WSCADV celebrates 25 Years

It’s WSCADV’s 25th year and I’ve been here for seven of those years. To celebrate, I went down memory lane through my “favorite emails” folder and found some pretty remarkable quotes from coworkers, member programs, and activists from halfway across the world. Here is my favorite from each year I’ve worked here.25th-Anniversary-Seal

  1. “BRAVO to you and your staff for leading the way here and across the nation!”
  2. “If this does not make your day, we need to call the coroner.”
  3. “Warm greetings from Kampala! So nice to be in touch with you and the Washington Coalition – we feel connected to all of you but don’t actually know you…We are really excited to adapt In Her Shoes for the African context.”
  4. “My goodness, did we do all that at our gathering? You and the others did an awesome job of capturing all that was said. Keep up the GOOD work!!!”
  5. “Amazing women doing amazing work in amazing conditions here. Food is great. Malaria pills are fine. Saw one elephant, four peacocks, and a bunch of camels.”
  6. “I have been supported here to dream big, think carefully, act pragmatically, and speak the truth as I saw it. It has been amazing, and I have been very proud to be a part of our work together. Leaving here is tough, because I love this org and all the people in it.”
  7. “Thank you so much for taking the time and always providing us with the support we need.”

I won’t be asking permission

tattooI always knew that I wanted a tattoo. They are a beautiful and unique way of expressing one’s self. I’m sure that anyone who’s gotten inked has their own story of the why, the where, the when.

I got my first tattoo ten years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle. I didn’t tell my family or many of my Indian friends. It was an act of rebellion only because of my assumptions of what others would say. I also knew that it was what I wanted.

My tattoo has gotten a lot of responses. I’ve heard: “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who got a tattoo.” or “Why did you get a tattoo there?” or “What did your parents say?”

Last week I got a new one:

Dude: Would you get another tattoo?
Me: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.
Dude: What would you get?
Me: Maybe a half sleeve.
Dude: Don’t you think you should wait until you get married?
Me: No, why?
Dude: Wouldn’t you want to get permission from your husband? What if he’s not attracted to it?

Seriously?! I was so mad I can’t remember exactly what I said, but (1) I have never gotten permission for any of my tattoos or what I do with my body and I am not going to start now, (2) if someone is not attracted to me because of my tattoos or thinks that I need to ask their permission for the choices I make, then they have no business being with me, and (3) it’s 2015, buddy, do you really want to be saying that kind of thing?

Women are under an incredible amount of pressure to meet other people’s expectations. Women are judged for their tattoos and people make all sorts of weird assumptions about them. But I do not plan on ever asking for permission from anyone about what I do with my body; I may decide to get other people’s opinions, but ultimately it’s my choice.

The Angel Band Project

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

Leadership

women-graduatingFrom an early age, I always thought to myself that education was “my way out.” I thought it would give me a voice, power over my choices, and freedom. I saw it as a way to equalize myself to boys and men. For the most part, things pretty much worked out how I imagined—I found my voice, I have more power over my choices, and I have the experience of freedom.

But lately I’ve been wondering, what if I focused less on trying to achieve what men have and more on how to develop myself to achieve what is most important to me? What if every girl and every woman did the same? What if each and every community valued educating girls to fulfill their goals?

What would women, as leaders, achieve? How would our communities be different? I imagine a whole new world of possibilities. And I am interested in hearing what you think!

Domestic violence and the Housing First model

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’ve been working on Domestic Violence Housing First for a couple of years now. But I also have a lot of experience working with immigrants. In general, I’ve found that trying to address the needs of immigrant survivors by just tweaking a mainstream system isn’t enough. One of my favorite things about Domestic Violence Housing First is that the flexibility of the housing first model allows individually tailored services that encompass a person’s culture as well as their unique needs and situation.

For example, one of the pillars of our work in Domestic Violence Housing First has been tailored, mobile advocacy. This approach involves an advocate visiting a survivor’s home rather than requiring the survivor to visit an advocate’s office. So we were caught off-guard when an advocate from a provider serving immigrants told us that her version of tailored, mobile advocacy sometimes meant inviting survivors to her office. Initially, that didn’t make sense to me.

Turns out, one immigrant she works with prefers to meet at her office, and with Domestic Violence Housing First money, the advocate can cover her transportation costs to get there.

This advocate shared that in that the immigrant survivor’s culture, it would be considered rude for the survivor not to provide food or drinks for a meeting at her home. When survivors are focused on retaining their housing, the cost of being hospitable can cause pressure and stress. So the advocate focused on making her office hospitable and their meetings comfortable. This was a great reminder to me of how important it is not to get locked into any one way of doing things. We are practicing a philosophy in which we learn to cater to the individual needs of survivors.

Survivors tell me that the tailored services that advocates provide has allowed them to regain a sense of dignity,  while advocates report that the flexibility of this model has empowered them to listen to survivors and offer support that meets the needs of the person in front of them.

Finding meaning in the Sikh killings

What do you see in this “Roots of Love” trailer, a short documentary on Sikh men?

I see pride, joy, and a clear statement of their vibrant cultural identity. I also see the struggle of this identity in a world of discrimination and hate crimes.

I am angry and sad about the hate-based killings of Sikhs in a gurdwara in Wisconsin. Many have been impacted by post 9/11 racism, and many continue to spread awareness and education in an effort to end the hatred. Struggling to find some meaning in all of this, I found some clarity and patience by reading this post, proposing that the way to address the “need for broader awareness about Sikh identity and belief” is simple. “Ask any Sikh.”

I attended Saturday’s Solidarity Vigil and was once again reminded of the importance of engaging in conversation. I am ever so certain that we need to unite to end racism and xenophobia by fully participating in each others’ lives. As I’ve said before:  “uniting to protect each others’ rights does not threaten or diminish our own.”

My dirty laundry is a national debate

They told us in law school that we the people drive how laws are shaped. For some of us, this notion does not feel real, and so we distance ourselves from political debates on things like violence against women and marriage equality. But these aren’t just political issues. They are connected to our everyday life and to each other.

I was talking to a family member about how frustrating it is that my mother is pressuring me to marry an Indian man. After a lengthy conversation, her response in ‘my support’ was that she doesn’t care who her daughter marries, as long as she marries a man. Later she said she would accept and love me even if I were single or gay. I would have thought that was a very progressive thing to say―about a decade ago―and would have probably said something similar myself. Now I see the sexism, racism, and homophobia in this snippet.

I am very clear that it is through conversations with friends and family that we can make a difference. Even when it doesn’t seem like I am getting through to them, I keep the conversations going. I tell my family that although I know that my getting married is important to them, I am not willing to do it any cost. I tell them about all of my friends: single, married, gay, straight. I refuse to choose one segment of my life over another. And the more of us who keep having these honest conversations, the more change we’ll see in the national dialogue as well.

The world I live in

Recent conversations with friends and colleagues have me thinking about the world of human trafficking out there. Now I’m wondering, how can we develop a curiosity and care about what’s happening right here, right now?

Let’s consider the very small snapshot of runaway youth in Seattle. According to YouthCare, a local Seattle program, many youth run away from home due to abuse, neglect, and rape. Within 48 hours, young women are approached by pimps. And once they are in “the life,” inevitably they experience more sexual exploitation, criminal charges, and isolation from friends and family. Such is this world we live in. It is the world where my parents come from, it is the world where I come from, and it is the world that exists down the street from me.

Human trafficking calls for urgent action.

As Barbara Ehreinreich puts it, “the challenge is: could we stop meanness, the relentless persecution of people who are having a hard time? … We’ve got to stop kicking people when they are already down, and move toward reaching out a hand.”

We need to stop with our judgment and bias, and start being curious about how laws, policies, and attitudes impact poor and homeless people, young people, immigrants, women and children … right here, right now. Because that is the world I want to live in.

Running for each other

I’ve had many false starts when it comes to fitness. I’ve started swimming, weights, yoga, and running, and then I stop. So when I started asking my friends to register for the 5K run/walk WSCADV is organizing, I had to face the fact that I’ve never  registered or trained for one myself.

To my friends who run, I tell them things like “I could never do that” or “it seems too intense.” My response sounds a lot like what I hear when I tell people what I do for a living. Domestic violence can be prevented, but it’s going to take all of us. You may not make it your career, but everyone can get involved in some way.

So instead of merely telling people to register for (maybe another) 5K in a disconnected way, I am investing in the process myself. I am committed to having fun, being enthusiastic, and focusing on my well-being. I am going to run regularly so that I am a confident, assured runner, and invite my friends to do the same.

And I also invite you to invest in the lives of domestic violence survivors, children, and yes, even abusers. Bring a renewed commitment and energy that you’ve never brought before by being curious, compassionate, and action-oriented.

I’m confident that I can (finally) complete training for at least a 5K, and I am equally confident that you can play a role in ending domestic violence.

I invite you to sign up for the Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field if you have never run before. Please comment and let me know how it’s going.