#WhyImVoting

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I have a confession; I don’t have a perfect voting record. I looked it up and there it was, in my face, elections in which I simply did not cast my ballot. This sent me down a spiral of self-criticism, I mean, what was wrong with past me!?

But today is Election Day and I have another chance. Women have a lot of reasons for why they are voting and guess what? Voter turnout for women is high, and it’s no wonder. Reproductive rights, equal pay, access to quality education—there is a lot at stake.

Here in Washington State we have dueling gun safety initiatives and key state legislative and congressional seats that are up for election. By voting I participate in making sure dangerous people are prevented from accessing guns, and I get to choose representatives who will fight for essential services for struggling families and survivors of domestic violence. I get to actively influence the political structure and decision making, all of which impacts my current life, my future, and my beloved community.

I’m sure I had a lot of excuses for not voting in the past, but really what matters is that I voted today. I voted because I believe we should be paid the same as men, that we should be able to make decisions about our own bodies, that survivors of violence shouldn’t be more vulnerable because it’s too easy for their abuser to illegally get a gun, and that services are available to those who need them the most. This is #WhyImVoting. So get out there and vote too, because your voice matters!

Yay for feminist teens!

I spend my life working on women’s rights, so when I heard my daughters talking about the Feminist Union club at their high school I couldn’t wait to hear more!  What on earth was this? Their answers filled me with joy! Sixty-six people showed up (about 1/3 young men)—the room was overflowing into the hallway.TIWAFLL-Shirt

The first meeting was action-packed. They all answered the question: “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word feminism or feminist?” My girls said “It was actually kind of fun,” and a chorus of “Ooooh, that is hella deep” spontaneously erupted over and over again. Then they watched 50 reasons why I am a Feminist and shared their own similar experiences.

Future topics were suggested ranging from what feminism looks like in other societies to misconceptions about feminism and domestic violence. Ground rules were covered and they all agreed: you don’t have to identify as a feminist now; maybe you will eventually, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And they even made some real change. After one of their teachers overheard them discussing gender neutral language: “Try not to say guys for everyone. Try saying beings, peeps, y’all, people, beans instead,” he changed his usual “See ya later guys” to “See ya everyone” as his class ended.

I am so proud of the young people who have organized the group and are coming together. So much happened in 30 minutes. Why can’t I get this much done in a workday? Our community is in good hands with this rising group of thoughtful leaders!

Are you listening?

We bring you this post from Megan Dorwin, our Policy and Economic Justice intern.

I’m a social worker who spends the majority of her time with other social workers. And there’s a trend I’ve noticed lately about people in the helping professions. We require a lot from our partners and friends.

person-in-crowdAs “helping professionals” we strive to be present, centered, and compassionate, focusing on the needs of individuals and communities we serve. We dedicate one third of our lives to others and, quite frankly, it’s exhausting. As five-o’clock rolls around and I transition back from professional to person, I can’t wait for someone to do the same for me.

I want so desperately to be heard with the same care that I have extended to others throughout the work day. In my personal relationships I feel like I’m jumping up and down shouting: “Listen to me! Listen to me!” It’s about my desire to reconnect with a neglected piece of myself; my longing to feel my own needs and desires being met. Unfortunately, in this process I sometimes end up shouting over those I care about most.

So what’s going on here? In the social work field there seems to be a blind spot in applying our knowledge about healthy relationships and healthy lives to ourselves. I see this in our work environments, educational institutions, and personal relationships. At work it’s about meeting the needs of others. This isn’t a bad thing: it’s why most of us become “helpers” in the first place. But after a while, the work can take its toll on a person. But just because we work in jobs that are emotionally taxing, it doesn’t mean we get a free pass to neglect the needs of others when we see fit. We have to find a balance so that we’re not sacrificing ourselves at work and expecting our loved ones to do the same for us at home.

The people we love and care about want to support us, but they also need to be supported. Yes, sometimes we need to be heard; to share what’s on our hearts and minds. But we also have to step outside our needs and make sure we’re taking care of the needs of those around us. Our lovers, families, friends, co-workers, and communities will be better for it, and so will we.

The Angel Band Project

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

Dear editor

We—along with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs—submitted this letter to the editor of The Daily News following the arrest of a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. We appreciate and applaud the advocacy work Emergency Support Shelter is doing in their community to support victims, their choices, and their rights. 

Dear editor:

Reading about a rape victim arrested on a material witness warrant was alarming. As your coverage noted, arresting the victim “had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.” Further, an October 10 headline, “Family jailed for refusing to testify against dad” indicates this isn’t an isolated case or practice.

We oppose this practice. It has devastating impacts for victims; shifts focus away from perpetrators, and can lessen community safety. Arresting victims deters others who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault from reporting by promoting fear of being arrested if they can’t be available to the prosecutor; whether for lack of resources or fear of offender retaliation. Additionally it further penalizes victims who are homeless or cannot afford a phone or transportation. Punishing victims and creating barriers to reporting violence makes our communities less safe. Holding offenders accountable and responsible for violence is what we need.

Jail is not what justice for victims looks like.

What does a Bat Mitzvah have to do with healthy relationships?

Recently, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of a cherished daughter of dear friends. While reminiscing with my twin daughters about their Bat Mitzvah, it dawned on me that this process actually prepares young people for entering into loving and respectful relationships. To prepare for a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, young women and men have to learn to speak publicly, think critically about ideas, and express their beliefs with each other and trusted adults.

The Bat Mitzvah process centers you in an environment that is bigger than your individual needs and wants. At age 13, you are seen as ethically responsible for your decisions and actions, and you are joining the Jewish community as an adult. Years of Hebrew school culminate in leading a Shabbat service, singing an ancient trope from the Torah (Hebrew Bible), and reflecting on your Torah portion  (Dvar) and connecting it to contemporary life. The parents have a role in publicly acknowledging their child’s commitment. It is a moment to share a bit about who you think your child is and what you hope for them. I love this part of the service, and never get tired of hearing all the ways adults love their children.

My daughters had to interpret ancient teachings through their own experiences while adults asked their opinions and offered respect for their thinking. Pretty heady stuff at 13. The process immersed them in a community that amplified their voice and lifted their authority and confidence. And it gave me new ways of talking about respect, supportive love, and what a healthy relationship feels like.

Photo by Valley2City
Photo by Valley2City

Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

It’s National Coming Out Day!

390x420_ComingOutDay-KeithHaringtPerhaps in this age of increasing support for gay rights, marriage equality laws, and the oh-so-popular Ellen, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a need for this day anymore.

But it is needed.

We talk a lot about community and relationships here, on this blog and in the work we do throughout the state. Part of what makes a relationship healthy is integrity, right? If you’re not able to be your full, honest self due to safety concerns or worries about being cast out of your community, what kind of relationship is that? Not much of one, in my book.

Being out actually relates quite intimately to domestic violence. Abusers will often use sexuality and gender identity against their partners and threaten to out them to their families or employers. This is particularly the case for trans women and men: someone who has transitioned may not have told their employers about their past (partly because it’s really none of their business, but also because they may be fired because of it). Additionally, abusers may use their partner’s identity as a way to belittle and humiliate them (“you’re not a ‘real’ woman, no one else would ever want you” or “I know you’ll just leave me for a man”).

When you consider the disproportionately higher rate of unemployment AND higher rates of domestic violence (and all other forms of violence) for trans folks, particularly trans women (and even more particularly, trans women of color), you can see how this would make someone feel trapped in an abusive relationship.

Although the reality is that some people need to remain closeted for their own safety, coming out is still a powerful, vulnerable, and important act. Coming out helps put a human face on issues like  homophobia and transphobia. Coming out helps create a domino effect, allowing more and more people to be an integrated, authentic part of their communities.

My birthday reverie for my girls, and for every girl

birthday-cupcakesMy twin daughters just turned 16. Along with the incredible gratitude and hardly-contained love I feel for my children, I wanted to reflect on being a parent in this particular moment in time.

  1. I remember having dreamy day-dreams imagining my twin daughters as sixteen-year-olds.
  2. I wondered what kind of parent I would become. Do I have the freedom to make mistakes?
  3. I want to fearlessly talk with them about sex, life, death, relationships and their place in the world—no matter how anxious it makes me.
  4. I ask myself, will my children actually talk to me or ignore me?
  5. I worry about all that could happen to them and they show me their enduring resilience every day.
  6. I look around and try to understand the world they live in.
  7. I stand back and observe their friendships—what are they saying to each other?
  8. I see who they choose to hang out with. I embrace these new voices of authority and look for openings of influence.
  9. I watch them try to figure out who they are while bathed in pop culture, hoping I resonate down deep.
  10. I expect them to be kind to the awkward kid at school.
  11. I hope they have the right information to share with a friend who’s in trouble.
  12. I quake at the thought of their first relationship—let it be caring, fun, and nurturing.
  13. I yearn for teachers that ignite their curiosity and respect their thinking.
  14. I optimistically expect that all the adults around them will demonstrate loving and equitable relationships.
  15. I imagine them standing up for their friends and joining with strangers to build their community.
  16. I long to raise brave, lion-hearted, compassionate, jubilant, genuine young women who can take care of themselves, will experience sustenance in their work, and express love for themselves and those they hold dear.

Faith in humanity: restored

I don’t know about you, but the past couple of weeks have put me through the wringer. Bad news and disappointments just keep coming. ENOUGH, I say. I saw this set of pictures posted on a friend’s Facebook wall, and though it’s not the kind of thing I often click on, I did. And it did indeed, even if only momentarily, “restore my faith in humanity.” However silly it may seem, I needed that random collection of photos to remind me that there is still a lot of good in the world and there are good people out there working to make things better.

team-kateCase in point: last weekend WSCADV hosted our second annual Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. It’s always a good time. Now, I know fun is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when people gather together for a cause as, well, depressing, as domestic violence. (Hey, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking). However, FUN is exactly what we were having. The baseball fans who just wanted to experience running through Safeco Field, but maybe learned a little about healthy relationships along the way, had fun. The teams who turned out because they survived a personal tragedy involving domestic violence had smiles on their faces and brought joy to the event. More than a thousand people came together that summer evening to share time, space, stories, and hope. My coworker’s partner came begrudgingly , but left with a completely new perspective. He said that he thought he understood everything he needed to know about domestic violence, but seeing the huge crowd and so many everyday people who have been personally impacted by domestic violence was a light bulb moment for him.

You know what I saw in the faces of runners, spectators, and volunteers? Hope. I saw the incredible potential we have when we come together to create peaceful, loving communities. We’ve still got plenty of work to do, (which is painfully apparent as I write this at my desk). But it’s events like these that refuel us.

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