When Anna Wiatrowska made her first post on Instagram on January 17, 2020, she couldn’t have foreseen that in just a few months @queerowyfeminizm would be one of the most influential educational accounts, amassing over thirty six thousand followers hungry for social change. It is not just the aspiring activists who turn to the Queer Feminist account for the enlightening content, but also the renowned changemakers – the National Women’s Strike for one, which is responsible for mobilizing thousands of Poles against the abortion ban in Poland – and major nonprofits, like the Campaign Against Homophobia, amongst others.
Having no prior experience with social media, Anna credits her time in Atlanta, where as a Humanity in Action/John Lewis Fellow, she learned how to creatively use media for activism – making podcasts and interviewing the local community. She even tried street theatre to engage others on issues of social justice for minority groups. Weary of the traditional workshop format she was used to in her anti-discriminatory work — in Berlin, she educated youth about LGBT+ related subjects — she was excited to try these new forms of communication.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Anna to scrap her grand plans for a series of interactive educational videos meant to highlight the visibility of Poland’s diverse minority groups. She was left full of ideas but with few avenues to realize them. That is when she taught herself the graphic design program and put her wealth of knowledge to use by creating eye-catching colorful Instagram posts, where she would explain in plain words everything from proactive allyship to pansexuality.
The breakthrough moment came at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police. Anna was one of the first in Poland to dissect in real time concepts of white privilege and address the issue of systemic racism on her social media platform. Whereas in the US or Germany, the dehumanizing and demeaning practice of blackface would be condemned and cultural appropriation rejected, in Poland questions of race are still largely unconfronted.
Many of the concepts raised by @queerowyfeminizm are new to Polish followers, simply because there are no words in Polish dictionaries to describe them. Deeply entrenched stereotypes are encoded in language. Anna says it is one of the most challenging but also gratifying parts, coming up with new terms to replace the often derogatory, paternalizing, or outright racist descriptions. The other day she looked for the most accurate translation of “trans lives are valid,” asking her followers to weigh in and give suggestions. As the pandemic moved all of our interaction online, Anna has seized this opportunity and created an inclusive platform where everyone can speak their mind. This is reflected in some of her most viral posts, which attract nearly 200 comments and fourteen thousand likes!
Especially in times of extreme polarization, voices like Anna’s are essential. In her Instagram posts, she advises how to prepare for a conversation with a homophobic or racist family member, how to take up responsibility and react when injustice happens. She doesn’t shy away from controversy, like pointing out the transphobia within the women’s movement or calling out the major commercial chain for selling an openly homophobic book.
Every day Anna takes on a different issue, dismantling gender, class and racial stereotypes. She does the job which in a well-functioning society would be left to sexuality or anti-discrimination educators, had such subjects been taught in Polish schools. For now, she successfully juggles her studies in psychology with the prep work – extensive research and graphic design – that goes into making a single post. “It feels like a full-time job,” she says, yet she is already planning for an even wider social media takeover! Stay tuned!