BLT, anyone?

Jack Kornfield tells the story of a school teacher. After returning home each day she’d do a little survey of her energy and the ingredients in her cupboards and if she had both in good supply, she’d make a stack of sandwiches. She’d package them up and walk to a street nearby where homeless people lived, offering food to anyone who looked hungry.

A local reporter got wind of this and wrote a feature. Becoming somewhat of a local hero, the woman started getting checks in the mail from folks who cared about the homeless too. Imagine the senders’ surprise to receive their money back – with a note stating simply “Make your own damned sandwiches.”

Now in retelling Jack’s story, I do NOT mean you should stop writing checks. No no no. When folks ask you for money it’s because they need it, so give them lots. In fact, WSCADV needs money and you can give right now!

AND consider taking up the challenge to “make your own sandwiches” too. The world is desperate for direct connection through any and all expressions of love and kindness. Socially, politically, environmentally, we have a lot of bread to butter – so let’s get busy.

This does not need to be a big undertaking. Start small (say … P, B and J):

Work up from there.

Aliens are taking over the planet

A Woman who is being Abused who is an Immigrant is a Human Being. Not an alien. We call immigrants aliens so that we can conveniently forget that they have human rights. For instance, take immigrant survivors of abuse. Their immigration status has a huge impact on their options for safety. Fear of deportation keeps people from turning to the police for help. And abusers use threats of deportation to control their partners. If you are an “illegal” immigrant, you know that many people aren’t too pleased you’re here, which makes it hard to reach out for help.

When I felt the anti-immigrant sentiment in the reader’s comments on the Seattle Times article about the DREAM Act, I was disappointed and sad. In honor of International Migrants Day (December 18), I want to address a couple myths that seem to be at the heart of most of these comments:

“Illegal immigrants are breaking the law.”

Have you ever jay walked? Seriously, have you? I have. This means we’ve broken the law. So what should happen to us? After all, breaking the law has a consequence, right? Paying a fine seems reasonable. Revoking your basic rights and protections doesn’t. If you are an “alien” we can revoke your rights and deny access to the justice system, even if you are the victim of a crime. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Breaking the law is not a reason to strip away another human being’s rights and dignity.

“Why don’t you just go back where you come from?”

Do we belong to just one country? I am East-Indian, I grew up in Zambia and I have lived in the U.S. for over 11 years. I am part of the more than 215 million people who live outside their country of birth. U.S. history shows a constant stream of immigrants, despite racist anti-immigrant policies. And I believe migration has been a good thing for our country. Beyond that, sending an abused woman “home” can mean forcing her to leave her children behind with an abusive man.

When we stop pretending that people are “aliens” it benefits immigrants in abusive relationships as well as our national debate. So let’s all stop with the “illegal” and “alien” language. It simply does not make sense to us humans.

Seattle activist Pramila Jayapal shares her vision of immigration from a global perspective.

Truth and consequences

Weeks after WikiLeaks released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in Britain on charges that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.

Supporters of WikiLeaks decry Assange’s arrest as politically motivated. Of course it is. When was the last time we saw an international manhunt for an alleged date rapist?

But it is disturbing how many WikiLeaks’ defenders have completely dismissed the idea that Julian Assange may be guilty of a crime. As if it’s impossible for a guy to be admired, talented, or unjustly politically targeted AND a rapist. (Roman Polanski, anyone?) Bloggers are tripping over each other in their rush to make the usual victim-blaming, rapist-excusing arguments: she agreed to sex and regretted it later; she’s a man-hating feminist; she couldn’t have been raped because she was friendly toward him the next day.

There are also some more original arguments for why Assange should not have to face the charges against him. Like that Sweden is a bizarre, feminist dystopia where sex without condoms is criminal and courts reflexively believe women. Bloggers are deliberately using a strange-sounding English translation of the charges — “sex by surprise” — to make the accusations seem ridiculous. Even Naomi Wolf is leveraging her feminist credentials to mock the women and their “injured feelings”.

I don’t know whether Julian Assange raped anybody. But the charges against him are serious. Assange is accused of refusing to stop sex when one woman told him to, pinning her down with his body. He is accused of having sex with another woman while she was sleeping. Should he get a pass because he is a political target?

We all know these charges would never be pursued without the U.S. vendetta against WikiLeaks. But attacking the women who say Assange raped them doesn’t advance free speech. Far from it. The misogynist blustering manages to distract from the important debate about democracy, state secrets, and the limits of journalism — and empower rapists at the same time.

TSA — Taking Security Apart

What does it take to feel secure? I wondered about this as I read about the new TSA body scans. As impossible as it seems to figure out how to keep millions of travelers safe, planning for the safety of one can be just as challenging. Women who’ve been abused are faced with this all the time. No one can build them a wall tall enough to keep out a persistent abuser or a machine to screen potential boyfriends for bad tendencies.

Really, what makes us feel secure? I think it is our community of friends and acquaintances. In my community, there is someone I can call any time day or night.  Someone who would bring me a pot of soup without asking. And, if they haven’t seen me in a while, someone who would knock on my door. I don’t have to rely on any one person. I have a whole network of people I can count on, and that makes me feel secure.

I think the reason people are upset about the TSA approach is that, in their gut, they realize it isn’t going to make us safer. But is there anything that can? Actually, other safety experts around the world have developed flexible approaches that prioritize engaging with each individual.

People often ask me how they can help someone who is being abused. It’s not so easy  — we can’t rely on an automated program or a machine to deal with coercive or violent people. But we can start by being a part of a network of friends paying attention. We can help her feel secure by listening to what she says. And we can make our approach nuanced in a way that the TSA is missing.

Welfare is not a dirty word

I cried at work this week. More than once. It’s something I don’t often do. Like so many of us, I’ve learned to become desensitized, detached even, to the horrific tales of suffering that I hear. But then I met Claire.

Claire has five kids between 6 months and 16 years. She was a teenage mom and has suffered abuse her whole life. She’s had to go on welfare several times since she was a teen on her own. Now it looks like she’s about to lose this safety net no matter how bad things get.

In Washington, you will soon get cut off of welfare if you’ve been on for a total of 5 years. Losing these benefits is about to be a new reality for many struggling families and is a direct result of our state’s budget crisis.

I could tell you more sad and horrible details about Claire’s life in an effort to convince you that what’s happened to her is not her fault. But I think you’ve heard stories like this before. I remember what it was like for me before I started this work. When I heard about an awful situation I thought “I must not know all the facts. They might have made bad choices.”

After years of working with people living in poverty, I now know that there is not always the opportunity to grab those bootstraps and pull your way out. Meeting Claire hammered this home for me once again.

Claire has worked harder in her life than I will ever have to. She’s surely made a few mistakes, but haven’t we all? She has also done a lot of things right. So it makes me angry that in this country, where we have so much, she should get so little for all her efforts.

I am asking you to change your perception of people on welfare. It’s supposed to be a safety net when a person falls on hard times, but over the past 14 years this net has been neglected and cut to the point where it’s not very reliable anymore. Welfare is not a dirty word and it should be there to catch us if we fall.

(c) Independent Media Center

Yikes, you did what?!

I live in a really social neighborhood where I chat with lots of people who live around me. Recently, I was talking to one of my neighbors about relationships. It was a normal conversation about the challenges of dating, and sorting through the choices that we make. Then he told me that he was once convicted of domestic violence assault.

To be honest, I had a moment of panic. What was I going to say? As he talked about going through batterer’s intervention, how much he learned, and how different he is in his current relationship, I was thinking: Has this man really changed? Is his current girlfriend safe? Is he manipulating the story to glorify himself?

According to the etiquette of conversation, I had to say something after he stopped talking even though I had doubts, questions, and yes, even a bit of fear. I thanked him for the disclosure, acknowledged his journey, and continued to openly talk to him about relationships.

By virtue of my work, I know how to respond to people who disclose that they have been abused. But what I learned from this conversation is that I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they’ve been abusive. My first instinct was to question this man’s intentions and his behavior, but then I realized that I want to be able to talk with anyone about how to be in a good, loving, happy relationship.

I have decided to believe that my neighbor understands what he did and is making an effort to be a better person. After all, won’t he need a community of people who can support him in his present while knowing his past?

Wiki-what-the-hell?

My little friend Jacob hopped into my car the day after Halloween, still wearing his bat costume, and asked: “What’s the biggest bat?” It just so happens that my next door neighbor Greg Falxa is a bat researcher. After he told us about the Flying Fox, Jacob still wanted more details. Where did we turn? Wikipedia, of course. If you dare, check it out. No worries, they eat fruit.

I printed out a picture for Jacob and thought idly about clicking on the Wiki definition of domestic violence, which I do periodically to torture myself. This time, sitting atop the article, was a box with an orange exclamation point saying “This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.”

I’ll say!

I then unearthed the frightening fact that this Wiki article got (hold onto your hats) 94,632 hits during the 31 days of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I have been working for 30 years to educate the public about domestic violence and  have not come within a light year of talking to that many people. How do your efforts at public awareness match up against the near 95,000 high school and college students and miscellaneous others being spoon fed this out-of-date and unintelligible misinformation about domestic violence?

This is a call to researchers and others with a talent for accurate and engaging prose. Put your money where your brains are. Make it your mission to upgrade the article to be at least as interesting and accurate as the article on bats!

What happens now?

photo by fibonacciblue

It’s a week after mid-term elections, and I have to say I’m still feeling the sting. Facing a colossal gap in our state’s budget, our ballot was filled with strategies to bring in some new money. Voters said no. Now our state and local governments will have to make devastating cuts to critical services.

I’ve always thought of taxes as a good thing – membership dues I gladly pay in exchange for a vast array of services (running water, meat I’m not afraid to eat, civil rights, cancer research, and so on). But others hold a different view, and now we shall see what happens when government must do less with less.

My thoughts naturally turn to my own work. And not just selfish ruminations about whether or not I’ll still have a job (though as the mother of a child with many special needs, income and health insurance are indeed big concerns). Rather, I worry – and wonder – what will become of the work: the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Over the last few decades,  our government has increasingly funded efforts to support victims and stop abuse and rape. I am proud that we the people have invested tax dollars in what used to be considered a private problem.

But now the variables have changed again. Our great radical experiment to create a world of loving and equitable relationships will need some new strategies. We the people can no longer rely as much on our government to take care of this for us. So what happens now?

Princess boy

A new children’s book, My Princess Boy, tells the story of 5-year-old Dyson Kilodavis – a Seattle boy who loves dressing up in pretty, sparkly dresses – and his family’s support for him to be himself. A video of the Kilodavis family’s appearance on a local talk show has been viewed over 100,000 times. What Dyson’s family is doing is so simple, yet it has clearly touched a nerve.

Kids do all kinds of funny things, but when boys cross gender lines, adults get anxious. Why? Sometimes it comes from a homophobic fear that a boy who wears princess dresses will grow up to be gay. Sometimes they’re just worried that he’ll be rejected by peers and targeted by bullies.

I think we should worry more that when we pressure boys to reject “girl things” it sets them up to feel ashamed of important parts of themselves – the sweet, the expressive, the magical. Michael Kaufman argues compellingly that societal pressure on men to conform to “expectations of masculinity” contributes to men’s violence against women and homophobic violence.

I have four young sons who like baseball and racecars and mud. They also like tight sparkly jeans, pink cowboy boots, and tutus. They like the things that make them happy not because they are “boy things” or “girl things” but because they are fancy, or fun, or (in the case of the glitter jeans) “sooo rock and roll”. I want them to know that the sparkly things in life are not off limits to them now or ever. Boys need adults’ permission to like what they like, and they need to see grown men who embrace beauty and sweetness.

Even though he liked the pull ups labeled “GIRLS”, my 3 year old was suspicious: “Are these for girls?” he wanted to know. I told him, “Well…they’re for anybody who likes butterflies. And rainbows. And pink.” Relieved, he shouted “Oh good! I like butterflies!”

Me too.

The tough questions

After reading last week’s post, I took the call to action and talked to my 13-year old twins about bullying. Because of my work, we’ve had lots of chats about violence in families. But we hadn’t yet talked about how kids treat each other at school.

I asked if they say anything when kids call someone “gay” or “faggot.” Turns out they might – if it’s directed at one of their friends. But more often they don’t, because they’re scared and don’t know what to say. Their school has an anti-bullying curriculum, but it hasn’t given any concrete answers to their questions: “What can I do?” “What if they start saying those mean things to me?”

They deserve answers. I can’t be the only adult in their life having this conversation with them. I want their school more involved. I want their teachers to have strategies for integrating bullying prevention into daily school life and I want them to answer those tough questions. I want my kids to learn, as the poet Audre Lorde said “Your silence will not protect you.”

After I talked to my kids I felt discouraged. But then I found that a local organization has become a national expert on this. Did you know The Safe Schools Coalition will intervene on behalf of individual students? And they have great practical advice for kids and teachers. I encourage you to print one of these out and give it to a kid or teacher you know. I did.