. We had beer cans tied in pantyhose to try to get the articulated knees. It was four days of just gluing everything together in my apartment and selling the cans with various things to try to weigh them properly. It was a lot of fun. I think that another wonderful part of working with The Womxn Project is that the answer is almost always yes and. It's like, "What do you want to do? Do you know how to do it? All right. Let's figure it out. Let's just make it work," because everything that we do is so passion-based.
It's just, all right, here's the goal, here's what needs to get done, here's the deadline, and so many people just show up and just give it their all. [00:18:00] It's an electric community really.
Lauren: Well, that sounds like it's a lot of fun and a lot of passion and it sounds like a really fun video series. If you could give Rhode Islanders one piece of advice about becoming more civically engaged, what would it be, and why?
Tammy: I guess what I would say is that understanding that in Rhode Island, in particular, your voice really does matter. You literally as an individual person can affect change in this state. It's probably true in other states as well, but we are here in Rhode Island, and that's where we're focusing on. Because Rhode Island is so small, a lot of local elections come down to just a handful of votes every cycle.
You can have an impact, whether it be going to the State House or submitting a testimony or going to a rally or what have you. All of these things do matter. All of these things do have an impact. I think that it's very easy to feel a little bit of a sense of despair right now because there seems to be a lot of things happening in our society that aren't good for humanity. There's a sense that we can't do anything to change it at this point, but that's not true, especially on the state level.
So much important policy work is being done on the state level, and you can really, really affect that. Even if it's a matter of getting engaged in your local elections and voting, I think that's one of the simplest things that folks can do. There are certainly a lot of barriers to participation in elections, but they're passing more and more laws like RI Vote Act that lets people vote in a lot of different ways. Just being engaged there, [00:20:00] understanding when the elections are, and making a plan to vote is key, and it's a great way to make your voice heard, and it really does have an impact.
Emily: I think that my answer to that question is always my answer to every question when I'm interviewed, which is just the best advice is to start where you're at and understand that even small things ripple. I think that the way to really help yourself not only in an accountability sense but also in a resource sense is to do this work with people. I really can't stress enough how much I learn from Tammy and from all the other activists that we encounter and all of the other leaders of other organizations that we talk to on a regular basis.
Also, I learn just from my students and just from people at the grocery store and from my local library. Shout out, my mom's a librarian, heck, yes. Podcasts. It's just information is everywhere. The best advice I could give is to start a group chat, title it Political Nerds, and just get you and your friends to just help each other share the resources. You can make it as specific as you want. You could figure out what district you're in and make a specific group chat for folks that also share your district so that way you can help each other keep track of deadlines.
You can set reminders. We're going to be in our video series giving some resources and tips to try to make those much more [00:22:00] readily available and give people direct actions that are small and doable because we're all busy. Totally get it. It really is incredible just how everything matters. I think that keeping that in mind really does allow you to have the energy and the hope that's required in order to make it a priority enough to do it. I would probably say, everybody, if you've never been to the website before, Tammy, help me out, vote.--
Tammy: vote.sos.ri.gov. That's the Secretary of State's website. If you can't remember that, vote.sos.ri.gov, if you just Google Rhode Island Secretary of State and then click the voting tab, that will get you there as well. That is really a one-stop shop in terms of so many things that are helpful to know when you're participating in the political process and in terms of elections, it gives you important dates, it lets you find out who represents you, lets you check your voter registration, so many more things. We shout that website out a lot. It's a really key resource especially now with elections coming up soon.
Emily: If you've never checked who your representatives are, no shame. Totally understand. That was me a handful of years ago. I felt really silly when people would ask me, "Who represents you?" I would say, "Oh, gosh, I don't remember." When really I just didn't know. Just one website, it's five seconds, you put in where you live and the information just comes to you, is a huge resource. It just [00:24:00] puts down a giant barrier of where do I start? You start there, you start at that website, and it'll all open up for you. You can find so many different tabs and links and various information pieces there.
Lauren: Yes, that is a great website. I actually was just there the other day because I recently moved. When I put in my change of address form with the post office, I had checked the little box to update my voter registration. It's a good thing I went to vote.sos.ri.gov [laughs] because it didn't update even though I checked the little box. I saw that and was able to update it. Very easy. I also encourage everyone to check that out. As of this recording, are the RI4All videos up or when will they be up and ready to watch?
Tammy: They will be up starting on August 23rd. That's a Tuesday. We're going to have a live stream event through The Womxn Project Facebook page. There'll also be a Zoom link event as well that people can join and watch it with us live. Emily and I will be hosting that. Starting from then on, they will be forever available at https://twpeducationfund.org/ri4all/. The videos will live there. They'll also live on YouTube and Facebook. Check those out starting August 23rd.
Emily: Yes, we're going to be putting this information on all of our platforms and asking other organizations to boost the signals as well. A huge thing to do is if you find it floating around on your social media, give it a like, give it a share, give it a comment. Like and subscribe is [00:26:00] so cliche, but that's how you tell the internet that it's important. A small action to just help us boost this is by doing that. Interacting whenever you see it would be incredible just to help other people find this information too.
We really want this to go everywhere, which is why we're spending X amount of weeks and days trying to Google how to TikTok as 30-something-year-olds. [laughs] If the people can be generous and kind with my millennial pauses, that'll be great.
Really the information, we tried to make it fresh, we tried to make it fun, we tried to make it applicable and interesting for anyone that watches them. Hopefully, people will enjoy our silly little content that has some big important messages embedded inside of it.
Lauren: That's great. Is there anything else that you want to mention that you haven't mentioned yet, anything else that you want our listeners to know?
Tammy: I would just mention two things really quick. To stay informed about our videos and also about the stuff that Womxn Project is doing. Womxn Project generally, as an organization, we tend to be pretty good on social media and getting folks interested and involved and engaged in what we're doing locally in terms of politics. That's The Womxn Project. It's Womxn with an X, W-O-M-X-N Project on all social platforms. Also, my little passion issue right now is, like Emily said, getting people to vote in the primaries.
The primaries are September 13th. It's a Tuesday as always elections are. It's really important. There are a lot of local races that are statewide, that are vital to the well-being of Rhode Islanders that are going to probably [00:28:00] be decided in the primary. The governor's race is key. There's a US congressional race. The primaries are going to be pretty important. I would say very many if not the majority of state legislative offices are probably going to be decided in the primary.
Check that out. Because it's a midterm election and it's the primary election, your vote really matters a lot because these are going to be decided by just a handful of votes. September 13th, make a plan to vote in your primary.
Emily: I think one of the add-ons, the PS statements that I would add naturally being a teacher is to whatever age you're at, find someone younger than you and help them get involved. Not to burst into song, but the children are our future. That's very much the case. I learn so, so, so much from my teenagers, and really their voice matters hugely, and yet they have sometimes some really big obstacles to try to get to the polls and try to be informed.
God, they're finishing high school. [laughs] There's a lot going on in that world. Encouraging young people to feel inspired, often that means getting involved. It's not just saying, "Oh, this matters." It's asking someone to come with you to a rally. It's helping someone canvas for a local politician that you love and support. It's making posters about issues that you care about and displaying them in your [00:30:00] front window of your living room, or whatever is the case.
I think just really encouraging our young people to figure out how to get involved. I know it can be really frustrating. I was under 18 once too, and I was like, "God, this magical age can't come fast enough." Not only just for voting but for so many things, it just feels like in some ways you're not quite a person yet but you are. These laws affect you too, and they affect all of us. You do have a voice. I've been in testimony hearings for bills where a six-year-old gets up and grabs the microphone and expresses how they feel about a particular issue.
Let me tell you, those six-year-olds have brought some of our legislators to tears. They steal the show like heck yes. That's a really powerful perspective, a powerful voice. You get an eight-year-old talking about climate change. Yes, you can absolutely make change even if you're not able to vote yet. There's a way in for everyone, and it might mean you have to blaze your way there, but no one is stopping you. Just jump in. It can get a little messy, but that's the fun.
Lauren: That's a great message. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me for this episode of Rhody Radio. We really appreciate that. We hope that all our listeners will watch the RI4All videos and share them and like them and all of the above.
Emily: Awesome. Thank you so much for helping us get the word out and for doing so much important work in the state. Libraries are undervalued in so [00:32:00] many ways and such an incredible gem of a resource. If you listen to this and you don't have a library card, go get on that. They're really cool.
Tammy: Yes, thank you so much for having us. We love libraries and we want everybody to get civically engaged. Go to your library, check out a book, maybe find the RI4All sticker there that I've been dropping off, and stay with us.
Lauren: Thank you for listening. You can find more information about The Womxn Project's RI4All video series at thewomxnproject.org. Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and brought to you by library staff and community members all around the ocean state.
This episode was made possible by an American Rescue Plan Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and give us a review on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to help us reach more Rhode Islanders.
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