Thank You & Goodbye, Project Consent
“Optimism is radical. It is the hard choice, the brave choice. And it is, it seems to me, most needed now, in the face of despair—just as a car is most useful when you have a distance to close. Otherwise it is a large, unmovable object parked in the garage. These days, the safest way for someone to appear intelligent is being skeptical by default. We seem sophisticated when we say “we don’t believe” and disingenuous when we say “we do.” History and fable have both proven that nothing is ever entirely lost. David can take Goliath. A beach in Normandy can turn the tide of war. Bravery can topple the powerful. These facts are often seen as exceptional, but they are not. Every day, we all become the balance of our choices—choices between love and fear, belief or despair. No hope is ever too small.” - Guillermo del Toro
Growing up, I never imagined myself as an activist. I was a teenager from the Midwest with big dreams of becoming a writer. I didn’t have the first idea of how to lead an organization or change law. When I got the idea for Project Consent, it was intended to be a small art project, viewed by five or six people at most. Imagine my complete and utter shock when I realized I might have stumbled onto something bigger. But you know the story by now: art project goes viral, then grows into an organization with the help of many. Said organization becomes one of the largest groups in the fight against sexual assault. To say it was unprecedented is an understatement. But now, a full five years later, I can also say it’s been the greatest journey any of us could have asked for.
When I think about Project Consent, I think about all we were proud to stand for. I think about the thousands of people who have reached out to us and the many more who shared our work. I think about the first time I was ever asked to describe what Project Consent meant to me, personally: Project Consent is a lighthouse, a beacon for what was taken from so many: choice. A choice to be more than our tragedies, our mistakes, and our flaws. By supporting us, you are choosing something great: the hope that our future is what we make it to be. It’s funny, now, thinking about what Project Consent was intended to be versus what it became.
Truthfully, I didn’t know if Project Consent was going to take off, even in the years after we got our funding and following. I was never certain that people would remember us and the work we put into our campaigns and advocacy. I hoped, but I never knew. But I think I know why we did. We weren’t experts (remember: Project Consent was entirely run by high school and college students), but we were optimists. In every stage of our work, we were optimistic that we were doing the right thing and what we were saying mattered. In spite of all the bad in the world, we never wavered in our optimism. It carried us through the unknown, the errors, and the celebrations.
We weren’t perfect, but we were optimistic and that was everything.
One of the most pivotal moments of running Project Consent was when we made the early decision to stop using the word “victim” and instead replace it with “survivor.” It was a conscious effort on our part and one that defined our movement for years to come. It was also personal; it marked the beginning of seeing myself, wholly and fully, for the first time since I was raped. That choice transformed me from a scared, broken down teenager into a young woman finally coming into her power. I was and am and will be a lot of things: an entrepreneur, a writer, a friend, a neighbor, etc., but I am not a victim. What I did with Project Consent: that is who I am, not anything less.
In many ways, Project Consent outgrew me. We won a Webby Award for Best Video Campaign. We created a sex ed curriculum (now used by over 30+ schools in the United States). We reached over 2 million people around the world. Needless to say, I didn’t do that alone — I had a team of over 50 volunteers to make that magic happen. But in a lot of little ways, it remained mine. It is my pain and hopes and sweat and triumphs and so much more. It is my little train that could and did. My path to healing was full of highs and lows, but it was never one I walked alone. I like to think that we all found some part of us in Project Consent, which is why this next part is so bittersweet.
We’re closing down Project Consent because we get to say what so few organizations can: we did our job. We started out, five years ago, as a radical group of teenagers wanting accountability from a culture that brushed away sexual assault like crumbs. We demanded notice and change. We were innovative and determined and I’ll admit it: we were defiant. It was a learning lesson that anger and fear doesn’t have to be futile; we took our outrage and turned it into action. For all the times we felt powerless in our own lives, we marched on together because we, as del Toro said, held onto our hope.
I’m proud of everything we’ve done. It was beyond anything I could have dreamt of alone. Which brings me to the present:
In the past few years, we’ve noticed a significant culture shift. #MeToo happened. Time’s Up happened. The decision to close down Project Consent wasn’t an easy one, but we are certain it was the right one. Project Consent alone was never going to change the world; that’s why it was fundamental to our organization that we provided the resources for you all to take our mission to the communities we couldn’t reach. And so you did. We created a network of like-minded change makers until the tides truly and effectively turned in our favor. We were just one voice in the call for justice. That’s how we know the time has come to move on: because we feel secure knowing we’ve done our duty in passing the torch. We ran Project Consent, but you did the work by carrying us.
To wrap up the past five years, I have to thank our incredible team for the tremendous amount of work they put in. Our organization grew because of all the time and effort put in by a group of initial strangers who all believed in the same cause. They volunteered their talents and energy to us for months and years at a time; I am hardly exaggerating when I say they are the best group of people I’ve ever known. These people are going to change the world just as much as they’ve changed mine. They are leaders and policy makers and heroes and now, five years later, they are also my closest friends. I am beyond honored to have worked by their sides. I have never been more excited for the future because I know we are in good hands so long as they exist.
As for the next chapter (because of course there’s a next chapter):
You’ll be seeing some changes in the upcoming months. As you can imagine, Project Consent marked a monumental chapter of my life. It was five years of learning, exploring, and healing. It’s taught me that storytelling and social impact go hand in hand and even though Project Consent is closing down, my work is far from over. As an artist, I’ve seen what one “tiny project” can lead to. I want to continue using art to inspire and evoke and empower; I want to pivot to be inclusive of the issues and people close to my heart. Project Consent was the start and now, five years later, I feel more prepared than ever to play my role in shaping the world. And if there’s anything you’ve taken away from us, I hope it’s that nothing can be done alone. I look forward to championing all of you as well.
The initiative that I am most excited for is the foundation I am launching for future entrepreneurs. I started Project Consent when I was just a young girl and the mentors I had along the way were invaluable. Without their wisdom and love, we never would have made it this far. Starting in 2020, Olivia Montgomery and I will be offering financial and educational support to young adults looking to make a difference in their communities. We will be taking all that we have learned during our time at Project Consent and passing it down to other activists. We’re committed to investing in our future and I believe the best way to do that is to uplift other voices, especially young ones.
Thank you so much for all of your support and encouragement in the last five years. This is just the start.