Emma Tang, 17, is already changing the cyber world; the young feminist says she has further to go 

“Feminist in progress”

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
It’s a hot, windy rush hour on a Wednesday evening in Colorado Springs.

At the intersection of Academy and Union boulevards, a small group of people wave signs and posters emblazoned with phrases like “love is love” and “be proud of who you are.” Among those in attendance are congressional candidate Jillian Freeland and Catherine Grandorff, founding president of Colorado Springs Feminists. The gathering, a celebration of Colorado’s recent ban on conversion therapy for minors, was organized entirely by a 17-year-old, first-generation Taiwanese-American who plans to run for president in 2040.

Emma Tang is a self-professed “feminist in progress.” Although she spent the past three years participating in political debates, growing her online advocacy network and working on various Democratic campaigns (including Freeland’s), she firmly believes she will never stop learning how to best fill the ever-changing role of a feminist.

As a young, bisexual, Asian, female American, Tang checks several diversity boxes. As an advocate, she fights for the equal rights of all people, regardless of which boxes they tick.

“Having younger brothers was my first chance to be a leader,” Tang says. Being the oldest child in a first-generation immigrant family, Tang was the first in her family to experience modern America from birth. Her two brothers have always looked up to her, copying what she does and asking for her advice.

“Keeping myself in check around them is important,” Tang says with a light laugh.

Her family is tight-knit and supportive, so when Tang left them in Utah to follow her figure skating career to Colorado in 2015, their dynamic shifted. Tang stays in close contact with her parents, but her high school years were far different from most, in part because of the distance.

Well, and also because instead of attending football games and pep rallies, Tang spent her free time building a social media activism presence and getting involved in Colorado Springs’ advocacy scene.

During the 2016 election cycle, Tang found herself filled with anger toward Donald Trump and the Republican party. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked Tang’s personal identities and particularly hit too close to home with his xenophobic rhetoric.

“His policies on immigration deeply affected me, as I am the daughter of immigrants,” Tang says.

She was, and still is, too young to vote, but she refused to let that stop her from participating following Trump’s election. In 2017, Tang launched an online activism account titled Intersectional.ABC.

“Eighty-five percent of it [my anger] was toward the Republican party, but the other 15 percent was the fact that the Democrats only supported Hillary [Clinton] half-heartedly,” she says.

She compared the Democratic party split to the fall of Rome. “After all, empires fall because of fracturing in the government. Or the party, in this case,” she says.

She says of Intersectional.ABC, “For me, it was a place to rant and talk about what I thought feminism should be. I had followed a lot of feminism accounts before, but I didn’t like their narrative, so I put my version out there.”

Tang defines true feminism as intersectional, meaning it includes people of all different races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities and ability levels. She says all advocates must create intersectional spaces in which every identity may be correctly represented.

Just two years after its founding, Intersectional.ABC has amassed 37,800 followers on Instagram.

The acronym in Intersectional.ABC stands for “American-Born Chinese,” an homage to Tang’s identity. Tang holds dual citizenship, a fact she is proud of, as Taiwan allows dual citizens while China forces its people to choose between nations.

Before creating Intersectional.ABC, Tang was frustrated with the lack of racial representation on other online advocacy accounts.

“A lot of [the online resources] were white feminism: just very focused on white females and cisgender females, whereas I wanted to talk about everyone,” she says. “Most people, including people of color, don’t even see [Asian-Americans] as people of color and don’t even think that we face racism at all.

“If we didn’t advocate for ourselves, no one would advocate for us.”

Tang found it easy to step into leadership within the activism community. Without a leader, she explained, the community experiences infighting.

“If we can’t be united within our communities, how can we fight outside of them?” she says.

Stepping up has taken a toll on Tang, however. She has received death threats on Intersectional.ABC, and the backlash doesn’t stop there. 

“Every picture, there’s just a lot of negativity: that [I’m] not doing enough, the body shaming, people say things like, ‘We don’t like your face,’” Tang says. Running the account has shown her the importance of choosing whom to associate with. “It’s kind of like being a public figure, but also not, because the account is not about me,” she says.

Because of the constant expectation to debate with those who don’t agree with her, Tang began charging by the argument. A 20-minute-long interaction will cost you $10.

“I don’t actually want anyone’s money, I just don’t want to talk to you,” she explained. “My time is no longer free; you have to pay for it.” She added that the charges served their purpose — some of her opposition backed off.

Even with all of the negativity Tang has experienced while running Intersectional.ABC, she still describes it as “an overall positive experience.” She believes that the account has taught her valuable lessons, like who to pick fights with and how to be vulnerable.

“A lot of it is about who and where I put my fire toward,” she says.

In December 2018, Tang joined a local advocacy group called the Colorado Springs Feminists. Before she began attending their meetings, Tang’s activism was largely online. In the seven short months since, she has done public-advocacy speaking, guest-starred on podcasts and been awarded a seat on the Colorado Springs Feminists’ board.

“Making connections, showing up to places and getting my name out there has brought me a lot of opportunities,” she says.

Tang graduated from the online high school, Colorado Connections Academy, in May, a year earlier than anticipated. She plans to take a gap year to work on the 2020 campaigns before attending college.

Currently, Tang is working for two Democratic candidates: Freeland, who is running in the Fifth Congressional District, and Stephany Rose Spaulding, running for U.S. Senate. Because of her experience running a successful online advocacy platform, Tang joined Spaulding’s campaign as a social media intern, a position that she will hold until the election.

Shenika Carter, the political director for Spaulding’s campaign, described Tang as an “impressive, mature young woman who has been able to truly make a mark via social media.” She added that Tang is on a “fast track” to becoming an expert in social media campaigning.

Tang thinks 2020 is going to be one of the most important election years in modern American history. It will also be the first election that she will be old enough to vote in, and it will influence her 2040 presidential campaign.

“I haven’t put any policies into place yet. I don’t even know if the climate is going to make it to 2040,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to help people, and I think being in the position of president is the highest position I could use.”

Carter believes in Tang wholeheartedly. 

“She will be a successful candidate in any position she pursues,” she says. “She’s very passionate about inclusivity and social justice. So much so that she will be successful running on that platform alone.” 

For the time being, Tang plans to continue growing as a feminist and a leader. “Being an advocate and an activist is what I want people to know about me,” Tang says. “I’m hoping that will carry throughout my life.”

Lily Reavis is a summer intern for the Southeast Express. Reach her at intern@southeastexpress.org.

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