Cats and raindrops bless us

Sherman Alexie said “I don’t believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.”

So when a stray cat wandered into the circle of grief-stricken neighbors gathered outside the former home of Rachel Gardin-Gonzalez and made itself right at home, I chose to imagine that Rachel was back in this beautiful calm form to bask in the comfort and love of people who cared about her.

Rachel and her mother Kimberly Redford were murdered in this home last week. Interfaith Works had come here to hold a Moment of Blessing. A time for neighbors to reclaim peace in their community and love in their hearts for the entire family that was devastated here.

Seven years almost to the day, I wrote my very first post on Can You Relate about a Moment of Blessing for Vanda Boone who herself was murdered in south Thurston County.

Every single domestic violence fatality and injury and hurt is preventable. Without exception. So I wonder, now and all the time, about what it will take to end the violence.

Can You Relate has changed its focus recently to call out/call in the perpetrators of the violence. Ultimately it is they who control all these tragic outcomes. I know it’s hard to imagine, but rapists and batterers are the ones who need to understand what drives the violence and understand what it is going to take to stop it. We can provide all the support and care possible for victims (and we should) but they will just keep coming until we know this.

Unlike Sherman Alexie, I don’t know if I believe in magic. But as the circle of grief was breaking up today, a few drops of rain fell from the hot smoky sky. Was that raindrop blessing a bit of magic or just a coincidence? We’ll have to ask the cat.

The ribbon pole with the names of most of the people who have died from violence in Thurston County since 2005. With the magic cat in the background.
Tragic additions to the list of victims.

 

Talking to someone about their abusive behavior

Let’s be real, most of us think of an abuser as an easy-to-spot evil monster. So it’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand.

But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? What if they are our family? What if they are our friend? What if we love them?

How do we convey that we won’t tolerate this behavior while staying connected and asking them to change?

We believe the answer lies in having conversations and being real. We hope to encourage you to talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

It might seem kind of scary and it might be uncomfortable, but YOU CAN DO IT. Think of yourself like a farmer; no matter what happens, you planted the seeds and gave it your best shot.

Here are some strategies that will help you to have the conversation that you want:

  • Address their behavior privately. Be direct but loving as you challenge their actions, words, or violence.
  • Focus on the behavior. Talk about the behavior and how it impacts you. Be clear that you don’t think they are a bad person.
  • Ask a question, listen up and stay connected: “Hey, I’m worried about you… is everything ok?” “Things don’t seem right in your relationship. What’s going on?” “Sometimes I’ve noticed… How do you feel about that?”

Remember, it’s not your job to change someone. You can’t make someone change, but you can hold up a mirror and support them. You can also get help! Talk to your trusted people and reach out to experts.

You can do it!

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.

Tactical frivolity

Is it me, or is there a ridiculous level of horrible news stories lately? My usual reaction is to feel outrage, which I will defend: Outrage is an honest and legitimate feeling. But then I read an article about Mary Numair, who single handedly broke up an anti-choice protest in front of a Planned Parenthood. How? By standing beside them yelling “Yeast infection!” and holding a sign thanking Planned Parenthood for helping her with that particular issue. Her description of how the protesters reacted is hilarious.

Photo courtesy of Mary Numair
Photo courtesy of Mary Numair

I love her use of humor (maybe fueled by some internal outrage) in this protest. Turns out there’s a term for this: tactical frivolity. Finding levity in tough situations makes space for us to contemplate them in a way that rage and indignation do not. And using humor can lower defenses and resonate with people in a different way than being confronted with anger or even charts and facts.

Mary Numair’s story was a beautifully timed reminder of this amid a tsunami of heart breaking news. She literally created a safer space for others in a way that was light, funny, and in no way harmful to the other protesters. She sent a loud-and-clear message about an issue that was important to her and it resonated far beyond her community. Fantastic!

I’m going to keep feeling outrage. I need that in my work to end violence against women and girls. But I’m also feeling inspired to figure out some new ways to engage with people. I mean, we all know violence isn’t funny, but perhaps there’s a way to use humor to make the topic more approachable that would ultimately make us more effective. Maybe I’ll ask Mary if she has any ideas.

Shattered community

We bring you this post from Sandi Scroggins, WSCADV’s Executive Assistant.

April 5, 1984. I was 14 and it was 18 days before my 15th birthday. I had transferred to Foothill High School six months prior. I was making some friends, was a member of the band, and was tinafaelzfinalstarting to fit in. Then it happened. The thing that you only read about in Stephen King novels. My classmate, Tina Faelz, was murdered. This terrible act of violence changed me but it would take years to figure out the full extent of its impact.

I did not know Tina personally, but I knew who she was. She was a normal girl with normal dreams and aspirations. She was also bullied. In fact, she started taking karate lessons to learn how to protect herself. This was back in the day before “Zero Tolerance.” Some of her classmates would actually throw rocks at her when she tried to get on the school bus. Thus the reason she wasn’t riding the school bus anymore. Thus the reason she was walking home, by herself, that day.

I became sick to my stomach when I found out about Tina’s murder. I was in shock. I cried—a lot. And I was afraid. I had nightmares. Although I have never seen the crime scene photos, my mind was able to concoct horrible images. Those images still haunt me. I was afraid to be alone. I was afraid of the dark. I just knew someone was waiting around a corner to hurt me, or worse, murder me. I was afraid of missing the bus. I became leery of people. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. And I certainly did not know how to express these feelings. So, instead, I suppressed them and never discussed them with anyone. How could I, a person who was not even friends with Tina, be so affected?

What made the whole situation worse was that we all knew who did it. Another classmate of ours,  Steve Carlson. He had bragged about it. But he wasn’t arrested. In fact, no one was arrested. It became a cold case and our lives went on. But I thought of Tina often. I thought of her when I went to our senior ball. And when I graduated from our high school. And when I got married. All the things she never had the chance to experience because her life was stolen.

The total effects of Tina’s murder did not become fully apparent until my son was born. I became THAT mom. The one you would call paranoid. When Joshua was a baby, I was afraid someone would kidnap him. When he went to grade school, I was afraid he would be bullied. When he went to middle school, I was afraid something bad would happen to him. When he went to high school, I was afraid someone he knew would hurt him, or worse, murder him. I was told I was irrational. I was told that things like that don’t REALLY happen. Except they do.

Twenty-seven years later, Steve Carlson was arrested and charged with Tina’s murder. DNA evidence connected him. We were right. He did do it. On October 30, 2014, Steve Carlson was found guilty and he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. It had taken 30 years. I am grateful he is behind bars. I hope he is there for the rest of his life.tinatombstonefinal

I still think of Tina often. I still cry when I think of her. And now I know why her murder affected me so dramatically. She was part of my community. Steve Carlson was also part of my community. An act of violence affects the community as a whole. It doesn’t matter if you were best friends with the victim or the perpetrator or if you did not know them. Violence has that effect on people. And it ripples out. The impact of those ripples may never be fully realized. But they will be felt.

Ultimately, I have faith in people

Photo by Dread Scott
Photo by Dread Scott

During a week of searing sadness, tiredness, and anger, I am looking for a way to move forward. I find myself thinking about the people around me in the grocery store, standing on the bus, sitting on blankets at the farmer’s market, the faces of my children. These are the people I am with in my ordinary day … this is the “American public.” I wonder about what it takes to move public opinion. This week, I have read brilliant, challenging, and inspirational writing about the racist murders in Charleston. I believe that we are all grappling with the failure to openly dialogue about racism, acknowledge historic symbols of racism, and dismantle systems that perpetuate racism. What makes individuals risk offending those dear to them, speak up, do something different, make a change?

For me, learning from others shapes my thinking and moves me to act. I am not talking about grand gestures, but educating myself so I can figure out what to talk about with my children, neighbors, family members, and elected representatives. These are a few of the posts that have taught me this week:

On Faith, Forgiveness and Flags

Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof

Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism

Reading these helped me grasp the enormity of what is ahead and reminded me of the decency in people. Ultimately, I do have faith that we will make change. This is the way forward for me.

Permitiendo a otros dirigir el camino (Letting others lead the way)

El año pasado, tuve la oportunidad de trabajar con un grupo de trabajadores agrícolas inmigrantes latinos para crear una novela corta para la radio que crearía conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos.

Todo el proyecto fue una gran experiencia de aprendizaje para mí. Me dí cuenta de que yo estaba allí para de verdad escuchar, ser una aliada, y dejar que ellos dirigieran éste proyecto. Me volví muy consciente de que si mi organización quería hacer algo útil y eficaz, tenía que permitirle a este grupo enseñarnos lo que se necesitaba para desarrollar un buen mensaje.

Después de muchas largas conversaciones sobre las necesidades de su comunidad, éste increíble grupo de hombres creó un mensaje de solidaridad y de paz declarando que la violencia sexual no es aceptable bajo ninguna condición.

Este proyecto fue el ejemplo perfecto de una buena colaboración. Las intercesoras de varios programas rurales de violencia doméstica nos ofrecieron sus comentarios y el conocimiento para iniciar esta conversación. Después, un grupo de hombres salieron de su zona de confort, abrieron sus corazones, y nos dieron la oportunidad de aprender de ellos y con ellos.

Este es el resultado de su proyecto, su visión, y su creatividad: una novela corta de radio en español con un manual de cómo poderla utilizar para crear conciencia sobre la violencia sexual en los campos. Es también una invitación a otros trabajadores agrícolas a ser parte de poner fin a la violencia contra las mujeres.

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Last year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of Latino immigrant farmworkers to create a radio novela that would bring awareness of sexual violence in the fields.

The whole project was a great learning experience for me. I realized that I was there to really listen, be an ally, and let them lead the project. I became very aware that if my organization wanted to do something useful and powerful, I needed to step out of the way and let this group teach us what was needed to get a good message across.

After many long conversations about their community’s needs, this amazing group of men created a message of solidarity and peace that clearly conveyed that sexual violence is not acceptable under any conditions.

This project was the perfect example of collaborative work. Advocates from many different rural domestic violence programs provided their input and knowledge on how to initiate the conversation. Then, a group of men stepped out of their comfort zone, opened their hearts, and gave us the opportunity to learn from and with them.

Here is the result of their project, their vision, and their creativity: a radio novela in Spanish with a manual on how it can be used to create awareness of sexual violence in the fields. It is also an invitation to other male farmworkers to be a part of ending violence against women.

Why I support the WSCADV

Guest blogger: Mike C. This post originally appeared on CauseCords.com.

Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV
Black and purple survival paracord bracelet from CauseCords. Featured in May 2015, $10 from each sale that month will go to the WSCADV

Ever since I could remember, fundraising to support local charities was always something I was motivated to do. Whether it was racing up a building to support cancer research, selling cookies and pies to benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis, or walking amongst thousands to support children with autism; I enjoyed knowing that I could play a small part in changing someone’s life for the better. It wasn’t until I started collecting donations for victims of domestic violence that I realized how big of an impact I was making.

Being a survivor of domestic abuse is not something that is commonly advertised, such as beating cancer. Most victims work to move away from the painful memories of their past, even though that means leaving behind many beloved aspects of their lives. Domestic abuse does more than just inflict physical damage; it tears apart families, causes emotional distress, shatters trust in others, and leaves scars that can have an lasting effect for generations. Unless you or someone you love has experienced it, most people aren’t aware of other victims of domestic violence, and yet they are all around us.

I am lucky. I am not a victim or survivor of DV, but in my efforts to support the WSCADV I’ve received testimony from those who have survived. People that I have known for years, but was unaware of their suffering, confusion, and pain. For the first time, I could see how my charitable efforts changed lives for the better. I could see how the power of advocacy and awareness could help those around me and truly change my community.

The resources are in place, the network for relief and rescue is in order, and there are people who want to help. All we need is the funding. That is why I support the WSCADV and victims of DV.

Sung and unsung

Mrs. Ericson used to stand solid as a rock between the rows of high school desks and compel us through the sheer force of her love of literature to love it too. I never read willingly before she was my teacher, and I never stopped devouring books after.

She popped into my head the other day, as random memories do, though accompanied by an unusually strong feeling of appreciation and love. It took me by surprise.

What followed was a meandering of memories—the people, famous and unknown, for whom I hold the deepest appreciation. In this season of thanksgiving, it seems fitting to call a few of them out.

Thank you Joseph Campbell, who with Bill Moyers shined a brilliant light on myth and the hero’s journey. I think their messages are more relevant than ever as men struggle with the purpose of violence. Though Joseph Campbell did not speak of the heroine’s journey and was decidedly a man of his time in his use of gender pronouns, I remember feeling remarkable resonance with his ideas—compelled to listen as though he were speaking directly to me.

Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield for putting me solidly on the road to exploring what mindfulness, as the Buddha taught it, has to do with violence and the end of violence.

Thank you Norma Wong and Ellen Pence for your deep and wide understanding of domestic violence. Today I am especially aware that what the two of you have in common is, yes, brilliant minds, but also an enduring curiosity and loving engagement that helps all of us think more critically and act more courageously.

And finally thank you Mary Oliver and Rumi for poetry. A long time ago, I was driving down the road listening to a poet reading his work. It was a beautiful autumn-roadday and I was transported by the magic of the words, even as I became vaguely aware of a funny burning smell. I’d like to tell you that self-preservation trumped the ethereal moment, but it didn’t. I ended up with an expensive tow. But that experience was a reminder about the power of beauty, art, and words; as important to our humanity as food and shelter.

So hurray for the teachers, the authors, and the poets—for the bloggers and the readers. May you find joy in remembering your people. Gratitude abounds.

Warning signs

I was watching TV when Jaylen Fryberg shot his friends and himself at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Which meant that I spent too much time—shocked, scared, angry—watching the media cover this horrible situation. The story was that the shooter was popular, friendly, and the homecoming prince. His popularity didn’t seem to fit in with the kind of person we usually associate with being a school shooter. The loner. The one who was bullied, unpopular.Marysville-Pilchuck_High_School,_Art_Mural_in_Forum,_October_2009

So I decided to look at his Twitter account (I am not linking to it because of the graphic content) and what I saw there was a very different person than the one portrayed on TV that day. The boy on Twitter was full of rage and sadness which seemed to center around a love interest. Who knew?

His friends had certainly seen these posts. Social media is where young people live. It’s their community. We adults aren’t doing anyone any favors by ignoring this fact and not taking the time to understand it. Social media can offer something positive. An outlet. A place for youth to express themselves.

A few years ago, someone who was hurting and raging and planning to take it out on people at school might have kept a journal that would be found after the fact. Now, we can all see the warning signs in real time as long as we’re looking. I don’t know what happened in this situation. Maybe someone did reach out to him and he wasn’t ready to hear it. Maybe an adult in his life was trying to work with him to get help.

Teens are learning how to navigate intimate relationships, and we don’t give them a lot of help. Jaylen retweeted a post that said “I’m not jealous. But when something’s mine it’s mine.” For those of us who work with survivors of domestic violence, this statement is an enormous red flag. When giving an update on this story, a local news anchor said the words “He was heartbroken.” We’ve all been heartbroken. But framing his actions that way minimizes violent behavior motivated by jealousy and rage.

What if we equip young people and their families with tools to recognize unhealthy relationships and where to get help? My heart breaks for the families of the students hurt and killed in this shooting. I hope it can open doors for more and better dialogue about healthy relationships for teens and what friends and family can do when they notice the warning signs of dating violence.