There’s still time to make 2016 better

Are we there yet?The year is almost at a close, and boy, what a year it’s been. There were good things, there were bad things (I’ll spare you the top list for this one), and then there was the election.

On election night I was one of those shocked white people that couldn’t believe what I was watching unfold. I went to bed thinking, “how could this happen?” I woke the next morning feeling numb and in disbelief (obviously, my white privilege had taken over, so that’s something I’ve had to work on). I’ve had moments of denial, disbelief, and just plain being scared. In a way I felt paralyzed, like I no longer had any control or say in what the next four years would bring.

But no matter how discouraging and dark it may seem, now more than ever we need to get up and take action. So before 2017 hits, here are some things you can do to make 2016 a little better.

  1. Don’t argue, talk: A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the arguments my father and I used to get in and how we figured out a way to have respectful conversations by putting our relationship first and our differences second.
  1. Organize: Join organized resistance like the Injustice Boycott.
  1. Try to understand: There is a lot of interesting analysis out there on why people voted the way they did. It’s helped me understand the state of our country and where people are coming from. It doesn’t make me feel better, but at least it puts some of the puzzle pieces together. After all, if we don’t understand the whole problem, it’s hard to find a solution.
  1. Register for Advocacy Day: Talk with your legislators about local issues that impact survivors. It’s more important now than ever!
  1. Pay attention to people: In a time when things feel so divisive, take a moment and ask people how their hearts are doing. Slow down, really listen, and find common ground.

If you’re going to lean in, you need support

baby-diapers-and-wipesJust as I was beginning my career, Lean In was becoming popular. In true lean in spirit, I was told to pursue my ambitions, ask for more, and change the conversation to what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. I totally bought into the idea that if I put my mind to it I could (and should) do everything in full force.

Then I had a child.

Beyond the baby shoes, ducky washcloths, and teeny tiny onesies, it turns out taking care of an infant is a LOT of work. Even with my husband right by my side, the majority of the care landed on me after he returned to work.  Soon enough I found myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and disconnected. Even if I could do it all, maybe I didn’t want to?

There is no denying the level of pressure women feel on a daily basis to be a certain kind of mother, partner, friend, and professional. I’m all about encouraging women to ask for what they deserve but expecting women to be more, do more, and lean in more is not always sustainable.

I wish we would stop asking women to do more and instead ask ourselves what we can do to give women more choices. And not just choices but also the resources and support to make choices work, like how to end an unhealthy relationship without losing your housing, how to stay in a career but still be able to spend time with the ones you love, and how and when to start a family.

We don’t need to pressure ourselves to lean in, we need people and resources that support us to make the choices that are best for ourselves.

What the abortion debate is really about

If abortion were to be made illegal, what should the punishment be? A lot of folks stumble when asked that question:

In our society if you break the law there are consequences, right? So if you think abortion is murder why does the idea of sending a woman who gets one to jail make you uncomfortable? I think it’s because “life” is not what actually lies at the root of the abortion debate. It’s really about restricting, controlling, and policing women’s bodies.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I wondered if my opinion on abortion would change. It has. I have become even more pro-choice. At eight months, I have a pretty good understanding of the physical, emotional, and financial realities of pregnancy. And I believe now more than ever that women should have the right and power to choose what is best for them, and not be punished.

Some advice

List from Excellent to The Worst with a checkmark next to The WorstThe moment I announced my pregnancy it began: the crazy comments from close friends and strangers alike. What I should do, what I should eat, and how my body looks. Like when my friend leaned across the table and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t eat that ceviche because it might kill your baby.” This was one of the first things she said to me after I told her the news!

I like to believe that it all comes from a well-intentioned place. When people don’t know what to say, sometimes they say things that are wrong and unhelpful. I’ve had to deal with this for seven months and it’s infuriating.  It makes me think about survivors I’ve worked with in the past. When they tell their friends and family about the violence in their lives,  they don’t always get the best response or support. The unfortunate outcome is that people walk away from conversations feeling further isolated, misunderstood, or judged. Not the end result either party wants.

So here are some tips on how to support your loved ones in good times and bad:

  • Acknowledge what the person told you and what they are experiencing.
  • Ask how you can provide support.
  • Tell them you are there for them no matter what.
  • Ask if they want advice before you give any.
  • Think about what you are about to say. Is it helpful? Will it come across as supportive?

It’s okay to not have the perfect response. Being a good listener is sometimes worth a thousand words.

A new kind of New Year’s resolutions

2016 in sparklersEat healthier, read more, save money, get organized. Welcome to 2016 and New Year’s resolutions! I have been a sucker for resolutions for a long time and like many who make them, I break them.

My resolutions for 2016 weren’t going to skew much from the traditional list. Then I received news that one of my friends had been killed in a tragic car accident. The day after Christmas my family went to her memorial service. It was one of the saddest, raw, and full experiences I’ve had in a long time. People shared stories about Katie, how she had impacted the lives of her students, her family and friends, and her community. No one talked about how healthy she ate, how much she read, how organized she was. It’s because at the end of the day that’s not what matters.

So this year my resolutions are different:

  • Tell the people who I love how I feel about them
  • Be kind to myself and others
  • Listen and connect deeply with those in my life

Looking at these resolutions, I realize that it’s really all about relationships. If we were all to prioritize these things, it would not only make our own lives better, but it would help anyone in our lives who is experiencing abuse. A person who is being abused most needs to hear that she is loved, that she deserves kindness, and that you will stay connected with her no matter what.

I stand with you

StandWithPPIn September, my Facebook feed became saturated with the #IStandwithPlannedParenthood campaign. People I haven’t seen or heard from in over 10 years were talking about going to Planned Parenthood and how it helped them. I wasn’t surprised by all the support—Planned Parenthood has helped me too. But I was surprised to see a post from one of my closest friends where she shared her experience going there for an abortion. I realized that during that time period I had seen her almost every day. I had sat with her in class, done homework with her, and gone out for meals, all the while having no clue that this was going on in her life.

I debated for a long time whether or not to bring it up, but I eventually did. I told her how bad I felt that I hadn’t noticed that something so difficult was going on in her life. She said it was hard to go through alone, but didn’t talk about it because she was ashamed, embarrassed, and thought no one would understand. Of course that made sense to me, I’ve had those times too. I felt that way about the time a guy I was dating in college assaulted me, even though I know that’s fairly common. It was a sad moment when we realized that we could have been supporting each other. Then we got mad. Why didn’t we feel comfortable talking to each other? Gah, patriarchy had been wining!

But ever since that time, we’ve been using our experiences to fight against the patriarchy. She’s using her experience to demand that health, reproductive care, and options are widely available. My experience has been a slow burning fire that keeps me committed to my work in the domestic violence movement. Instead of standing by ourselves, we are standing side by side.

Taking a time out

August is typically a very slow, quiet month for me. Everyone is out on their summer vacation, the office is nearly empty, and my work load is low. But this August was different and by the time my own vacation approached, I felt overwhelmed and overloaded. There was a lot of work I didn’t have time to complete and I knew there would be more waiting for me when I got back. There were a few moments when I seriously considered canceling my vacation. But I didn’t. I packed my bags, and piled into a minivan with my husband, our best friends, two dogs, and supplies for the week. We hit the road to Iowa! The first two days I responded to emails and stressed about all the work I wasn’t doing. The morning of day three, when I woke in the Badlands to bison rolling in the dirt, it hit me: I needed a time out.

As a child I got a time out when I did something I wasn’t supposed to. My parents sent me to my room to cool off and think about my actions. This is not a practice I’ve self-employed often but like kids can get wrapped up in emotion and mischievousness, I had become trapped by the stress of the daily grind, to-do lists, seemingly endless emails, and deadlines.

The very important work I do every day to end domestic violence can seemed infinite. The idea of vacation was grand but when it came down to it, it was hard to take. I’m not alone. A lot of Americans don’t receive vacation benefits, and those who do often don’t take it, even though it’s clear that taking a break can reduce stress and mitigate burn out. I’m part of a movement that promotes self-care all the time, but I wasn’t taking time to care for myself.

four people sitting on a large statue of a jackalopeSomething very powerful and liberating happened to me when I told myself to take a time out. I calmed down, thought about what I wanted to be doing, and then I enjoyed every moment. I swam in algae-saturated lakes, watched friends get married, ate ice cream at Mt. Rushmore, and sat on a giant Jackalope. Today is my first day back at work and I have a ton of work on my plate (including this blog post). But after putting myself in time out, I feel more enthusiastic and determined than ever to be part of this work on ending domestic violence.

Winning big

Last week I sat in a living room with ten of my friends, blinds drawn and snacks in hand, as I watched the USA Women’s Soccer team compete in the World Cup final. I didn’t even get the chance to nervously bite one fingernail before the USA scored their first goal in minute four. By the end we were jumping up and down, tears in our eyes, as we took the trophy.

Here are the three things that made me happiest about this win:

  1. People came together to support and cheer on women for their talent, team work, and mad skills! It was the most watched soccer game (men’s and women’s) in U.S. history. Millions watched the game, more than the NBA finals and last year’s World Series.
  2. Then we found out they made 40 times less than the men’s World Cup team (and they didn’t even win). Obviously, this is not a win. But what makes me happy is that it is an undeniable example that the pay gap is real. And if you think that’s unfair, you can do something about it.
  3. Images of the team in the media challenged stereotypes of women as catty, shallow, and competitive. These women are successful, strong, and supportive of each other.

I grew up playing soccer. It was a space where I could forget the everyday messages around what my body should look like, and what a woman should be. It taught me how to be strong and confident, how to trust myself and others, and to work as a team. So I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to this win. I know we have a long way to go, but these wins inspire me to keep working toward gender equality.

Who’s the expert on your life?

On March 22nd my home flooded. Suddenly I lost my safe haven and my life became a ball of chaos and stress.

It was hard for me to focus at work, I was constantly on the phone with the insurance company, I forgot to pay my credit card bill twice, and I broke down crying about a dozen times. This was my experience despite having a loving partner by my side, a flexible job, and friends and family to offer their support. Which made me think about how much harder it is for those who don’t have support or resources.

Photo by Jett Loe
Photo by Jett Loe

Like this story of a survivor who was forced to choose between her housing and violence. Her abuser isolated her from friends, family, and social networks. She left with literally $4 in her pocket. She had nowhere to turn and wound up in shelter. She’s not the only one; domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.

The survivors I’ve worked with tell me that folks tend to jump to problem-solving without taking the time to acknowledge how stress and trauma is impacting their lives. It is often the case that survivors are given lists of places to go and people to call, asked to identify goals, and then to “follow through” on them. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been annoyed if someone told me to go to a support group to deal with my house flooding when I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night. When we take more time to sit and listen we discover that survivors have the best solutions for their problems and that they are experts in their own lives, just like you are an expert in your life and I’m an expert in mine.

Ms. RCW

As a young person I was never interested in politics. I have vague memories of sitting in civics class trying to keep my eyes open while some teacher droned on about government, democracy, and the political process. I did the bare minimum to get a good grade and then I moved on.

Considering how bored I was, it’s funny that I now do public policy work. Why was civics so excruciating? Well, I was never good at learning by sitting and listening to someone talk. Knowing there are many people like me, a few of my co-workers and I created a fun tool to use at our lobby day. It’s simple, it’s visual, and it’s fun. So take a look and learn how laws are made in Washington State. And then share it, because when we understand the system we can make our voices heard.