For the last 34 years, October has been recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And I’m all for it—except for one little word. Let’s change Awareness to ACTION. We’re all aware that domestic violence occurs and is unacceptable, so it’s time to do something about it.

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ll be blogging all month about what it takes to end domestic violence. It is our view (at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) that to prevent violence we need to:

Address root causes of violence, Shift culture, Build Skills, Promote healthy relationships

So let’s get started. How do we address root causes of violence? What does that look like?

I just spent three amazing days at our annual conference. Root causes of violence were at the heart of our discussions on government deportation policies, racism, sexism, and homophobia, to name a few. Working to interrupt any of these oppressions is part of addressing root causes of violence. Because ultimately we know that if there is a system in place that values one person over another—for any reason whether it be racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia—that system also allows domestic violence to flourish and thrive.

It seems like a daunting task, but I know change can happen. I want to tell you a story.

When I was three and my sister was six, my Uncle Jerry and Uncle Sean came to visit us. This was such a treat. What kids wouldn’t be squealing with delight when their uncles with purple and yellow hair and rainbow sequin tennis shoes came to shower them with love and affection? So we were pretty excited to show them around our neighborhood. In the time it took for us to take a walk around the block, my mother received a frantic phone call from a neighbor:

“I just saw your children on the shoulders of two weird men holding hands.”

My mother responded, “Those aren’t weird men, that’s my brother and his lover.”

The phone call ended with a click.

That neighbor never spoke to my mother again.

Fast forward to this summer, when I took my children to two (gay) weddings where the only thing that was weird was how darn hot it was for Western Washington.

This shift didn’t just happen. We fought for this change. When we at WSCADV stood in solidarity with Washington United for Marriage we did it not only because it was the right thing to do but because we understood that we must stand together if we want justice.

I know that things aren’t perfect. But I also know that when people are allowed to be who they are, the threat of violence is less. I know that if we take homophobia out of the equation, and people are not punished for being who they are, that relationships are healthier, and that ultimately we are all the better for it.

A change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Latest immigration bills will hurt community safety and crime victims “Law enforcement leaders have stated repeatedly they do not want to be immigration law enforcers precisely because it interferes with their primary mission to fight crime.”

My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time “I have never in my life been fatter than I was on my wedding day, I have never shown my body in such an uncompromising way, and I have never felt more at home in that body. I was fully myself, and I was happy. We are happy. This life is yours, fat girls. Eat it up.”

Sandra Bland Never Should Have Been Arrested “She did nothing unlawful in her interactions with him. But that doesn’t matter in an America where knowing your rights means little when they can be revoked at the whim of an officer’s temper.”

And an extra funny/not-funny take on being black in America:

We bring you this post from the Executive Director of a domestic violence program in rural Washington.

The domestic violence agency I work at often buys supplies that our clients need but can’t always afford, like diapers, toiletries, and contraceptives. Easy access to birth control supports a survivor’s control over their body, and promotes their safety and independence. Recently, I walked into our community’s only pharmacy to buy some Plan B. The young woman behind the counter asked me for ID and went into the back room.

planb2Her: Here you go, all set.

Me: What did you do with my ID?

Her: Checked to see if you are over 18.  (I think this is funny – I’m 39.)

Me: There are no restrictions on buying Plan B, so you don’t need to know my age. I work at the local domestic violence agency and for my clients, being asked to show ID can be scary if their abuser monitors what they are doing and checks public records. It is also scary for people who are worried about their immigration status.

Now the pharmacist comes out and joins the conversation.

Pharmacist: That’s not true. On the Plan B package it says “For Women Over 17 Years of Age.”

Me: It’s old packaging (wondering just how old the packaging is). The law has changed. Plan B should be able to be purchased as over-the-counter medication. I don’t have to show identification.

Pharmacist: That’s not true and it is my choice how to dispense it.

This same conversation continued over a few more visits. I brought in articles and the new federal regulations—none of it seemed to matter to the pharmacist. Then my town gathered a small team of community members interested in women’s reproductive health services that were available locally. One community member went back to the pharmacy, and while the same “it’s just not true” argument ensued, another visiting pharmacist broke into the conversation and said we were right. He confirmed the changes in law we had already shown the local pharmacist.

This pharmacy—the only place in town to buy Plan B—is now in compliance with the law. And while I’m very happy about that, I still find it frustrating that my local pharmacist would not listen to what we were saying (read: what we women were saying) and would not change the pharmacy’s practice until a man said our information was correct. How many laws that affect women’s health are ignored when women are telling the truth?

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #1: Bring the past forward

Our work to end violence against women is rooted in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, in particular the efforts to secure reproductive rights. Early organizing strategies were learned from the Civil Rights, Labor, and Anti-War movements, where work was launched by personal testimony about violence, oppression, and dehumanization. Many of us remember the 60’s and 70’s as an angry, energetic, and passionate time.

I think we are in another period of unrest. While the big issues have evolved into the 21st century, they appear to be very familiar. And we have a great opportunity to bring what we’ve learned into the present with a more nimble and visionary approach to our social justice work.

We must remain vigilant about reproductive rights. There are three times as many anti-choice bills in state legislation this year as there were in 2010. Anti-choice campaigns are controlling and hateful, and shameless in their strategic manipulation of race, class, and immigration.

The wars are taking a tremendous toll on our communities. Not only are we faced with the devastating effects of war on families, we are also suffering from the economic and political fallout caused by years of troop buildup and declining morale. Women around the world continue to be both the victims and tools of men’s war against each other. I hope we are working to support the families of returning troops, and I also hope we are joining in global organizing against militarization and U.S. domination.

Civil rights for immigrants are being dismantled. The war on poverty has been completely lost. And technology has added elements of speed, invisibility, and recklessness to the exploitation and abuse of women and children.

Over the past 30 years, we have developed an increasingly complicated rhetoric about our work to end violence against women. It’s so complicated that sometimes I’m not really sure what I’m talking about. So I want to suggest that we return to plain talk. Plain talk about what happens to women. Plain talk about what we are doing and what we want in our future. We need not care about being impressive. We need only care about being heard.

I was taken aback by the celebratory reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death. I watched people chanting U-S-A in sportsman spirit and rejoicing outside the White House. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, messages of hate were directed towards Muslims. While President Obama was clear in his message that bin Laden’s death was not an attack on Islam, post 9/11 government policies on immigration and “counter-terrorism” have had a huge undertone of racism.

So were the celebratory chants of vengeance appropriate? Some certainly don’t think so.

In trying to sort out what bin Laden’s death means, I found myself saddened by the “us vs. them” reactions. “Us vs. them” doesn’t get us where we want to go. As Nelson Mandela said upon his release from prison:

We enter into a covenant that

we shall build a society in which all South Africans,

both black and white,

will be able to walk tall,

without…fear in their hearts,

assured of their inalienable right to human dignity

– a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

Nelson Mandela’s release could have caused a backlash for white South Africans. But instead, he urged all South Africans to work together to build a diverse and stronger nation.

In Mandela’s words, I found some clarity. Bin Laden’s death does not mean that we return to a pre-9/11 world. What it means is that we need to move past “us vs. them” and work together.

We have to unite with citizens and immigrants alike in the fight for immigrant rights; and

We have to unite with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the fight for religious freedom; and

We have to unite with LGBTQ people and straight allies alike in the fight for equality; and

We have to unite with men and women alike in the fight for gender equality and relationships without violence.

Because uniting to protect each others’ rights does not threaten or diminish our own.

March 8, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In honor of 100 years of organizing for peace, economic justice, and women’s empowerment, check out these links to learn about innovative and inspiring activism happening around the globe right now.

Maiti Nepal works with girls and women in Nepal who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced prostitution. Their work includes teaching girls about trafficking so that they can avoid being tricked or lured in.

Chouchou Namegabe risked her life to broadcast the testimonies of women who had been raped by militia men in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The organization she co-founded — South Kivu Women’s Media Association — uses media to empower women and fight sexual violence.

No One Is Illegal is campaigning to change the Canadian government’s policy that allows immigration enforcement agents to enter shelters for women fleeing violence to detain and deport undocumented survivors.

And have you seen The Girl Effect video? It is a compelling vision of how investing in education for girls living in poverty can give them the tools to improve the health and well being of entire communities.

What has inspired you lately?  Share more links here. Get inspired. Spread the word. Join the movement.


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