STAND IN YOUR POWER: Amplify: East, one year later

I felt called to start Amplify: East in late 2017.  #MeToo was at its height and I was tired of being a bystander.  Over the last decade, I’ve tried to stand up for gender inequity in small ways - whether at the frisbee field, or in the workplace - whether trying to make a joke of the ‘man-maker’ workout at the gym (!) or the comments that I couldn’t be good at math or science since I happened to be a woman (haha, seriously?).  Tiring at times, though I always try to remember that everyone is doing their best. And I sincerely believe that.

Good things often come out of frustration. Anais Nin said it better than I ever could, “[a]nd the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.  I joke that 2018 was the year ‘I came out as a feminist’. The majority of my friends, family and network all knew I was a feminist, though at first, taking the risk to blossom into standing for what I believe in a more public way felt very scary. It felt scary because of the potential backlash.  

But the tides are changing, my friends - and they’re changing fast.  

Instead of a backlash, I was met with an overwhelmingly positive response.  Women saying they’ve been waiting to hear the stories of other women - and not just women in the spotlight, women in their communities, women working alongside of them.  Men saying they’ve been looking for ways to be an ally and wondering how they could nominate the women in their lives. People taking the time to share with me their ideas on where we could go with this initiative.

I tried really hard to set up Amplify: East so that it wasn’t dependent on me.  I crowdsourced questions from my network as to what they’d want to hear from other women in interviews.  The stories you see are all from nominations - women and men nominating women that have inspired them in all kinds of ways.  Yes, I nominated some of them in the early days, though I never wanted it to be only from my network.

Amplify: East has really ‘filled my bucket’ - from all of the stories that you see on the site (over 100 and counting), to all of the nominations texts that you haven’t seen.  Honestly, they are AMAZING. The words that people put together to nominate women in our communities is truly awe-inspiring.

In the fall of 2018, I started getting REALLY busy - I know, a word with a lot of baggage, though it feels like the right word here.  The busy-ness caused me to ask: how could I keep this going but not be the one driving it? It led me to reaching out to my network to see if I could find someone to help me keep Amplify: East going.  Through that, Amplify: East found Liesl Mulholland, who I met years ago through a leadership development program called 21inc.

Liesl is now driving Amplify: East. Working with Liesl has been a breath of fresh air.  She brings an entirely new perspective and I’m so grateful to have her leading this, with me in the backseat.  Recently, Liesl and I started talking about how Amplify: East ‘looks’ and how we can bring more diversity to the table.  

I never wanted Amplify: East to only ‘look’ like me because it was always about hearing from people who are under-represented - specifically, women.  Just because we don’t hear about certain groups, doesn’t mean there aren’t people who are doing truly AMAZING things - they’re just flying under the radar…. And we NEED to hear from the people we’re not hearing from yet.  We need it especially in Atlantic Canada.

Amplify: East does look a lot like me.  I’m an educated woman with white skin. I feel a deep need to ensure that Amplify: East tells the stories not only of people who look like me - I know there’s a deep, deep hunger out there for a real diversity of perspectives.  And yes, I know that diversity isn’t just in the way people look - I’m white, I’m tall, and I’m educated - traits that give me some power in the world. Though I’m also a second-generation Canadian and the first person in my family to go to university - both things you can’t see about me that have had some unique challenges to navigate along my journey.  I also know all of the people featured on the site so far have had both opportunities AND challenges, regardless of what they look like.

But the truth is that there are power structures designed to keep things the way they are.  Whether intentional or not, these power structures can’t change without an acknowledgement that they’re there.  And that they can change. That’s what Amplify: East is about - hearing from people that we aren’t hearing enough from.

The amplifications of voices is not equitable in 2019.  And WE NEED to hear from different types of voices.

What can you do?  Nominate a diversity of women to tell their stories.  And if someone nominates YOU, accept it. I’ve heard from a lot of women that they believe they haven’t yet earned it.  I’d like for you to know that if someone nominates you, you have EARNED it. If someone took the time out of their day to nominate you as an inspiring woman, I’m pretty sure you’ve earned it about a million times over.  In fact, I guarantee it.

People deserve to hear your story, and learn from it.  I know I’ve taken a lesson away from every single story I’ve read on the site.  

My ask is that if someone tells you you’re inspiring - whether on Amplify: East or somewhere else - is to say ‘thank you’ and OWN IT.  The world needs more women owning their power. Beyoncé said, ‘no one gives you power, you have to take it’.  Take your power and own it. I look forward to standing alongside you.

- Vanessa Paesani, May 7th, 2019