In 2008, Meredith Walker co-founded Smart Girls, an organization that aims to help young people cultivate their authentic selves. Her partner in the project is comedian, actress, and activist Amy Poehler. The pair met and became fast friends while Walker was heading the talent department for Saturday Night Live. What started as a YouTube series called Smart Girls at the Party morphed into Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an online portal featuring news and calls for action centered on positive empowerment and representation in education, creativity, and leadership. Poehler’s name headlines the project, but Houston native Walker runs the organization out of Austin. Our conversation focused on talking to kids about our fragile political times, Walker’s work as a touring speaker, and the future of Smart Girls.
Three takeaways from her appearance on the National Podcast of Texas:
1. In her speaking engagements, Walker uses President Trump as a conversation starter, but sometimes doesn’t even have to use his name.
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“I try not to talk about a specific man, but instead about misogyny and what it mean for girls. If men in power are talking about women by rating them on a scale of one to ten, talking about their bodies, calling them dogs, what does that mean for the boys and men around them? Does it enable them to do that? Does it give them license? And, as a young girl, does it make you think that way about yourself? And so I try and open it up to just the bigger questions about misogyny and even criminality.”
2. Walker believes social media has empowered young girls and given them a portal to advocacy.
“Look at the March For Our Lives, when those young people put all that together and made significant changes happen. They were unafraid. And I think, as much as we like to criticize social media, young people—and now young Congress people—know how to use it to shut something down and make sure that message is clear and gets out there and reaches a lot of people. And I think that there are a lot of young people right now that care about the common good and are trying to change the amount of divisiveness and helping to get all of the other young people on board.”
3. During the Obama administration, Walker went on a State Department-sponsored trip to a Syrian refugee camp on the border of Syria and Jordan. What she learned there developed into a core tenet of Smart Girls’ messaging.
“It was so important just to show up because no matter who you are, you’re aware when people show up to spend time with you and say, ‘I see you and I care about you.’ It matters. But even more than that, I was able to take messages from the Smart Girls community to the women and girls in this camp and also take messages back. I think it helped American girls understand that concept of ‘other’ and how those trying to make us seem like we’re so different because we say different prayers or wear different clothes, or just live in a different place, can’t diminish our shared humanity. We all cry. We all feel left out. We all feel hurt or feel joy. We’re all in this together.”