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Took my Yooper friend out in Detroit, and she ran into an old acquaintance from the U.P.

International Women’s Day – Detroit

If you’re on social media today, you might notice a couple hashtags trending. Whether it’s #ADayWithoutAWoman, #InternationalWomensDay, or #DayWithoutWomen, the conversation isn’t entirely feminist. In fact, much of the tagged online debate today has taken a rather negative tone toward the feminists who encouraged women to effectively go on strike today.

A Day Without a Woman proposes that women stay home from work today, reject so-called stay-at-home-mom responsibilities, and even avoid shopping or spending money today (unless its supporting a woman-owned small business). The idea is similar to the Day Without Immigrants protest earlier this year. By opting out of the economy for the day, can women persuade society at large just how much they contribute and how valuable they are?

So I sat down with Twitter Diva Betsy Huggett, the Director of the Diane Peppler Resource Center. “Diane Peppler” is a nonprofit organization based in Sault Ste. Marie, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or “U.P.”). It provides many community services, including serving as a domestic violence shelter for survivors of abuse. Betsy’s social media handles include @DPRC_Shelter on Twitter and the Diane Peppler Resource Center page on Facebook. (“Yooper” is slang for someone from the U.P.)

Betsy was in Detroit for the National Network to End Domestic Violence Economic Justice Summit. Naturally, we met at a local, female-entrepreneur business, The Royce Wine Bar. We began our interview on the upper level of the bar, overlooking Detroit’s Grand Circus Park.

How did you decide to become so active on social media?

“We have to go where the people are. We’re in a rural area. It’s easier to reach out to people in our community, but also with social media we can reach a much broader audience.”

Betsy is one of those people who speaks enthusiastically about her team, always using the words “we” and “us” to collectively describe the hard work of the team she leads. She went on to highlight the benefits she sees in unifying her colleagues’ communities through social media connections.

“Each of my staff have that network of people we can reach out to that includes their friends, family, even their sorority sisters.”

How is it (social media) working for you?

“Are we having conversations? Yes. Are we drawing attention to the work we’re doing? Yes.Is it always positive? No.”

Betsy goes on to explain that she has faced a variety of challenges online. “Getting people to believe. Getting people to understand where domestic violence and sexual assault comes from. Helping people understand that criminalizing behavior is not the solution.”

Betsy elaborates that she is dealing with the “bubble problem” of trying to get her message to audiences that may have misinformed opinions about domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

Who do you follow online, and who follows you?

“I don’t limit who I follow at all. Because I want to what everybody is saying. People who support our cause – and people who are against it. What are they saying in opposition to social justice? I need to know what conversations they are having, so I can determine what  I can add to that conversation. I’m ask myself not only how can I  respond to opposing views, but also how can I change them?”

Do you feel like a target on social media?

Betsy puts her name and photos out there in her Twitter and Facebook posts, along with her appearances in YouTube PSA videos. Some nonprofit leaders are apprehensive to do this, fearing targeting from hate groups and online trolls.

“No. I’ve never been a target. We keep a positive message. We draw attention to the issues in a positive way, rather than blaming someone or some entity or gender or political affiliation. We don’t say derogatory things about those groups, and by doing that, we try to bring them into the positive conversations. Language matters. I like to have an educated conversation without telling someone they’re an ‘idiot’ or ‘wrong. I’d rather they explain to me why they think the way they do, so I can approach them where they’re at. Frankly, in our small community, we cannot afford to alienate anyone.”

You’re not striking today. Why not?

“I don’t strike any day. I like to rebut statements. I like to encourage conversation, regardless of whatever the other person may be saying or the language they use. I’ll  ask questions and try to get to the heart or the root of the problem or the way they’re thinking. I like to consider that things that we’re doing as causing ideas and social norms to take seed. Because you never know with the right amount of watering what that seed’s going to turn into.”

I’ve always thought of social media posts for nonprofits as sort of a series of elevator speeches. What’s your elevator speech on and offline? How do you approach that larger audience?

“We identify ourselves as a Resource Center (instead of a “women’s shelter”). We provide resources. We publish a resource directory. We provide people with access to the means to resolve their dilemma. That may mean safely exiting an abusive relationship. It can also mean assistance with finding food resources, securing housing if you are homeless, or counseling services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. People in our area know “Diane Peppler” now not just as a person (the activist who was the Center’s namesake) but also as an agency. We’re not ‘man haters,’ we’re not trying to ‘break up homes.’

“Our elevator speech is that we’re a helping agency. We help people find solutions to their problems. We try to be as encouraging as possible. We have prevention program grant funding to focus on healthy relationships. We focus on things like ending bullying and promoting better social norms. We teach empathy in all of our messaging to educate our community about what’s appropriate behavior toward other people.”

Betsy pauses to catch her breath for a moment and adds, “That’s a long elevator speech, I hope it was a tall building!”

I keep seeing posts today that criticize a Day Without A Woman as irresponsible. How should women talk to their family members and social media friends in response to this negativity?

“Yes. My favorite quote today was ‘When’s the day without MEN?’ Well, if you’re a single mom like my mom was, then every day is a day without men.”

Betsy suggests some tips for dealing with the opposition. “No name calling. Use language that encourages them to be open about their opinion, but share insights. Personal connections are missing from a lot of our online communications. It’s not a living breathing human, it’s just a computer screen.”

Betsy is critical of social media users who may stoop to the apathetic level of meanness of some others online as they respond and pick Twitter battles or Facebook fights.

“Picture that person and who they have in their life. Maybe they don’t have people in their life to give them a context they can borrow from. The lack of empathy in our world today is astounding.”

Betsy encourages social media users to avoid contributing to that lack of empathy, but rather to present a positive message and online presence to role model for others.

“We look to get community members’ assistance and support to change the conversation and to engage in changing social norms.”

To learn more about the Diane Peppler Resource Center, visit them online at