Posted on July 10, 2020

I’m Leaving Sleeping Giants, but Not Because I Want To

Nandini Jammi, Medium, July 9, 2020

Nearly four years after I began building Sleeping Giants, the campaign to make bigotry and sexism unprofitable, I’m leaving — but not because I want to.

I want to share with you my journey with Sleeping Giants, why taking credit matters and why you must fight for yourself as hard as you do for your cause. I want to show you how a woman of color almost disappeared from the movement she built, and what you can achieve when you refuse to follow the rules your white male “leader” sets for you.

I hope other brilliant WoC and marginalized folks see yourselves in me and don’t wait as long as I did. The stakes are too high for you to disappear.

{snip}

Matt will never admit this, but we are equals.

We independently had the exact same idea one week apart. He found me less than a day after I published a Medium post urging marketers to add Breitbart to their exclusion list, and after I had tweeted a screenshot at Old Navy. {snip}

It was the start of an incredible collaboration through our two social media accounts: I run Sleeping Giants FB. He runs Sleeping Giants Twitter.

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Sleeping Giants quickly became popular because we brought good news everyday. Each day, advertisers would drop Breitbart or some other horror show. Best of all, anyone could participate.

{snip}

Behind that magical flow of daily wins? I was working behind the scenes to identify which advertisers needed an extra push. I was creating actions for our Facebook community: first testing email addresses privately, then writing email templates for our followers to send. {snip}

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My relationship with Matt was positive, friendly and respectful, and we never had any disagreements. {snip}

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When Matt and I came out in July 2018 on the front page of the business section of the New York Times, I believed it was as equal partners. It was through Matt’s subsequent media appearances I realized he considered me an optional part of the story.

In the weeks after we went public, he positioned himself as Founder of Sleeping Giants and went on to take interviews with Pod Save AmericaKara Swisher and AdWeek. In AdWeek, I ended up portrayed as “one of the individuals who helps him run the accounts.”

Without my knowledge, my story was being defined by someone else — a white man who could use his platform to exclude me, diminish me, or disappear me entirely. He never once invited me to join him. I never had any idea he was doing any of these interviews until it was too late.

I called a meeting with Matt in August 2018, after watching a slew of these articles come out. I said I needed a title, that I didn’t want to step on his toes, didn’t want to be famous, but we needed to figure something out so I could have a voice too.

I explained: going public was my chance to start influencing the advertising industry directly.

I wanted Matt to know I was just here to work, not take credit. He could go on TV, get famous, and do all the big stuff if that’s what he wanted. I just wanted to be in the background quietly getting things done.

He told me I could pick any title but co-founder, because he was the founder. We agreed on the title “founding organizer.”

{snip}

No longer anonymous, he was now being quoted by name in the media. These media mentions began appearing in his bios, for conferences like SXSW and 3% Conference. On Twitter, he began to replace what was once a collective “we” with “I” and “my”, frequently referring to himself and his family.

The work I had done for Sleeping Giants was also appearing on his conference bio. The vagueness that once helped us look like a mysterious group bigger than we were was now being claimed solely by him.

I didn’t have the media attention or connections that Matt did. I wasn’t 45, white and I certainly didn’t know anyone in advertising. I was young, unknown and invisible.

But I wanted to speak publicly on the issues too. How was I going to do it without a little help? I asked Matt if he could maybe give me a heads up so I could join him at some of the bigger conferences, like SXSW. I was tired of finding out about these things on Twitter.

He agreed, saying he would keep me in the loop in the future. We remained in frequent contact.

In June, I saw Matt posting from France on Instagram. “Are you in…Europe?” I asked. He said yes, I’m speaking at Cannes. Days later, he sent me a DM of him accepting a Cannes Gold Lion, the ad industry’s biggest award

I went into a downward spiral when I realized what a big deal this was: What have I been spending every single day working on? Did anyone know I existed? That I was working on this too? Why didn’t he ever mention this to me?

I felt humiliated. I spent the week unable to eat, sleep, or function. {snip}

Was I just here performing free labor in service of a white man’s personal brand? I went rogue. I posted a passive aggressive note on his Instagram {snip}

{snip} Matt called me, furious that I had dared to shade him on Instagram. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and I remember what he said perfectly:

  • “This is a betrayal. This is worse than anything that Breitbart could do. This is worse than being doxxed by The Daily Caller.”
  • {snip}
  • “You’re such a pain in the ass. Every three months, like clockwork, you call me wanting something. No one does this to me, not my wife, not my business partner, not my friends.”
  • “Everything I do is for the movement. What about you? You’re in it for the glory aren’t you?”
  • “I did not deserve what you did to me. The way you chewed me out in front of all my friends. They were all saw what you said, they were all asking who this person is saying these things about me.”
  • “I took a huge risk just by starting this account and I do a million things you don’t even know about.”

He told me he didn’t know if he could trust me again. When I asked him why he couldn’t just tell me about Cannes, I will never forget what he said: “I don’t owe you anything.”

{snip} He didn’t call me again for 7 months, until January 2020.

{snip}

In the months after this devastating call, I would discover Matt had created an LLC and an email, [email protected][dot]com that only he could access.

It was painfully clear that this movement was a platform for him, and no one else.

{snip}

I’m sorry I have to leave Sleeping Giants. {snip}