We bring you this post from Sarah LaGrange, our Policy and Prevention intern.

collageLately I have been thinking about adultism. It is one of the most common forms of oppression and I would venture to say that every single person who is reading this has experienced it. And yet it is the least talked about “ism” that I know of. You probably haven’t ever heard the term.

At our Teen Leadership Council (TLC), they had never heard of it either. But once I started giving examples, every teen there knew what I was talking about. At the end of the day we asked: What do you want adults to know about teens? Almost every single answer was about wanting adults to treat them with kindness and respect. One youth wrote “I only talk back when you talk back to me.” Is that actually what we want kids to learn, not to talk back? Would we ever say this to an adult? What we really want is for kids to take some responsibility for their actions.

Another TLC member said “You don’t have to yell to get our attention.” Who actually responds well to being yelled at? No one. So why do we yell so much at kids? Because we are allowed to, perhaps even expected to. This starts sounding eerily like why men so often treat women with violence and control, because they have historically been allowed to and even expected to control the women in their lives.

Jody Wright points out, “When we talk of kids being ‘disciplined,’ we mean that they follow what others say or want. When we talk of an adult being disciplined, we mean that they are following inner motivation to do something.” How do we expect children to learn self-discipline and internal motivation when we raise them to do what they are told and not talk back? The problem is, we are teaching them to perpetuate oppression and inequality. If we want kids to resist oppression we have to teach them how to talk back and that they deserve the same respect we give other adults.

MLKpinI am not talking about exercise or turning off the electronics—both good ideas—but about social justice work. Last week, the speaker at our Shabbat service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alexes Harris, grabbed my daughters’ attention. Instead of leaving them feeling like the world’s problems are too big to fix, she inspired them to be actors in their own lives and community. WOW! Anyone who gets my kids as excited about justice as the latest beauty blog is someone I need to pay attention to.

One of my daughters said, “This speech was not just about Dr. King’s legacy, but what I can do today, with attainable ideas, small things that are acts of social justice.” Yes, she really said that. Here is a shortened version of the speech that got her there:

I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, professor and social activist…. I am a person, who was raised in a community that stressed the importance of caring for my family members, my neighbors, and people around me. I am a sociologist who conducts research on social stratification and inequality in the United States…. I was asked to speak about Dr. King’s legacy, what this might mean to us today and how we can become more engaged in social justice work. I would like for you first to picture Dr. King in your mind. Visualize his picture in a frame on the wall in your living room. Then picture a portrait of yourself on the same wall right next to his picture. And envision a square frame around your face. There are four sides. Think of each theme I raise as one part of this frame. With each part of my discussion, I hope I help you think of your role as a social activist—your part to play in Dr. King’s legacy. How do you fit in as an individual in the broader discourse about Dr. King and social justice? My aim is for you not to be passive in the celebration of Dr. King’s life, but someone who celebrates his legacy by taking action all year round.

FRAME #1

For the first part of our frame, the right part, I will begin by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy…. Dr. King spoke and wrote about poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the United States, he fought for the right for all people to vote, he eloquently spoke about the insidious effects of poverty, state oppression, and violence. He spoke out against the Vietnam War; he fought for workers’ rights, equality in living wages, and the right for unions to organize.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.… I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech).”

He was arrested over 20 times, had his home bombed, and gave over 2,500 speeches. His legacy is that everyone who says his name respects him and that we have the right to vote and we have a social justice vision to strive for: three meals a day, education, culture, dignity, equality, and freedom. For everyone regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, pay grade, nationality, immigration status, and age. This is Dr. King’s legacy and this is social justice.

FRAME #2

The second piece to our frame, the top part, is the connection to current issues today—pressing down on us…. Many people note that we have a president of African American decent and suggest that we are “post-racial” that racism is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that Dr. King spoke about we still struggle with today…. We see in every arena from education, to poverty, to homelessness, to incarceration rates, to HIV transmission, people of color and poor people continue to suffer in this country. Whether it is from direct racism, color blind racism, or inattention to or lack of caring and love, we have several problems in our society that need attention.

We need to continue to make changes in our criminal justice system—we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disproportionality. We need to tackle the criminalization of our mentally ill, of our poor, and of our children. Washington’s incarceration rate has roughly tripled since the 1970s, and is estimated to increase by 23% in 2019. Partly due to the war on drugs we have over 16 million people with felonies (7.5% of the U.S. population), and over 2 million living behind bars. Nationally, 1 in 3 adult Black men have a felony conviction. In Washington, studies show that among felony drug offenders, Black defendants have higher odds of being sentenced to prison than similarly situated White defendants. Criminal conviction leads to limited housing and employment opportunities, legal debt, political disenfranchisement, and a host of problems experienced by families and communities….

FRAME #3

Third side of our frame, the left side, what is social justice and what does it mean to you personally?… Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” What does your conscience tell you? I can’t write this frame for you. But, in Dr. King’s words we can find encouragement. Dr. King outlined common goals for social justice—beliefs that are common across all faiths and societies. Speaking on poverty and inequality he said, “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny … We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

Dr. King told us that we must care about each other, we must care about those less fortunate than ourselves…. This is our common bond across faiths, cultures, and age groups. I encourage you to reflect on what social justice means to you personally. What does your faith, your education, and your experiences tell you are unjust and that you must change? Even if we are afraid, or feel overwhelmed? What can we do to make a difference?

FRAME #4

Finally, for the fourth part of our frame, the bottom, I ask you how can you become engaged and take action?… I suggest that we start within our families and among our loved ones. How can we make their lives better?… We can talk about our values, what our Rabbis, Priests, Imams, and teachers say. We can reinforce to our children that what they read in the Torah or learn in school is not just about words or ideas but about action and interaction. It only means so much if we don’t live by example.

We can make sure our children look out for other children who may be different from them, who may be new to their school, or may not have as many friends…. We can acknowledge our own mistakes, that we are not perfect, we have limitations, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.

We can call others into question when they make racist or homophobic statements in our presence. We can simply say, “Your words are inappropriate and hurtful.” We need to be mindful, as Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When we are at work we can say that that joke is not funny, in fact it is offensive. We can stand up in little, but immense ways for ourselves and others.

In sum, if you think about our four frames for social justice:

  • To our right, we have Dr. King’s legacy—and Mandela’s—and so many others who have come before us who have given their lives for social justice: freedom, equality, and improved quality of life for others;
  • Above our heads we have—pressing on us—contemporary social problems: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, inequality in terms of living wages, health care, access to quality education. Problems that can weigh us down but we are reminded that our fear, our sadness, is our fuel to push on…. Let whatever you are afraid of be your courage to fight for change. Only you can figure this out;
  • To our left we have our personal definition of social justice—issues we personally care about and want to make a difference in; and
  • Below us, guiding us, we have our action steps: every day actions, short-term and long-term actions we can take to make bigger strides towards social justice.

You have your personal frame for social justice. Now, you can no longer wake up and ignore social justice. You can no longer only remember Dr. King on his birthday or our national holiday. You have a personal reminder of his legacy—a personal frame—that should remind you of the work you have ahead of you…. I leave you with Dr. King’s words, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Want to hear more from Dr. Harris? She has a book coming out, A Pound of Flesh:  Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for the Poor where she talks about how the system extracts money from criminals as further punishment, even after they completed their incarceration, and how this stops them from ever returning to society as contributing individuals.

There is something afoot in the fight to raise the minimum wage—the increasingly visible voices of low-wage workers. The Fight for 15 started in Chicago and has spread to 50 cities including Seattle. At SeaTac Airport, baggage handlers, shop workers, and folks transporting people using wheelchairs, are all asking for a $15 minimum wage to provide for their families.

American_Flag_&_SloganAs a country, we say that all work is honorable, no job is beneath anyone, and that if you show up and do your best, you will be rewarded. Not if you are a low wage worker. Nancy Salgado confronted the U.S. president of McDonald’s and asked “It’s really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve worked for McDonald’s for ten years?” She was ticketed for trespassing.

McDonald’s minimum wage employees recently received a Practical Money Skills Budget Journal. Perhaps this is their answer to Nancy’s question. But it’s not exactly going to help her situation. To begin with, the sample income is NOT based on a full-time minimum wage (more like 2 minimum wage incomes). Their example doesn’t include groceries or childcare, and healthcare is a hilarious $20 monthly expense. Rent is only $600 a month. Where is this city? The smiling teenager on the front of the budget journal does not represent the vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs. It is adults (and more women than men) who are trying to make a living and care for children on minimum wage. $15 an hour is closer to what it actually takes to support a working family.

When you support a $15 minimum wage, you are also helping women and children live violence-free lives. People are always telling women who are in abusive relationships to leave—don’t stay for money, leave because your life will improve and you will be a better parent. But that’s not true if you walk out the door into homelessness. So they tell them: go get a job, find an apartment, find childcare, get new credit cards, open another bank account. Oh, your partner trashed your credit? You must not be trying hard enough.

$15 an hour means you can take care of yourself and your children and you won’t have to face the decision of either returning to an abusive relationship or becoming homeless. We all benefit when everyone around us can go to bed each night knowing that they can provide a loving home and have the resources to face whatever lies ahead.

In the wake of last week’s Navy Yard shooting, we enter another round of the now familiar national conversation about gun violence in America.

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Image from Demand Action To End Gun Violence

Mother Jones has an in depth analysis of mass shootings since 1982. According to their criteria, the Navy Yard shooting is the fifth such incident in 2013.

According to another compilation of gun violence incidents by reddit users, the fifth mass shooting of this year happened back in January, and the Navy Yard shooting was #247.

Why the huge discrepancy? Whether there have been 5 mass shootings this year or 247 depends on how you define the terms.

Most of the time, “mass shootings” and “gun violence” are defined by the stories that get the most attention and that get under our skin. The stories that are hard to shake because the randomness makes it feel like any one of us could be a target. Studying domestic violence homicides, I am used to thinking about violence as anything but random. But even I was surprised to find out that 57% of mass shootings (defined as 4 or more people killed) involve domestic violence. More than half.

When I heard that number, I thought how is it I have never heard this before? Domestic violence is actually behind most mass shooting deaths in America and yet it is almost never part of the conversation. Until just recently, most analysis of mass shootings doesn’t include domestic violence. Mother Jones defines the term in a way that excludes shootings that happen at home, even if the same shooting in a public place would count.

The media coverage is different too. We read about the deeper social significance of random, public violence. What it says about our society. Domestic violence rarely prompts the same soul searching. That double standard reinforces old myths. That the “real” danger is outside your home, not inside. That men’s violence against their families is a private tragedy, not a social injustice, not a matter for collective action and public policy.

Focusing on men’s violence against women won’t make the solutions to gun violence easy or obvious. But at least it will help us see the problems more clearly.

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

We bring you this guest post from Courtney Weaver, a local domestic violence survivor.

Photo by SevenSeven Photography

Photo by SevenSeven Photography

On January 15th, 2010 I was shot by my boyfriend point blank with a hollow-point .45. He was sentenced to 10.6 years in a federal prison in California. I have had 13 reconstructive surgeries on my face and right arm, hundreds of doctor appointments, and debt totaling at $440,605 as of May 2013. My ex, as is common with many perpetrators, has chosen not to work nor receive money while incarcerated to avoid paying restitution. This in turn has left me financially crippled and unable to rebuild my life.

One of the most insulting realities survivors like myself grapple with that most people are unaware of is how little victim compensation programs actually pay for. For instance, I was shocked and dismayed when I was left to clean up my own crime scene. Not much is more degrading than having to scrub my own dried blood off my kitchen floor 3 weeks after the shooting. Also, my landlord informed me I would have to pay for the damages caused by the bullet holes in my apartment or I would not get my security deposit back. Unfortunately that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the injustices I have faced as a survivor of such a horrific act of violence.

There is a very large discrepancy between how much compensation is allotted to a victim of a violent crime versus how much the perpetrator of that crime receives annually in state tax dollars. The numbers are very surprising and also telling of how society and the system supports the abuser while re-victimizing the victim. For example, my compensation was limited to $70,422 by the state program. The perpetrator on the other hand is given approximately $47,000 a year of tax payer dollars, $12,442 of that being in healthcare alone including mental health care. To date the taxpayers have spent over $141,000 on the man who shot me. By the time he is released in 2019 tax payers will have spent $498,000 rehabilitating this violent offender. Is his life more valuable than mine as a victim? What if victims received the same amount of financial support as the assailant?

Recently, my friend’s 9-year-old son came home sad and confused. He had gone to the park with some boys he did not know well.tough-boys

After tearing a wooden fence apart, throwing rocks at a squirrel, and announcing to one of the younger boys that his mother was a slut, the older boys turned on M. They asked him if he “had a slut.” When he asked what this meant, they told him a slut was a “girl to f**k.” He wasn’t totally sure what that meant, and he got scared. As he told his mother later “I got the feeling if I didn’t answer right, they would hurt me.”

Being one of the boys in that moment meant being destructive, suppressing any signs of empathy, selling out women you care about, and characterizing females by their sexual availability. The price for not participating in that masculinity is the threat of violence. Like M, boys every day must ask themselves, “What if all that negative, destructive energy pivots from the small animal, the mom, or girls in general to ME?” Better to agree and keep it directed outward, right? Even if it means meekly agreeing that yes, your mom is a slut, before you even really know what that means or how you feel about it.

Too often, boys learn to mask their fear of one another with a camaraderie solidified by expressions of homophobia, sexism, and—for white boys—racism. Too often, boys learn that they must be dominating, unfeeling, tough, and defined in opposition to girls to be accepted. This results in a form of masculinity that pretends to be secure and strong, but is in reality tenuous and fragile. Fragile things have to be protected, shored up, and reinforced. And that results in a great deal of pain, since it requires targets (girls, sluts, sissies, fags) to define oneself against and put down in order to be “one of the boys.”

The stakes are high: participate or risk humiliation, intimidation, or becoming one of those targets. It is a bit of a house of cards, when you think about it: being worried about being judged not “man enough” by other boys and men who are also worried about being judged not “man enough” with the consequence of coming up short being bullied or violence.

So what happened to M? He told the boys he had to get home. He had the presence of mind to know that what was happening wasn’t okay, and he didn’t like it. He had the security to realize these boys’ friendship was not worth the compromises to his own integrity that would be required to seal it. And he knew that at home, he would be accepted, listened to, and protected.

I wish we could all feel that safe and protected in our homes, and in our bodies, however they are gendered. I would like M and all those boys to feel that they are wonderful, and that they are enough, just as they are. That they do not need to “man up.”* When we can support boys to be true to themselves instead of conforming to this rigid idea of what it means to be a man, then boys won’t just be boys. They will be compassionate, safe, secure people—like my friend’s son.

*explicit language

I have a question for you.

Do you think it’s even possible to end violence against women and children?

I’m serious. Is it possible for everyone to have healthy relationships, or is violence against women inevitable?

This is a question I’ve taken to posing recently, because as I approach the end of my long career, I want to know.

Maybe people—you, me, the guy sitting next to you—don’t believe this is possible. When I actually ask people, “Is violence inevitable?” there’s often a long pause. Which is interesting.

Now granted, I’m three decades into doing this domestic violence victim advocacy work, so maybe I’m a little slow here, but it’s only now dawning on me that our current responses to violence in relationships are not getting the job done. Not for lack of trying. Not for lack of big-hearted and dedicated people. Not for lack of laws, money, programs, shelters, and jails. We’ve got all that. What we don’t have is resolve. I think maybe we don’t believe it’s possible.

But pretend, just for kicks, we do all believe we could have healthy relationships. I don’t mean perfect, I don’t mean we don’t argue and have hurt feelings. But relationships that are about love and respect.

Pretend we’re willing to think way outside of all the boxes (institutions) we’ve invented and dream up more effective social controls on sexism and abuse and common sense approaches to fostering health and happiness. Could we even agree on what those would be? And if we did all that, would we succeed?

I married my partner of 20+ years December 9th, at Seattle’s joy-filled city hall. Families, friends, and friendly strangers gathered to cheer on the newly married couples as they descended a grand staircase. It was quite a party.

Getting married is an ambivalent thing for me, as I have been shut out of that institution for a long time. And I’ve seen the very painful, dark side of marriage in my professional life. Let’s face it, the history of marriage is one of women giving their bodies, emotional support, and physical labor to men. And still to this day, this idea and the support it gets in society narrows women’s choices and harms children—in some marriages. So why would I want to participate?

Photo by  joseanavas

Photo by joseanavas

It’s complicated, because marriage is complicated. Our society uses marriage in multiple ways: as a symbol of love and commitment; as a way to access certain legal rights; and to define an economic relationship and expectations. And, historically, as a way to enforce gender roles that give men/husbands the upper hand in decisions about money and priorities in the family. At the same time, marriage is evolving, and extending marriage to same sex partners is part of a long history of changes we’ve made to marriage so that it reflects our current reality.

Since I’ve been in my relationship for over 20 years, getting married didn’t carry quite the same weight as it did for my parents. They were excited to live together for the first time, be independent of their parents, and finally “go all the way.” Um, that all happened a long time ago for me. What motivated me was something my parents and straight friends didn’t give much thought to: having protections and rights that only come with marriage. I wanted to be ensured I could be at my partner’s side if she should end up in the hospital; have the ability to make medical decisions if she were incapacitated; and know that if one of us dies, our assets will transfer smoothly to one another. Marriage makes the legal world out there safer for us and our daughter. So our marriage was a pragmatic decision.

But I was surprisingly moved as well. I think I had willfully ignored all the ways in which marriage symbolizes positive things in our culture: love, hope, the caring and kindness between people. My jaded cynicism was tempered by the joy that broke out when the voters legalized marriage equality. Watching LGBTQ couples celebrating their marriages gave me more hope for all of us, because it happened in spite of the challenges a homophobic culture places in the way of LBGTQ people creating healthy relationships.

For that reason, I think my marriage and other gay marriages may have something to teach everyone. They are part of the ongoing evolution of marriage from a system of ownership and entitlement to an institution that nurtures healthy love, human potential, and beloved community. As a very wise friend of mine (who married her beloved of 40 years) says, “everyone benefits and is honored by extending civil rights for all, and from recognizing and embracing the power of love and justice.” We are all uplifted when we extend dignity to those who have been denied rights.

Of course, and very importantly, the other thing that gay marriage gets us is gay divorce. This is a good thing because no community is immune to violence, control, and just plain old dysfunction. Ending a complex and long term relationship requires assistance, protection, and justice.

I’m happy to be married. I am moved to have my state and city celebrate and recognize my relationship and those of all my LGBTQ friends. I am relieved to have the rights and protections that come with marriage. And I’m glad to know that if I should need it, I can get a divorce as well. Because no one’s marriage should take away a person’s ability to make their own choices, follow their dreams, or protect themselves and their children.

sandy-hookPart of the experience of parenting these days is the constant background noise of worry. News and social media, endlessly fascinated with danger, feed a steady stream of warning about the perils waiting for our children.

After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, that low hum of worry turned up to full-volume fear for parents across the country. I felt it too, the gut wrenching, full body chill that comes with imagining the worst. But honestly, I was not afraid for my kids’ safety. I know that violence in schools is very rare and that by most measures kids are safer now than ever.

What I did genuinely worry about is the impulse to react to our fear and vulnerability with ever-increasing “security measures.” Armed guards in schools, more locked doors, fingerprints and background checks for parents.

I’m not naive about violence, but my experience has shown me that we can’t keep danger on the other side of a locked door. I know my children live in a world with abusers and rapists. I know that some people do terrible things to children. I know that I can’t tell by looking which man in the park or on the bus would hurt one of them if he had the chance. Just like I don’t know which guy at the gym or which little league dad is beating his wife at home. I live in a neighborhood where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots. Yet I believe that most of the violence is committed inside locked doors by people who belong there.

When it comes to protecting kids from harm by the people they trust, increased “security” is worse than useless. It actually makes our kids—and all of us—less safe. Tight security undermines connection and community—the very things that are most important to kids’ safety, health, and happiness. This letter from a mom to her child’s preschool points out how. My kids’ school, like many, held a meeting for parents about students’ safety in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the concern, of course, was about school security, sign-in procedures, etc. But I was grateful that most of the focus was on how to re-commit to strengthening our connection as a community. Resisting fear, breaking isolation, looking out for each other—safety from the inside out.

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