Political activism has catalyzed change throughout history, and the overwhelming presence social media has today only magnifies an individual’s ability to educate themselves as well as take action. The recent horrifying deaths of black individuals gave way to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to bring attention to racially-charged police brutality, and as this movement gained momentum, so did activism’s presence on social media.
While getting involved is great, many people were left wondering: how can I continue being an activist beyond posting on my social media?
Amanda Harstein, Emma Bochner, and Maggie Brown met at their sleepaway camp and were placed on staff together in 2017. The three remained friends after the summer and continued to talk in a group chat.
Recently their conversation has shifted to current events and how they could stay involved in making a long-term difference beyond their social media feeds. Their friendship was founded on the complimentary dynamic between the girls, allowing for their success both communicatively and professionally.
With these ideas and their solid professional partnership came The Catalyst, a newsletter that streamlines your social media feed to highlight initiatives and action items in pursuit of sustained activism. Currently, they have upwards of 675 subscribers.
The Catalyst sent out their first newsletter on July 13, dishing out action items on ICE and international students concerning the Trump administration’s ruling that students need to return to their home countries if their schools are moved to online learning due to the COVID-19 virus.
In the first newsletter, The Catalyst provided an email template to send a message to the House Committee of Immigration and Citizenship to overturn the ban, a link to a petition to fight to allow international students with valid visas to stay in the United States, as well as other accounts and organizations to follow to stay up to date on ICE news and a documentary to watch to educate yourself on immigrant families.
The Catalyst received praise after their first newsletter from subscribers, being told their newsletter was “digestible, impactful, actionable, decisive, and made activism accessible and relatable.” Another reader said, “Sometimes I want to do more but don’t know where to begin, and you guys make it easy and efficient.” Another Catalyst reader said that she had the five easy and effective action items done before she even could get out of bed. If you can make a difference before you even brush your teeth, count us in!
The July 20 edition of The Catalyst detailed action items to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, including email templates, petitions, personalized notes to her family and articles to learn more about Black women and police brutality.
The Fit Magazine sat down with Harstein and Bochner to talk about their experience launching The Catalyst, the challenges that come along with it and the positive impact they aim to make through the growth of their platform. Hartstein, a rising senior at the University of Michigan studying Communications, Bochner, a University of Texas at Austin alum, and Brown, a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, all contribute to the strategic and professional development of The Catalyst.
What is The Catalyst? What is your main goal for it?
AH: When it comes down to it, The Catalyst’s goal is for long term involvement and sustained activism. Essentially, The Catalyst is a weekly newsletter that streamlines social media to highlight key initiatives and action items for all of our subscribers, because what we really saw as the problem was that everything on social media where people were getting the most of their information, especially at our age, was very noisy and complicated, and in a way had too much information. People were working on allyship, but not concentrated in one way and was instead all over the place. Instead of this, The Catalyst is packaging it all together weekly through your email and off of social media, which was a definitive goal of ours to move away from all the complexities.
EB: The goal of The Catalyst is to facilitate sustained activism, so while it was born out of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we took the most recent current events and looked inward on how to reflect on our own personal privileges and realize that we could be and should be doing more, and that we should be doing better. While it was born out of this particular movement, we want to make sure people like us are every day activists, because we all have it in us to do the right thing and to be doing things more often than we may already be doing.
What were some of the first steps you took to get The Catalyst up and running?
AH: The first steps we took were that we originally had a completely different idea, and we just kept meeting every day on Zoom and discussing ways in which we knew we could get girls like us to be engaged in a more long-term way, and eventually we came up with the idea of The Catalyst. We went through a few name changes, as well as lots of brainstorming sessions, but after we knew this was going to be the final idea we really started planning out lots of different topics because we knew our biggest priority was going to be the content of our newsletters. The socials and the strategy came later, but it comes naturally to all three of us, so building up our strategy for that we knew that most people like to engage through Instagram. So building up our Instagram presence has been really big for us, especially after launching, as well as writing out all our different emails. A really important part that I haven’t mentioned so far is coming up with our mission statement, and just really aligning on what The Catalyst is and what it is not. We wanted everyone to know that The Catalyst is not all that you should be doing, so really what it came down to is showing that The Catalyst is not a one stop shop for activism.
What specific experiences helped you get to this point and produce The Catalyst?
EB: I graduated over a year ago now and just had my one year work-anniversary at my company, which is a public relations firm, so I think that experience in particular of being out in the real world has definitely been something helpful to use as a launch pad for initiating The Catalyst. I’ve learned skills like team management, how to work together with a team in a professional setting, so those are some skills and experiences that have definitely been helpful with starting this new venture.
AH: At school I’m a communications major, so that really helps me with the different planning and strategic aspects, but also just from different internship experiences, which have been the most helpful in how to maintain a professional structure between the three of us, even though we are all close friends.
Did you face any challenges while developing The Catalyst?
EB: I think it’s been pretty smooth so far, because we touched on us all being friends first, but the core of that friendship is the ability to work really well together, so there haven’t been any issues or challenges either interpersonally or in terms of the development and building of The Catalyst. There will inevitably be bumps in the road as we try things out and get bigger, and test out different initiatives, but we feel pretty confident in our relationships with each other and with our skill sets, as well as our passion for the project and the belief that this really can resonate something that a wide audience will benefit from long term.
AH: Also, I wouldn’t even say that this is a challenge, but just feeling out how everyone is responding to The Catalyst, there has been such an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. Since we are such a tight knit community, especially from a lot of our camp friends, everyone wants to see their own take on what we should be doing next, long term and in the future, because we do have grand plans for The Catalyst. It’s just really incorporating what we know our readers want to see, constantly growing our subscriber count,growing our Instagram presence and finding creative ways to increase our numbers could also be seen as a challenge.
Why would you suggest subscribing to The Catalyst opposed to other similar newsletters?
EB: We actually think that there is no other similar media type, which is why we think that people should subscribe to The Catalyst. Off the top of my head I could think of other email newsletters that I’m sure a bunch of us receive every morning, and those are more focussed on, at least in my experience, current events and news you could use when talking to people in conversation. Ours is more activist focused and the body of the newsletters and the content we’re pushing out is action oriented. We think that this is a niche that doesn’t exist in the email newsletter format, which is why we think it can totally complement other newsletters and forms of media that our audience is receiving without it being any conflict of interest.
Bochner and Hartstein are looking forward to the future growth of The Catalyst. They’re looking for a community of individuals that are interested in activating change, otherwise known as catalyzers. We all have it within us to make change, it’s just a matter of taking that first step to get involved. Check out the links below to learn more and subscribe to The Catalyst.