‘Feminist in progress’

Emma Tang, 17, is a dual citizen, feminist, world-class figure skater and activist. [Photo for the Express/Casey Bradley Gent]

Names to know

At 17, Emma Tang is already changing the cyber world. And she says she has further to go.

By Lily Reavis
The Southeast Express

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 is a celebration of Colorado’s recent ban on conversion therapy for minors, and 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 said. 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 said 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, — she trains on the city’s South side with the Broadmoor Figure Skating Club — 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.

Birth of an activist

“[Trump’s] policies on immigration deeply affected me, as I am the daughter of immigrants.” 

During the 2016 election cycle, Tang found herself angered by 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 said.

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 said.

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 said.

She said 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 that it includes people of all different races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities and ability levels. She said 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.

Tang holds a sign during a June rally supporting the ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQI youth. [Express photo/Regan Foster]

Voicing her identity

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 said. “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 said.

Stepping up has taken a toll, however. Tang 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 said. Running the account has shown her the importance of choosing who to associate with. “It’s kind of like being a public figure, but also not, because the account is not about me,” she said.

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 introducing the charges has served its purpose, and some of her opposition has 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 said.

In December 2018, Tang joined a local advocacy group called the Colorado Springs Feminists. Before she began attending their meetings, her activism was largely online. In the months since, Tang 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 said. 

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, who 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 Spaudling’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.

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

Looking ahead

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 said. “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 said. “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 said. “I’m hoping that will carry throughout my life.”

intern@southeastexpress.org

This story first ran in the June 26 edition of the Colorado Springs Independent.

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