I had the honor on Tuesday of chatting with Jan Rodak, one of the women behind the De-fund the Komen Foundation Facebook fan page. The page was a Facebook viral phenomenon a couple of weeks ago, going from 0 to almost 20,000 “likes” in the span of 72 hours. I can speak from personal experience on how incredible this is. MeaningfulWomen.com has been at it for 6 weeks and we just celebrated our 200th like! (Shameless plug: please “Like” us!)
We have been actively following the page since the day it launched. Like many others, we were outraged by the news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure was pulling their funding from Planned Parenthood. My rage was fueled by the unfairness to those who would no longer be able to receive mammograms from Planned Parenthood. I also had a personal connection: my mom survived breast cancer twice, and Komen was our go-to charity.
We reached out to the page owners this past weekend and quickly got a response from Jan Rodak, the lead writer and spokesperson of the group, who agreed to chat with us. We wanted to understand her activism, what she had learned and how she and her partners unintentionally created “lightning in a bottle.”
This story, like most stories of greatness, happened as a result of experience, readiness and authenticity. Jan spent most of her years as a newspaper reporter and has a passion for politics. On January 31, when the news came out about Komen de-funding Planned Parenthood, she was angry. Really angry! She put together a Facebook fan page and cleverly called it “De-Fund the Komen Foundation.” Within a couple of hours, she had 2,000 likes. By that evening, she was up to 5,000, and word was spreading fast. She had tapped into a grass roots anger that was “out there,” in her words. The Internet buzz, fueled by Facebook and Twitter, had kicked into full gear. Just as with Arab Spring, throngs of people were banding together to protest inequity.
She found two types of people were coming to the page: 1) Individuals who were politically active and knowledgeable about the controversy (like my husband, Ben); and 2) People who were less political, but had deep personal connections to the Komen Foundation and/or breast cancer (like me).
Komen was completely unprepared for the PR backlash. They were accused of “politicizing” women’s health and kicking poor women to the curb – withdrawing funding to pay for mammograms and other routine screenings for under-privileged women because Planned Parenthood offers abortions. Meanwhile, groups like Jan’s dug into Komen’s public filings and publicized their high executive salaries, frivolous lawsuits with other charities over use of the term “The Cure” and other data points that delegitimized the brand Komen had worked so hard to build. The more that came out, the more people felt angry, exploited and betrayed. And Jan was at the center of it all!
I asked her what women can learn from this recent experience. She pointed out that there are a ton of men on her page. Women should know we are supported by men who have “the same values of equity, personal privacy and integrity,” Jan said. They can be just as motivated by causes related to women. Also, this was a forum with passion as the common theme. We don’t have to be political to cement rights.
Jan is an incredible inspiration to us at MeaningfulWomen.com. From following her page, we knew that she was someone special. And after speaking with her, we were struck by how lovely, thoughtful and interesting she is. She’s the kind of person I want to be friends with. The next time she comes to Los Angeles, I don’t just want to meet her for coffee, I’m going to invited her to stay at our house. She’s THAT wonderful!
What struck me most in the midst of the Komen debacle was the realization that the people most impacted by the loss in funding were poor women. The voiceless. But Jan and her partners have worked passionately to give a voice to these voiceless. By raising awareness, elevating conversation and gathering a group, they were a huge part of making change happen. As we know, Komen backed off its withdrawal of support and reinstated the funding for this year. Additionally, Karen Handel, the Komen executive considered most responsible for the de-funding, “resigned.” And to top it off, Planned Parenthood is enjoying a fundraising boon, collecting over $3MM from thousands of people in a very short period of time.
Jan Rodak didn’t do this by herself, but she certainly played a huge role. And for that, we thank her and think of her as a tremendous role model and inspiration!
Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (5), and Annie (18 months), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).