September 27, 2011
I just left WSCADV’s annual conference with almost 400 advocates in the beautiful city of Spokane. We had this moment in time to gather together, no matter our pressures at home and work, and dream big. Beth Richie, the brilliant author of Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women, challenged us to look at our movement to end violence against women and consider if we have defined our work too narrowly.
So much of our daily work is addressing what survivors and their children need to be safe. This is, of course, critical, but have we set our expectations too low? What about a world where all people are safe from all kinds of abuse? We’ve had these conversations many times, but to do this effectively we have to be willing to regularly reflect on and critique our efforts.
Beth reminded me that combatting violence in the lives of women, men and children is human rights work. You know, Human rights, those basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to. Working for social change is not something we can just think of when we have a spare moment. It is our job and has to be integrated into everything we do.
This is a tall order but I know we can figure out how to keep showing up for the individuals who need our support and also join the vibrant, creative surge of activists and other social justice movements around the world.
September 20, 2011
I just got back from a two week vacation, turned hurricane tour to the East Coast. My parents have a house near the beach in Rhode Island where I grew up. Before now, I’ve never had to sandbag and board it up. It was frightening to evacuate inland and wait two very long days for the storm to pass.
Irene was a storm with a broad reach―requiring a hefty response. In my corner of the smallest state (.00000002% of the area this storm impacted*) I witnessed police going door to door issuing orders to leave, check points to protect evacuated towns, all hands on deck fire departments, every truck and crew preparing for the storm, and then undertaking the enormous clean up. Most roads were passable and power back on within the week. Impressive wouldn’t you say?
This, my friends, is infrastructure.
As noisy as the storm was, Washington, D.C. fell silent. For once, nobody was arguing about the need for big government because it was clear we needed it to prepare for and respond to this big problem.
Some of the deadliest hurricanes in America occurred before the convention of naming them. Sadly, like these storms, the disastrous number of victims of violence against women and children remain largely unnamed and unknown. The enormity of this problem requires an infrastructure that is up to the task. There is absolutely no reason we can’t have it.
Meanwhile back at the coast, I felt palpable relief when I arrived home after the storm to find everything and everyone safe. I am so grateful to our government and to all the people who are loyal employees. God bless this mess.
* I made that up―but feel confident that it’s close.
September 13, 2011
One time I was introducing myself to a group of advocates: “My name is Ankita. I work on WSCADV’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project.” And then I cried.
In this role, I’ve learned from the lives and deaths of numerous women about the impact of domestic violence, and how we all can improve our response. Each story of victims reaching out for help and not getting what they needed contributed to my passion and energy to educate communities and professionals to be better prepared. I did this in hopes that the lesson of one woman’s death would be the success of another woman’s survival.
Recently, I began to work on WSCADV’s Domestic Violence Housing First Project. The goal of this project is to eliminate housing as a reason for survivors to stay in abusive relationships. It is supported by a funder that has given domestic violence programs the space to creatively meet the needs of survivors so they can obtain and remain in housing. For example, advocates can offer rental assistance, pay off an old debt that has been a barrier for a survivor to obtain housing, or pay for childcare. The help advocates can provide is not governed by contract requirements or organizational barriers. Instead, solutions are formed or offered based on what that survivor needs.
Now I get to hear stories about women moving beyond surviving and on to more fun and exciting things, like obtaining an education, helping other women, watching their kids grow in a violent-free home. When I first realized that when funders, domestic violence programs, and survivors are aligned―and words like justice, hope, and change no longer represent a concept, but an action―I cried again.
I am re-energized to hear survivors telling us that this project has restored their dignity, advocates being thrilled to eliminate barriers for safety, and funders seeing a real difference in people’s lives.
September 6, 2011
I got a bit political in a status update on Facebook the other day. A comment about taxes caused a ruckus with my more conservative friends back home in the South. Comments started flying about the role of government and how much we should be expected to give to our communities versus what we deserve to keep for ourselves. Looking back at the conversation I wonder: What has happened to basic human compassion?
I think we would do things very differently in this country if we could all tap into real, nonjudgmental compassion for others. To me, compassion means admitting to ourselves that other people’s experiences are not the same as ours, and that they still matter. This is actually quite difficult, and I struggle with it myself.
What if we all worked a bit harder to understand how big social problems like poverty, racism or domestic violence impact people’s lives? What would it be like if we took a walk in their shoes? For those of us who’ve faced some of these hard situations, we’re still not off the hook. Our task is to realize that our way of dealing isn’t the only way.
There is actually research that suggests that compassion causes a chemical reaction in our bodies which makes our desire to be compassionate grow stronger. All we need to do is exercise it! Imagine if everyone in your community was just a little more compassionate. Albert Einstein had it right when he said:
“A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”
I’m busting out of that prison. Will you come with me?