Geeks making a difference

One of the things that I love about anti-violence work is that anyone can do it, anytime, anyplace. You don’t need to have special training or education to start addressing the issue (though I’m always impressed by and thankful for those folks who’ve gone deeper in their learning).

Case in point: cons. For those who don’t know, cons are fan conventions, most frequently focused on things like comics, gaming, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Probably the most well-known con is Comic-Con in San Diego, but we have several cons right here in our own backyard, like Sakura Con, PAX Northwest, and GeekGirlCon (full disclosure: I am a volunteer staffer for GeekGirlCon). Cons are a fun way to connect with others who share your geeky interests, show off your cosplay, and maybe even meet some of your favorite artists/designers/actors/writers/etc.

hollaback-coverUnfortunately, cons—like the larger world—can often feel unwelcoming and sometimes even dangerous to women, to LGBTQ folks, to people of color, and others. A little bit of internet searching will bring up plenty of stories and history that I won’t go into here, because what I really want to focus on is what people are doing in response—actions people are taking to make things better!

HollabackPHILLY partnered with artist Erin Filson to create the anti-street harassment comic book Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue. They use the comic in workshops addressing street harassment, as well as starting conversations about harassment at cons and in the gaming community.

Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend sci-fi and fantasy conventions, with the goal of increasing ethnic and racial diversity at these events. While this work may not seem to some folks like it is directly addressing harassment, it actually makes a big difference to have larger numbers of folks who are typically underrepresented.

WisCon, GeekGirlCon, and BentCon all took a slightly different approach: they decided to make their own darn cons, focusing on feminism in speculative fiction, women in all aspects of geekdom, and queer geekery, respectively. This type of DIY convention helps create safer spaces, and the effects of those safer spaces often ripples out into the larger, more mainstream cons.

Author John Scalzi wrote about why he won’t attend cons that don’t have anti-harassment policies. He used his influence as a popular writer to take a firm and principled public stand. Not only that, he opened it up for other individuals and organizations to co-sign on his policy—to date, well over 1,000 people have co-signed.

I know these examples are just scratching the surface; please share any additions (or other thoughts) in the comments below!

An extraordinary day

At our conference last week, we celebrated the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and honored Deborah Parker for her strength and leadership. The following is from a speech given by our Executive Director, Nan Stoops.Homepage-Graphic-Conference2013

On February 28 of this year, Congress passed a bill that renewed the Violence Against Women Act. What might have been a somewhat ordinary day on the hill was an extraordinary day for survivors and advocates across the country. We had gone 500 days without VAWA. Not much changed during those 500 days, and yet, in my mind, everything changed.

In my 35 years of doing anti-violence work, I have witnessed and participated in periods of incredible hardship and divisiveness. Times when we compromised and then looked the other way. Times when we failed to listen to each other. Times when we could not, or would not, build the bridges that we say we want and know we need.

Not this time. This time we got it right. This time we were willing to wait 500 days. And in those 500 days, I think we realized that we would go another 500 if we had to. Because we developed the political will and principled strategy that we knew would eventually prevail. We stopped building protections for some at the expense of others. We acknowledged the unique challenges experienced by LGBT and immigrant survivors. And we finally recognized tribal authority over non-tribal members when they commit domestic violence on tribal land.

The legal precedent with respect to tribal sovereignty is significant. So too is the humanity of it. With the passage of VAWA, we broke with the tradition of this country. We were led by our Native sisters and brothers, and we joined with countless organizations to create a pathway for securing the sovereign rights of the indigenous people of this country.

I watched CSPAN on the morning of February 28th. I followed the procedural maneuvers, and I watched the roll call vote. When it was apparent that there were enough votes, I texted Grace (our public policy coordinator) to confirm, and then I just sat there and whispered “wow.” It was as if all of the years and all of the work converged into a moment. We had stayed on the side of “justice for all,” and we had won.

State and federal laws addressing violence against women start with the courage of survivors. The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA was no exception. There was significant leadership from our state. Our policy coordinator, Grace Huang worked practically full time drafting and analyzing the 800 pages of VAWA. All of you responded whenever we asked you to make calls. And when the bill failed to pass, you called again. And again. And again.

But in the end, there is one woman who made all the difference, and we honor her today.

At this time, I’d like to invite our Native sisters and brothers to join me on stage. We are fortunate to have here with us the woman whose courage, truth-telling, vision, and determination paved the way for the historic passage of the Violence Against Women Act. I am profoundly honored to introduce the Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe, Deborah Parker.

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence recognizes Deborah Parker, Vice Chair of the Tulalip Tribe for your strength, courage and leadership.

“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory.” – President Barack Obama, March 7, 2013

What a difference a day makes!

Does life get any better that this? I’ve worked in the anti-violence field for a bazillion years and it was fabulous to watch my daughters, their friends, their moms, their dads, my husband, and 980 other people I didn’t know all running and walking and having a good time at the first Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. Everyone was having a blast because healthy relationships are fun for everybody. So much more fun than the grim side of unhealthy relationships.

In the span of one day, a mix of people who’ve probably never thought much about domestic violence, became excited and eager to promote healthy relationships. As runners and walkers streamed by me, it was remarkable to hear “thank you for what you do, it’s important that you are here.” The goodwill I felt all around me was tremendous.

It is thrilling to imagine how we can build upon the goodwill and connection of the race participants to spread the word for change right here in Seattle. People talking about our shared hopes for our children and loved ones—happy, fun, and joyful relationships today, this minute, this moment—what a difference a day can make!