Interview With Jess Natale of So Informed

What would you do if you had 3 million followers on Instagram? Or maybe, What/who do you think you would need to be to have that kind of following?

A musician? A model? A reality star? And of course, whatever your title was it would also be /influencer. Which is often code for a living, breathing billboard. Someone who auctions themselves off to the highest bidder.

I recently met with someone with 3 million followers. And all of your assumptions about what you need to be or do to be an “influencer” are wrong.

She’s not a musician. Or model. Or reality star. Because her influential account isn’t in her name, you’ve probably never heard of her. Though it’s on the account so it’s not someone spouting opinions in the safety of anonymity.

Her name is Jess Natale and she is the founder and sole operator of So Informed one of the most intelligent and influential accounts to be found on Instagram. And I wanted to meet her because in my mind she is what an influencer should be.

We met in the Grand Bar and Salon of the Soho Grand Hotel on a weekday afternoon. I chose this spot because it’s expansive but generally quiet and close to multiple subways –plus they let you sit there for hours without ordering more than a coffee (Thanks, Soho Grand!). She arrived on time in all black clothing, warm tinted aviator glasses, many tattoos and a soft smile.

I was really curious about her. What was her background? Was she part of a larger organization? How did she start? Like we all do, I made guesses about her before I met her. And they were all wrong.

She’s a super brainy intellectual with a poli-sci degree from a prestigious school.
Jess didn’t go to college –she tried it and decided it wasn’t for her.

or She comes from money or is married to a man who can support her.
Jess comes from “cornfield, Connecticut” and is currently single. An Instagram account doesn’t “cost” in terms of money, just time and she chose to commit her time.

or She grew up in a socially progressive community-oriented family.
Her father is right-wing and disagrees with pretty much everything she believes in.

We talked for an hour but the truth of Jess is that much of who she is, is reflected in So informed so I’m going to intersperse our interview with the posts that reflect what we talked about.

And the Truth is: it all starts with Bernie

Jess was (and still is) a major Bernie Sanders supporter. While she was campaigning for him in February of 2020 she became frustrated with the lack of knowledge of so many of the people she spoke to, so she decided to start So Informed where she could tell people the facts in a simple format. Below is her first post.

NKM/Katya: So you started it…
Jess: February 2020. 

I do think it’s amazing that you have 3 million followers. It’s like, insane. And then your personal is like normal. I love that. –Sort of separation thing.
I try to separate myself from the page as much as I can. 

What’s your background?
I have a background in marketing and journalism and I’ve always been really interested in and invested in politics. In 2020, I was volunteering for Bernie’s campaign and talking to people all around the country and getting really frustrated by the lack of knowledge in general. So, I made a post to explain Bernie.

I want to share how you described your page in your stories to someone who is unfamiliar with it.

When we are more informed about a subject –the political process, what’s at stake during an election, the criminal legal system, mass incarceration, the death penalty, environmental justice, reproductive rights–we are more willing to take action where it is needed.
This is what I hope to provide you with on this page.

I love this. It started with the election and talking about candidates but it really taps into large social issues.
Yeah, I am deeply passionate about abortion rights, reproductive freedom. Justice. Justice in all forms, really. I want to amplify the voices that need to be heard because I don’t see the point in having a platform if I’m not doing that. I want it to be about people and helping people.

And I think there is such a concerted effort right now by the right wing in this country to strip people of education and knowledge and the basic understanding of how fucked we are, how badly they’re fucking us over, that I want to counter that with giving people as much information as I can. Because when you’re taking away books and defunding libraries – which is happening – and saying people can’t talk about their own identities…threatening jail time or fines for talking about who you are and what you believe in…that’s fucking fascism. 

And I hardcore reject that. I want people to be more informed and counter the GOP efforts. Because – I say this all the time – they want people to be uneducated and sick and desperate. That’s how they control them.

And we don’t need to live like that.

Right! I’m curious where do you source your information? You’re really good at simplifying an issue and I know it’s the “looking for information” that can overwhelm people when they’re trying to understand things because there’s so much on the web. So where do you go to find it?
All over the place. I read AP News. I don’t think people realize how many other sites cull directly from AP, like copy and paste from AP. So, AP is like the go-to source. I’m a big Washington Post reader and subscriber. But local news is important too. That’s where you get the most information versus something like The Washington Post or CNN that is also getting it from there and kind of manipulating it. And I work with a lot of non-profits. I’ve worked with a lot of lawyers. I work with a lot of people in the background that give me information as they are getting it. It’s a mix where I get everything.

Has it presented opportunities for you?  I have a lot of opportunities. The page started blowing up during the 2020 election. When I started posting about Trump, the page just exploded. I had a lot of opportunities. I worked with HBO and they gave me 15 grand and I just had them donate it to the ACLU. I don’t take money for anything on there.

Wow. That’s seriously amazing. Not that they paid you but that you wouldn’t accept it. Okay, this is crass but are you independently wealthy or do you have family money? Because I don’t know many people who would do that.

No, I just had a job that I was doing full time and then I was doing the page and with my income I felt like I didn’t need the money. 

But when you talk about opportunities, I was working with a lot of campaigns during the midterms, which for me is an opportunity. I got invited to the White House. I met the president. That was awesome. Despite not being the biggest Joe Biden fan, it was still a great opportunity.

I think the most impactful moments have been working with families and people who are directly impacted by what goes on in this country.

I have friends now on death row who I talk to on a regular basis because I connected with them or their team or their lawyers or their family. That feels like an opportunity for me. And maybe that’s weird.

I connected with Jason Flom who does such amazing work. He owned a record label and he was like, “what am I doing with my life? I want to do something impactful.” And so he started dedicating his life and his time and his resources to helping innocent people who are locked up. He is a huge inspiration to me.

He actually helped a man named Matthew Rushin, who was arrested and sentenced to decades in jail. Matthew is autistic and that wasn’t taken into consideration in his case. I connected with his mother, Lavern, and she was just an amazing advocate for him and really wanted people to hear his story – this is like two years ago now.

So, we put together a post talking about his story. I sent it to Kerry Washington, who follows the page. I was sending it to celebrities like, “Can you please share this?” And it came across Jason and he saw it. He connected with Matthew’s mom and now Matthew is no longer in jail.

And I’ve been able to connect with people who seem very unattainable, like Senator Cory Booker – he is amazing. 

But also more normal people. I connected with Billie Allen, who’s on federal death row for a crime he did not commit. His sister and his team are doing amazing work to try to get him vindicated. And he has been his own biggest advocate, I think, in life. He basically taught himself how to be a lawyer and advocate for himself while on death row.

He got all of his files – boxes and boxes of files – and he has all of the proof of his innocence. He’s also connected with Jason, and they’re working together now. They just did a special on Dr. Phil about his case. So, he calls me and we talk.

These personal injustice stories –is that people reaching out to you?
People reach out a lot in my DMS. That was getting very overwhelming. So, I made a website so people have a direct place to submit inquiries or questions or request posts that they want to see covered.

Do you charge for posting something someone requests? 

Do you get a lot of hate? I Do. Yeah.

Do you have anyone to help? Maybe an intern to just cover your direct messages or something, you know?
It’s so overwhelming. I would never subject anybody to some of the shit I get. I feel a little disconnected from it now. But, yeah, I was getting death threats really intensely during the 2020 election. Like really explicit death threats. I had to pay for some service to remove all my information online so people couldn’t find me.

But it was so bad. People found out where I lived. I literally moved. I had to move into a doorman building. Just for my own safety, because I was getting a little nervous. 

But the hate is all the time.

Do you block them or delete the comments?
I block people. Instagram is really shitty at responding if I report somebody. I have had people send me pictures of decapitated bodies saying, “this is going to be you” and Instagram says it doesn’t go against our terms of service!

Oh my god!
I think the most hate is about abortion because I’m a huge reproductive rights advocate. That’s the most hate I get and that’s the most hate that I get from women –when I post about abortion or do a line about abortion or fundraise for abortions. 

It pissed me off last year after Roe v Wade was overturned. Every message I got from a man calling me a cunt, I donated $5 to I ended up donating almost a thousand dollars and I was screen-shotting all their messages and posting them to my stories and encouraging other people to donate. And it became a whole thing. I think together we raised like $15,000 in one day.

Okay, that’s brilliant. I love that. I love that ability to take something really shitty and make it empowering. I think that’s important. 
Were you always resilient? 
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I grew up with a very right wing, close minded father. I’ve rejected his views my whole life, and that was always a problem. So…

Are you in touch with him?
No, not really. He hates that I do this page. He told me my entire life that I was the only one who thinks the way I do about injustice or inequality in the world. Whatever. But yeah, that made me resilient.

Is there anything that has surprised you from doing this?
I mean I never thought it would become what it has become. The impact that it has on other people was surprising. And I think I became very disconnected from that after a while. But I get messages from people that literally make me cry. 

They’re just so grateful for whatever I post or feeling like somebody is giving a voice to something they’re struggling with.  Last night –because I was so pissed about what happened in Florida, this basically total abortion ban– I shared that earlier this year I had an ectopic pregnancy. And I was so grateful to live in New York where I went to the emergency room and got the care I needed, as fast as I needed it. And nobody gave me a hard time. But tens of millions of people don’t have that reality in this country.

So, I wanted to share my experience and name that. That’s a very specific experience right now in this country. People connect to things like that and they feel grateful for it.

Jess wearing Flightsuit by A Potts Collection with her assistant Penny

Personal stories are so important.
Yes and I was always of the mindset that it takes hearing real stories about people to change minds. But actually, I think that’s been proven wrong because some people can’t be reached. And I’ve had to grapple with that and accept that. I started with the mindset that I can reach anybody. Like, the Internet is huge. I can reach anybody and maybe people will read this and change their minds. It just doesn’t always happen like that.

But at the same time, you’d be shocked at the people that you can change. I’ve had a lot of people reach out and say that something that I posted changed their mind. Like about Trump – very literally, I have had dozens of people reach out and say “I’m not going to vote for him because I didn’t realize how bad this was.”

Maybe the most important thing that I’ve experienced is people who have reached out and said that something that they read on the page made them feel more comfortable talking to someone in their lives about something.

And it’s like a ripple effect.

It is. And I think it’s because what you put on your page, –it gives people language. 
Maybe they’re having a feeling something is wrong, but they can’t articulate why. And you’re just like, “Hey, this is wrong and here’s reasons 1-2-3-4…”
And so people are like, “okay, good, I can take this and I don’t have to do all the research!” Speaking of which, how long does it take you to come up with and create a post and do you have a process? Or a calendar? I guess you have to really respond to the moment. Not alot of pre-planning?
There’s no exact method to the madness. On Fridays is US roundup and world news on Wednesdays and then Sundays Good News. –  I started doing good news roundups every Sunday just to remind people positive things are happening and you need to keep fighting so that we see more of this.

So, three days a week where I have it set. But everything else is responding to what comes up. Some things take time. Something straightforward can take 2-3 hours but there are other things that take me like five or six days to put together with all the research.

Who do you admire?
The obvious, like Bernie Sanders, AOC. But I feel like I have more admiration for normal people Like Lavern Rushin –she’s so fucking badass and she is such an inspiration to me because she is relentless. She will stop at nothing to make sure that her son is completely exonerated.

Or Chris Smalls, who is leading the labor renaissance in this country. He unionized the first Amazon warehouse. I love that. Just normal people that are doing big things in such small ways. Cori Bush too. Normal people who run for office because they actually want to make a change. Those people inspire me.

And all of the women across the country who are managing abortion funds and making sure people have access to the care they need because this country does not care for them.  Those people inspire me every day. They’re risking their livelihoods, they’re risking their freedom to help other people. And that’s a big thing.

I know. The fascists are coming and people don’t even see it. How do you stay positive and proactive? 
I don’t! 

No! …no, I do… I remember that for every fucked up, shitty thing that is being reported on or amplified, there are people fighting against it. I’ve had to shift my brain to look at it that way. 

I’ll use the abortion ban in Florida.

They basically banned abortion in the state. Only one in three people even know they’re pregnant at six weeks. But there are so many people fighting against this. There are so many lawyers to help people to fight against this shit. There are a lot of people who are transporting people out of the state to get the care they need by using their time and resources.

And I think trying to focus on that and finding the silver lining in everything makes me not melt down.

Any books you’d recommend?
Ejaculate responsibly. It’s an amazing book I just read. I read it three times. It’s setting the conversation about abortion and handing it back to men and saying, “if you want to stop abortion, go get a vasectomy. You are the one that gets people pregnant. So you need to be the one that’s ejaculating responsibly. “The onus shouldn’t be on the person who can get pregnant, right?

So that book and Bernie’s new book, It’s Ok to be Angry about Capitalism was awesome. 

And a quote you live by?
The function of freedom is to free someone else –and that’s Toni Morrison.

Whether that is freeing somebody who’s physically locked up or somebody who’s mentally locked up you gotta do it. I don’t see the point in not doing something to change something, you know?

Politics are not for the faint of heart and I think that’s why a lot of people are not deeply invested in politics because it’s brutal. I sat for five or six hours and listened to them debate abortion rights the other day. It was a room of predominantly men very literally saying, “I will never have to deal with this, so I shouldn’t be saying this but…” And then continuing on to talk about how women shouldn’t have rights.

And when you hear that for long enough, it starts to eat at your soul. But I try to channel that feeling into doing something…

Where to find Jess online:
website | instagram | tiktok | twitter

So Informed podcast co-hosted with Jamal Taylor

–Katya Moorman
–Photos of Jess by Katya Moorman + KL DUnn
–Flightsuit by A Potts Collection

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