By Karen Kelly
Andrea Harden, Senior Strategist at MediaStyle Ottawa
Bachelor of Arts, Human Rights and Political Science (´07)
As energy and climate campaigner for the Council of Canadians, Andrea Harden had watched the rising influence of social media on activism for a decade. And as a left-leaning progressive activist, she was especially concerned about the use of social media campaigns by alt-right sympathizers.
“If you look at the recent Ontario election, there are some important lessons to be learned there,” says Harden. “How do we respond to groups that are oversimplifying things and getting a lot of shares for borderline racist or sexist content in online spaces? How do progressive voices effectively share their messages over social media?
Harden also experienced the chilling effect of social media “trolls” first-hand. After posting a video about a gathering of activists who opposed the Energy East pipeline, it was shared by pro-oil groups and viewed 9,000 times in 24 hours.
“I received multiple death threats. One person even contacted my partner,” recalls Harden, who was the Council’s energy and climate campaigner. “Thankfully, I worked with an organization that had my back. But I have seen multiple women who are outspoken about the oil sands, or tar sands, targeted again and again.”
Those experiences motivated Harden to change her career to help progressive organizations develop strategy and communications for the digital age.
“After 10 years of grassroots organizing, the biggest lesson I learned was that you need to identify who is impacted and lift their voices up. Match those voices with fact-based research and help tell those stories in the communities that are impacted and beyond,” says Harden, who recently joined the progressive communications firm MediaStyle as a Senior Strategist. “I want to enable progressive voices to match effective grassroots strategies with clear and persuasive digital mobilization tactics that get their messages out clearly.”
Harden’s commitment to activism began early in life. She comes from a family of community activists—one brother is an MPP in the Ontario legislature. In high school, she successfully helped lead a campaign to save an arts coordinator position that was slated to be cut.
“That was my first glimpse of how telling a story can influence the direction of a big decision,” says Harden.
After high school, she took a year off to consider her future. While she was accepted into a music program to study violin, Harden realized her true passion was social justice.
“I thought about what kind of work I wanted to do and how I could contribute to the broader social good,” she recalls. “I thought getting a better handle on disciplines such as law and political science would be a good place to start.”
Once at Carleton, she became interested in human rights and the impact of globalization.
“Bill Skidmore’s courses, in particular, were really eye-opening in understanding human rights abuses all over the world and the nature of power and who has it,” she recalls. “I came to understand how power and privilege come into play. Not everyone has the same opportunities. I’ve integrated those lessons into my work.”
Harden also offers some advice for students who are interested in a career in activism.
“First, find out what you are passionate about and pursue it on a volunteer basis. Then, look at the community we live in and the fights happening locally,” she advises. “You can be strategizing, participating, entering data, pressuring the city. The more you do on the ground, the more doors will open to you.”
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