One day last June, Caitlin Grogan opened her Twitter to a direct message from the Saint John Police Force. The message read, “good morning Cait and hope you had a wonderful weekend. I noticed in one of your posts commenting about your friend and a sexual assault. Please have your friend contact us if she wishes at [email protected]. Have a safe day.” This was in response to Grogan tweeting about the sexual assault response to her friend’s report. She said the police told her friend that the report was “not violent enough.” At this point, Grogan had enough.
“I know that that’s not an appropriate way or a trauma-informed way to approach the topic at all. So, it kind of threw me off,” Grogan said.
In response to the message, she tweeted the statistics surrounding unfounded sexual assault cases in Saint John and ended her tweet with “fuck the Saint John Police Force and their sexual assault response” before sending it out to her 500 followers.
She was expecting around 40 likes from her followers and that would be the end of it. Then, the Saint John police responded.
Around 2 p.m., the Saint John Police Force replied to the tweet with “Cait….I ask that you please watch your language on your posts as we do have a lot of schools and community groups that follow us. Thank you!” They blocked her shortly afterward.
Suddenly, Grogan had hundreds of people in her replies standing up for her.
At the time, she brushed it off. But then she realized people were paying attention. She was a little panicky after people started asking what they could do to help since she didn’t have an answer for them yet. Now she had over 4,000 followers and a new role and responsibility.
She accidentally joined a new generation of social media activists and she slowly began to use her newfound influence.
The world of online activism exploded over the summer. TikTok users protested against abortion clinic closures, police brutality and systemic racism. GoFundMe pages flooded Facebook feeds with links to help those arrested during the Black Lives Matter protests and Grogan is just the latest in the long line of internet activists, using Twitter as her home-base.
Before moving to Quispamsis, the 23-year-old lived in Saint John for 10 years after moving from Fort McMurray, Alberta, when she was 13. She became an activist that same year when her school bus route was threatened with cancellation because it was within two kilometres of the school. Part of the walk to school was on the side of a highway with no shoulder, so she started a letter-writing campaign.
When Grogan got to university, before her dispute with the police and Twitter fame, she criticized her riding’s MLA and province’s premier, Blaine Higgs, on Twitter. From not spending the full amount of community funding to cutting the free tuition program, Grogan disagrees with Higgs in policy.
The free tuition program was replaced on April 9, 2019, with the Renewed Tuition Bursary. It was expanded to include private educational institutions, making the eligible amount of money for each student smaller. Students used to receive a maximum bursary of $10,000 for university education and $5,000 for college from the province. The maximum amount was reduced to $3,000 and $1,500, respectively.
As vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Saint John’s Students’ Union, Grogan had to field questions from students wondering why the program was being cut — UNBSJ had the highest number of students using the program.
“I had students in my office every day saying, ‘I can’t come back next semester,’ and it was right during exams, they’re saying, ‘without this program, I don’t have the money to come back.’”
“Clinic 554 closed today and my heart hurts. This is a sad day for the province.” -@thecaitdiaries
In September, Grogan turned her attention to Clinic 554, a private clinic in Fredericton, during a camp-out protest on the grounds of the New Brunswick Legislature.
Clinic 554 served around 3,000 patients and offered abortion services, contraception counselling, readiness assessments, pelvic and chest exams, pre and post-surgical care, hormone replacement therapy, IUD insertion and education about hormone injection technique.
It was the only abortion clinic in Fredericton. It had to close at the end of September due to a lack of funding, but leading up to its closure, there were protests and campouts on the Legislature grounds.
Grogan joined protestor and former UNB student Kathleen Adams for one of the first camp-outs in September, where around 40 people joined them to protest. Grogan said she didn’t have a great sleep, but it felt nice to emerge from the tent in the morning knowing she did something to help. She wanted to make sure Adams knew someone was there to support her.
“People often say like, ‘all you do is sit and tweet,’ and I’m like, ‘I do other stuff,’” said Grogan. “And it was nice to be able to do something tangible and make sure Kathleen didn’t feel alone.”
Clinic 554 couldn’t receive the government funding needed to stay open because of Regulation 84–20, which doesn’t allow Medicare to cover out-of-hospital abortions.
“If we all collectively hexed blaine higgs we could really accomplish something” -@thecaitdiaries
Higgs was re-elected on Sept. 14 after serving as premier of New Brunswick in 2018. He is also the leader of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party and the MLA for Quispamsis.
The riding has also been Grogan’s hometown for the last 10 years. During the 2020 snap election, she ran against Higgs, where she received 501 votes as the candidate for the New Democratic Party.
Before Grogan decided to run, she was always interested in politics. Her political goals involved research and policy writing, but she saw an opportunity when the NDP was looking for a representative and thought she could use her skills to benefit the party.
Some people suggested she run in a “friendlier” riding rather than challenging the premier, but challenging the premier was nothing new to Twitter-savvy Grogan.
Grogan received pushback from folks online who questioned why she would run against the premier in his home riding during a pandemic. She said she was called “disrespectful” going into the election but said she never expected to come out with a win. She thought, “who’s going to unseat the premier during a pandemic snap election when he had an approval rating of around 80 per cent?”
Grogan said sometimes her friends would joke about the what-ifs associated with running alongside the premier, like if she happened to win.
On election night, Grogan attended a small viewing party at the Wheelhouse of Waterloo Village in Saint John. She said it was quite clear once the first round of results for her riding came in that she wasn’t going to win, but she didn’t expect a win from the beginning. She won six per cent of her riding, Blaine Higgs with 68.1 per cent.
“It’s still pushing the conversation, so trying to explain to people that even though I didn’t expect to win, it was still kind of a win,” she said.
“Unhoused folks deserve shelter whether they’re sober or not this should not be a controversial take” -@thecaitdiaries
After the election, Grogan continued her advocacy work for lower-class citizens into her graduate program at UNBSJ, focusing her research on inaccessible housing. Her thesis is on creative housing models for people with intellectual disabilities and how they can advance social inclusion.
The master’s student also works for the laboratory for housing and mental health in Saint John and is the master’s researcher for Community Housing Canada, where there’s an area of inquiry looking at social inclusion in housing.
“I can’t even take part in #nbpoli discourse because so many people have me blocked” -@thecaitdiaries
Through her advocacy work and political involvement, Twitter remains a hobby in Grogan’s life. Despite using Twitter two or more times a day, some people aren’t fans of Grogan’s tweets and open opinions.
One of the notable politicians who blocked Grogan on Twitter was Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long. It started when Grogan was pushing Long for answers on affordable housing issues and he wasn’t answering her questions. Then he posted a photo on his social media where he was on a boat and someone was holding an open beer.
Grogan responded to the post and made mention of the beer, and it ended up in the news. Long responded by blocking Grogan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He later unblocked her on Twitter shortly before leaving the platform entirely for a while.
After Grogan made a post on Twitter outlining how the city of Saint John did not provide funding to non-profit housing this year — despite investing $3.5 million in 2015 — Saint John mayor Don Darling reached out to Grogan. He suggested adding the topic to the next town hall to chat about options and ideas, opening a dialogue with the city.
“Great awesome so WHAT are you doing to help?” -@thecaitdiaries
Grogan said there’s a great importance to activism of any kind. Referencing the Clinic 554 activists, she said if they were able to push politicians enough online that it made the Liberals change their stance on the clinic, then it is doing something.
Grogan wants to help. As a suicide attempt survivor and someone who has borderline personality disorder, she talked openly on Twitter about her mental health to inspire conversations surrounding mental health in the community. She used her platform to communicate her struggles so that others don’t feel alone.
As her follower count on social media skyrocketed from 500 to almost 9,000 in the span of a few months, Grogan had threats in her direct message box and politicians clicking the “block” button. But she wants to be known for more than just her Twitter.
“When I was in Grade 12 they put my tweet in the yearbook, should have been a sign I would eventually achieve twitter fame” -@thecaitdiaries
Grogan’s day starts with a meow. Her cats, Chance and Anderson, are hungry. She rises from bed and brews her morning cup of Joe. Then comes the first round of Twitter for the day, followed by answering some emails.
During the pandemic, Grogan said she sometimes feels cooped up, so she tries to get out of the house at least once a day. She used to go for a daily run.
“I absolutely do not do that anymore.”
She switches up her schedule for spontaneity, sometimes working in the morning or afternoon. But either way, it’s all done from home.
Around 5 p.m., she’ll shut off her computer and try to decompress from the day. Grogan will do some cleaning, make some dinner and watch a show — followed by more Twitter.