Activism Roundup

How to take action this week

Thank Governor Inslee For Standing With Immigrants  “Today, Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order affirming that Washington State will never have a religious registry and will never keep any info on immigration status that isn’t necessary. Washington stands with immigrants and refugees and will never willingly participate in the deportation of our brothers and sisters. Thanks, Governor Inslee!”

Know Your Rights  Get information about what to do when encountering law enforcement at airports and other ports of entry into the U.S.; what to do if questioned about your immigration status; and what to do if ICE agents are at your door.

 This Saturday in Tacoma: Rally against transgender discrimination & I-1552  “The Trump Administration is attacking transgender students. We can’t let that kind of discrimination come to Washington. Join us this weekend as we rally against I-1552 and show opponents of equality that Washingtonians are united in defense of our transgender neighbors and friends.”

Tell Congress to Protect DV Survivors’ Health Care  “The ACA or Obamacare provides very specific help to victims, while also ensuring that almost all Americans have access to health care. Specifically, the ACA includes provisions to cover screening and brief counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence, prohibits insurance companies from denying victims of violence health insurance, allows victims to not be reliant on an abusive spouse to get health care for them or their children, and expands access to mental health services for women and children.”

The art of blessing the day

This morning, I woke up thinking of lines from Marge Piercy’s poem, The Art of Blessing the Day.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let’s not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

Last Friday, I drafted a blog post about how to support the water protectors at Standing Rock. I tried to keep up with the most urgent calls to action, as the situation on the ground shifted by the hour.

standing rockThousands of people from around the world have gathered to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s peaceful opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. The proposed route for the pipeline threatens the Tribe’s water and sacred land. Police action against the water protectors has recently erupted into violence. Hundreds of unarmed people have been injured by water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and percussive grenades. The threat to the water protectors escalated as the Army Corps of Engineers set a December 5th deadline to leave the area, and the North Dakota governor ordered immediate evacuation.

So much is at stake. The waters of the Missouri River and the well-being of tens of thousands who depend on it. The right of sovereign tribal nations to protect its citizens. Native women and children who are the targets when oil industry “man camps” bring a massive influx of sexual violence. The fate of the planet, as oil consumption fuels environmental devastation.

Then Sunday night, a surprising victory. The Army Corps announced it would deny the pipeline project permission to tunnel under the river.

The celebration reminded me of another sweet moment, nearly four years ago, when Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. That victory came after a long standoff, 500 days of negotiation. It was a triumph of unprecedented solidarity among advocates, and the courageous leadership of Native women.

The victory was not complete, but it was real. After the win, it took another kind of grit to insist on celebrating it. The next threat loomed. The inevitable strategic failures immediately came into focus with 20/20 hindsight.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not hurt.

By yesterday morning, the oil companies made it clear they would continue construction of the pipeline despite the government’s decision. It is hard to imagine the little relief that has come from the Obama administration will last once Donald Trump is in the White House. For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the fight is not over. Meanwhile, the next battles are already happening.

What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

Here is what you can do right now:

  • Call or email your Congressional Representatives. Ask them to do everything they can to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Give money to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Help cover legal costs and equip water protectors for the harsh winter.

Celebrate. Get ready. Fight. Repeat.

Back to school

school-backpacks

This week kids across Washington State headed back to school.

According to our state constitution, educating our children is the paramount duty of government. It is the greatest collective responsibility we share as a community.

Of course, there is no lack of debate or dispute over what that duty requires.

Washington State has been ordered into court on Sept 7th by the WA Supreme Court to answer questions about the ongoing impact of the McCleary Decision, which has been fining WA State $100,000 a day for over a year for not making significant progress on special education, teachers’ salaries and a host of school basics.

Arguments over “teaching to the test” continue to brew. School bathrooms have taken center stage in the growing conversations and controversies over gender. The Department of Justice has pointed out the dangers of the “preschool to prison pipeline” where African American children, poor children and foster children disproportionately find public education not a path to stability and achievement, but a process of escalating surveillance and criminalized discipline that results in imprisonment rather than empowerment.

And a recent study by the NW Network and the National Domestic Violence Hotline demonstrates that fear of mandatory reporting to police or CPS by reporters such as school teachers and counselors results in young people delaying or avoiding seeking help when they are experiencing harm.

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the storms that surround education. But, instead of turning away from the challenges that face our schools, let’s get educated about these challenges and the positions on education held by every candidate seeking office this fall. Let’s make sure we have all our kids’ backs as they head back to school.

We’re here

After 10 years on the books, Washington State’s law protecting transgender people from discrimination is under attack. And we’re not alone. Similar fights are playing out across the country over the recent wave of anti-trans legislation. Why now? It seems that for all these years, Americans were okay with trans people in public bathrooms, but only so long as they remained on the margins, in a legal limbo, with no rules laid down to clarify their right to be there.

These so-called “bathroom bills” won’t keep transgender people out of public spaces. They simply shore up the status quo that makes trans lives illicit or invisible. Despite the ugly rhetoric, most of their supporters acknowledge that a trans person using the bathroom is not a threat to the person in the stall next to them. The only real threat is to the authority of the (previously unwritten) rules that force all of us to fit into rigid gender roles and punish us if we don’t.

The current backlash is a signal that the transgender movement has achieved a profound cultural shift. Social acceptance of trans people has made room to acknowledge all kinds of gender expression and identities that don’t fit neatly into the categories defined by standard bathroom signs.  The “bathroom bills” re-assert a clear dividing line between men and women. They lay down rules for which is which, and penalties for crossing that line.

If you have been watching television for the past 20 years, you have witnessed the progression of cultural attitudes toward trans people, from freaky (trans people on Jerry Springer) to respectable (trans people on Oprah). And if you have not been watching, now is a good time to start. Trans people are asserting the right to be respected and freaky at the same time (and we have our own shows!).

It’s not just state legislators anxious about this development. The trans community itself is grappling with the tension between “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” and “We’re here, we’re totally normal, so nothing to worry about!” The trans women of I Am Cait represent the whole range. As Caitlyn Jenner is thrust into the role of transgender celebrity, Professor Jenny Boylan leads a crash course on everything she needs to know to represent the diverse community. Jenner sees no contradiction between her goals of winning broad acceptance for transgender rights and protecting her own substantial privilege through electing right wing conservatives. And then there’s gender outlaw Kate Bornstein, whose version of liberation is making the world safe for everyone living outside the lines.

The conflict may be predictable, but the solidarity and commitment to hearing each other steals the show. Who would have thought reality television would bring us an exquisite model for approaching this essential conversation with realness, courage, and love?

Why I’m not giving my son advice on how to talk to girls

Arguably one of the perks of being a dad is the constant stream of opportunities to give fatherly advice.

Advice columns are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The best ones are like miniature ethical treatises—perfect for a lapsed philosophy major with a short attention span. And who doesn’t like giving advice? To be human is to be full of opinions about what other people should do.

So my son’s first attempts to talk to the girl he has a crush on? A golden opportunity for an advice enthusiast. But I’m passing it up, at least for now. Here’s why.

It turns out that 99% of what I want him to know before his first date isn’t anything new. It’s the same stuff we have been practicing since he was a baby. Love yourself and be open to loving other people. Be kind. Respect people’s boundaries. Pay attention. Use your words.

If I were to make a list of the absolutely critical information straight boys need about dating and relationships, you could boil it down to one feminist principle: Girls are people. (There are lots of variations on the theme: Girls are people, not prizes. Girls are people, not shiny objects.) Special coaching on “talking to girls” seems to me to violate this principle. Girls are people, not aliens.

Of course, that doesn’t make telling a girl you like her for the first time any less excruciating. My palms get sweaty for him just thinking about it. But that isn’t because girls are “girls.” It’s because liking someone and wanting them to like you back is intensely vulnerable. In this TED talk, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as risking connection, and the courage to take that risk as the key to intimacy and joy.

The awkwardness is essential, and there is nothing I can say to guide him around it. Even worse, there is no advice he can follow to protect himself against heartbreak. Like all the other times I have watched him leap into the unknown, the best I can do is admire his courage and offer him a place to land.

Relationship advice

This past year, domestic violence was in the news quite often. But lately, I’ve noticed the stories that have really made me stop and think about violence and relationships are the ones that didn’t set out to do so. They are just good stories, with violence woven through as it is woven into all our lives.

This Senator Saved My Love Life is an episode of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Political reporter Anna Sale tells the odd and charming story of how former Senator Alan K. Simpson and his wife Ann Simpson became sort of relationship mentors to Anna and her boyfriend, dispensing pearls of wisdom about intimacy, sex, and commitment. In a million years, it would not have occurred to me to look to an 83-year-old Republican Senator from Wyoming for relationship advice, least of all Al Simpson. Before listening to this story, my only memory of Senator Alan Simpson was his disgraceful role on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. His open hostility  and dismissive attitude toward what he called “this sexual harassment crap” was typical of the all-male, all-white committee. I don’t know how many times I have heard a politician spouting some sexist garbage and wonder how that goes over with the women in his life. Who married this blowhard, and has she told him he’s a total jackass? I finally got the answer from Ann Simpson. She let her husband know what she thought of his performance at the hearings, and it’s still a sore spot for them.

 

Among the many historic moments of the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas debacle: the first time Ann Simpson tells her husband to shut up.

 

Nonetheless, after 50 years of marriage, Al and Ann Simpson have a lot of things figured out. They are sweet together. They are clearly proud of their marriage and have worked hard at making it a good one. For me, the heart of the story is in this apparent contradiction: how could this woman be married to the ranting bully I watched on C-SPAN, yet not be bullied herself?

Ann and Al talk very frankly about struggling to find a balance of power in their relationship. They describe a defining moment, one night early in their marriage.

Al was furious with Ann after she spent the evening dancing with another man at a political event. He recalls how self-righteous he was, how sure he was that she would be wracked with guilt, and how Ann was having none of it:

Al: “She said ‘Look…I’m not going to be under a glass lid just because of your jealousy. And I love to dance. And I will do that. And I’m not going to jump in the sack with somebody, so I think you better get over it.’ Which really pissed me off.”

Al goes on to describe how the shock of realizing that Ann did not feel the least bit guilty led to a critical moment of clarity. Still stewing, he stayed up late into the night, reading Shakespeare, and suddenly recognized his own jealousy in Othello’s murderous rage.

“I thought, Jesus, this is one sick son-of-a-bitch. This is not me. This is totally destructive and has nothing to do with her.”

There are moments in this story that we might recognize as “red flags,” warning signs that point toward domestic violence. But the story does not take that path. A red flag marks one moment in time. What happens in the next moment makes a difference in how the story turns out.

Surely Al could have done a lot of damage if he had chosen to tighten his grip on control, if he had resented Ann’s resistance to his demands instead of admiring her for it. And if Ann had molded herself to accommodate his ego, he may have been another man who bullies everyone in his life because bullying has always worked.

Instead, when he tries to control her, it doesn’t work. And they each play an equally important part in that:

  1. Ann stands her own ground, and does not shape her behavior around Al’s attempt to shame or control her.
  2. When Al’s bullying doesn’t get him what he wants, he decides to do something different. Ann doesn’t make him stop. He decides for himself that is not the way to get the relationship he wants. Looking back, he recognizes Ann standing up to him for the gift that it was. One piece of marriage advice he has sums this up: “The secret is, you both try to control each other, and you both fail. And it’s critical that you both fail.”

We often say we want to stop domestic violence before it starts, but what does that moment look like? The stories we most often hear take place much farther downstream, when the course is set and the stakes are high. Much earlier, somewhere around the first red flag, there are many possible endings.

There’s much more from Al and Ann. Listen to the whole podcast here.

 

Culture of violence

NFL headquarters
NFL headquarters

Two years before Ray Rice pushed the league’s “domestic violence problem” into the headlines, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a Congressional committee: “We are changing the culture of our game for the better.” He wasn’t talking about the culture in which officials brushed off “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of domestic violence assaults by its players—that would come later. Back then, the league was under fire after decades of dismissing the evidence that one in three players suffer long-term cognitive impairment caused by on-the-job brain injuries.

The NFL’s tolerance for its players’ brutality off the field goes hand in hand with indifference to the damage they suffer from violence on the field. Both have been blamed on football’s “culture of violence.”  But ultimately these are business decisions, driven by capitalism more than culture. The spectacle of hyper-masculinity is just another product, manufactured and marketed at enormous profit.

For many players, their assaults against women were covered up by high school and college teams on the route to being excused by the NFL. From Washington to Florida State, university officials are just as invested as NFL executives in protecting their players from accountability, and for the same reason: so as not to hamper the economic engine driving universities, towns, and a professional sports industry.

What is the cost to athletes themselves of being the fuel in that engine? Attention to the few superstars who land multi-million dollar contracts overshadows the far more common story: disproportionately Black and Brown young men, who never see any share of the profit that is extracted from their talent and their bodies. Any serious reform effort has to pay attention to the exploitation of those young men by the same system that colludes with their violence.

Domonique Foxworth, a former cornerback who fought for more safety protections as head of the NFL players’ union, reflects on the physical and economic price college athletes pay to play, the trap of being celebrated for embodying a certain masculine ideal loaded with racist baggage, and how the stage is set for relationships with women infused with resentment and contempt.

Whether motivated by brand rehabilitation or sudden moral clarity, the NFL has hired a team of consultants to advise them on cleaning up their atrocious response to domestic violence. We have yet to see whether advocates can leverage the moment into an opportunity for change deep enough to matter.

Whose reality?

I was 20 years old the year the O.J. Simpson trial made “gavel to gavel coverage” a new genre of television. I don’t remember where I was when the verdict was announced. The moments that left an impression on me were less dramatic. Certain conversations during that year were bursts of consciousness for me, as a young white person doing work against domestic violence.

It was obvious to me that O.J. had committed the murders. The story of jealousy, control, rage, fear was very familiar and utterly plausible. It wasn’t something I found even a little bit hard to believe.

The fact that so many people believed O.J. was innocent didn’t surprise me. I was used to massive denial of violence against women. Victim blaming was nothing new. Ditto valuing fame and football over women’s lives.

But one thing did give me pause: As far as I could tell, only other white people saw it my way. In a poll after the trial, 73% of white Americans said they thought O.J. was guilty. 71% of African Americans said not guilty. The split became a cliché about racial polarization in America. For me, it was a clue that my perspective was limited by my experience as a white person in a deeply racist society.

face-vase-illusion

In the feminist, collectively-organized shelter where I worked, it was a given that dismantling structural racism was inseparable from our work to end domestic violence. But this was the first time that the awareness I had developed in learning to be an ally against racism bumped up against my own experience of gender oppression. The thing I knew for sure – about the insidious reality of men’s violence against women, propped up by cultural permission and silence – was in conflict with another truth. That the criminal justice system is thoroughly poisoned by racism. That the deck is stacked from policing to prosecution to prison and that dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African American people are more reliable outcomes than safety or justice.

(Of course, these truths aren’t contradictory at all. But back then I didn’t have the skills to form a coherent picture. The media coverage at the time was not much help. On TV, in the polls, even among friends, the question of guilty or not guilty felt like a divisive referendum on which deserved attention: racism or sexism.)

A light bulb went off when I realized: I don’t have to privilege my reality as the reality.

I didn’t change my mind on the facts. I was still convinced O.J. had murdered two people. But I stopped arguing for my point of view. I stopped asserting that I knew the truth. Instead, I tried to tell the truth about the reality that was so clear to me, and at the same time, tell the truth about the reality that was harder for people like me to keep in focus.

What sticks with me after 20 years is what it feels like to shift from acknowledging something is true, to integrating that truth into how I see the rest of the world.

There is a kind of revelation that is like looking at a picture with the page folded over, then lifting the flap to see what part of the scene was hidden before. This was not like that. This was like turning the page upside down and seeing a whole other picture emerge. And then questioning whether this way is right side up after all.

Where there’s a will there’s a way

Like so many recent episodes of gun violence, the rampage in Santa Barbara raised the familiar questions: Could the violence have been prevented? Could we have seen this coming?

National conversation about how misogyny fuels gun violence is new, but the story line is old. It is echoed in the majority of mass shootings that involve domestic violence. Start with a man who feels he is entitled to attention, sex, or loyalty from a woman. He feels victimized and then enraged when he doesn’t get it. Easy access to guns makes that rage deadly.

Discussion about whether better mental health intervention could have prevented the Santa Barbara killings were still fresh when a shooting at Seattle Pacific University prompted the same questions. Last week, Seattleites faced an unprecedented choice between a vigil for victims at SPU and another on the same night, this time asking whether homophobia fueled the murder of two young men.

Experts and pundits differ on how to read warning signs. But the consensus seems to be if we somehow could see the danger in advance, we would act to stop it. Of course dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, the story goes, but we can’t tell who is dangerous until it’s too late. If we could, we would intervene.

Baloney.

Right now, all over the country, courts and law enforcement have specific information about thousands of people who pose a serious threat of violence. What’s more, courts have heard evidence and issued orders that make it illegal for these people to have guns. Often, the court has specific information that the dangerous person owns a specific gun, and has threatened to kill someone with it. So what happens to get illegal guns away from these known dangerous people, after all the dots have been connected? Next to nothing.

It is illegal under federal law for an abuser served with a Domestic Violence Protection Order to have a firearm. With few exceptions, the law is simply not enforced. Among the victims of domestic violence murders studied by the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, a handful had Protection Orders in place because the abuser had threatened murder or suicide with a gun. Courts and law enforcement did nothing to actually get those guns out of dangerous hands. Out of the thousands of victims who petition for Protection Orders in Washington each year, only a tiny minority even ask the court to take away the abuser’s guns. That’s not because the rest aren’t afraid. It’s because they know it’s useless to ask.

Ironically, California lawmakers are looking to Domestic Violence Protection Orders as a model for a new “gun violence restraining order” that would allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who have been identified as dangerous. But one thing we have learned from efforts to disarm abusers is that these laws don’t enforce themselves. Getting results takes coordination, political will, commitment at every level, and (of course) money.

The good news: it works. One California county hasn’t had a domestic violence murder since they put an aggressive plan in place to take guns out of the equation.

In the wake of a mass shooting, consensus that we need to do something is easy to come by. But the long uphill battle to use the tools we already have in place tells a different story. If we put what we know into practice, then strategies for preventing domestic violence murders can be a model for stopping the violence that shares so many of the same roots. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to get it rolling.