Will you run?

I have a confession. I love snark so so much. (This feminist killjoy needs something to fuel my rage and humor at the same time!) And so when I heard about the new snarky website that asks, “Bruh, can you not?” I just had to check it out. Underneath the snark was some important wisdom and social commentary: Perhaps well-meaning white bros should support diverse candidates that share their views rather than running for office themselves.

At our annual conference last year, one of our amazing speakers mentioned that on average a woman has to be asked to run for office seven times before she actually will. Not so for men.

There is a lot to unpack here, but ultimately the thing that matters to me is that if we want to see change―at local, state, and national levels―we need to do things differently. And maybe the change is having more women, and people of color, run for office and win.

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After the Anita Hill catastrophe, there were a record number of women elected to Congress in 1992. We knew that in order to challenge sexual harassment and rampant sexism, women needed to be at the table.

We still need that. We need a diverse group of people weighing in on sentences for convicted rapists. We need a diverse group of people passing laws that enable welfare recipients to get their support without wasteful, costly, and inhumane drug testing. We need a diverse group of people fighting for reproductive freedom. And we need a diverse group of people challenging institutional racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

So, I am asking. Maybe this is the first time you’ve been asked or maybe (even better!) it’s the seventh. Will you run? Will you ask someone else to? We need you, we really do.

Culture of violence

NFL headquarters
NFL headquarters

Two years before Ray Rice pushed the league’s “domestic violence problem” into the headlines, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a Congressional committee: “We are changing the culture of our game for the better.” He wasn’t talking about the culture in which officials brushed off “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of domestic violence assaults by its players—that would come later. Back then, the league was under fire after decades of dismissing the evidence that one in three players suffer long-term cognitive impairment caused by on-the-job brain injuries.

The NFL’s tolerance for its players’ brutality off the field goes hand in hand with indifference to the damage they suffer from violence on the field. Both have been blamed on football’s “culture of violence.”  But ultimately these are business decisions, driven by capitalism more than culture. The spectacle of hyper-masculinity is just another product, manufactured and marketed at enormous profit.

For many players, their assaults against women were covered up by high school and college teams on the route to being excused by the NFL. From Washington to Florida State, university officials are just as invested as NFL executives in protecting their players from accountability, and for the same reason: so as not to hamper the economic engine driving universities, towns, and a professional sports industry.

What is the cost to athletes themselves of being the fuel in that engine? Attention to the few superstars who land multi-million dollar contracts overshadows the far more common story: disproportionately Black and Brown young men, who never see any share of the profit that is extracted from their talent and their bodies. Any serious reform effort has to pay attention to the exploitation of those young men by the same system that colludes with their violence.

Domonique Foxworth, a former cornerback who fought for more safety protections as head of the NFL players’ union, reflects on the physical and economic price college athletes pay to play, the trap of being celebrated for embodying a certain masculine ideal loaded with racist baggage, and how the stage is set for relationships with women infused with resentment and contempt.

Whether motivated by brand rehabilitation or sudden moral clarity, the NFL has hired a team of consultants to advise them on cleaning up their atrocious response to domestic violence. We have yet to see whether advocates can leverage the moment into an opportunity for change deep enough to matter.

Catalyst for change: Shirley Chisholm

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” – Shirley Chisholm

471604-01-main-270x350The late, great Shirley Chisholm was recently commemorated with a stamp, so I decided an in-person trip to the Post Office was in order. As I placed my order at the counter, the woman next to me asked who this Shirley Chisholm was. I’m always surprised at how few people seem to know about her. So I’m taking the opportunity to spread the word here.

It is often hard to wholeheartedly admire a politician, but Chisholm is one that I do. When I watched the 2005 documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, I was captivated by her dynamic presence and unwavering vision. As I learned more about her, I couldn’t help but wish that we had more politicians and leaders like her.

She represented New York’s 12th Congressional district for fourteen years, prioritizing issues of poverty, education, and women’s health and reproductive freedom. She deliberately hired women for all of her office positions, half of whom were black women. She was whip smart and had the ability to incisively cut to the heart of the matter; at the same time, she was also known for being warm and kind, with a great sense of humor.

Among her many notable accomplishments:

  • She served on the Education and Labor Committee. She worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to minimum wage, worked to revoke the Internal Security Act of 1950 (a McCarthy-era holdover), and pushed for increased spending on social services, education, and health care. She authored the Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1972, which would have implemented a national childcare system; it passed the House and the Senate but was unfortunately vetoed by Nixon.
  • She taught politics and women’s studies at Mount Holyoke and Spelman, after her retirement from Congress.

In her own words, “I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

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

Idle? Know More!

I’m going to call her Jennifer.

And I’m going to say she was raped last Thursday. Somewhere along the main road that divides Olympia and Lacey. Cops from the two towns arrive and set to arguing about who has to investigate. Then, an FBI agent arrives. More arguing. All three approach Jennifer. They tell her “We need to know the race of the assailant. This is important because, depending on your answer, it’s possible that none of us can help you.”The-Round-House_510x317

Improbable you say? Not so.

Though there is no Jennifer and this rape did not happen in my home town, something similar to this happens every day in Indian Country. This injustice is a national shame.

Dear reader—if you are a citizen of the United States, then your government is standing as an idle and mute witness to the abuse of Native women. We should no longer tolerate “jurisdiction” as the cause and the excuse.

It makes no sense that when a Native woman is raped or brutalized on tribal land by a non-Native man, tribal courts are forbidden from prosecuting him, and federal prosecutors don’t. Fact.

The release of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House could not have been more perfectly timed to wake us up to the profound horror and tragedy of this. This 2012 National Book Award winning novel sang to my heart. Maria Russo writes in her review in the New York Times “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel.”

Read it. But don’t weep!

Be inspired by Idle No More. Check out how this First Nations born movement out of Canada is spilling over into the U.S. and gathering momentum every day. Organized around sovereignty, the movement embraces environmental and social issues. This is very exciting.

And be inspired to act. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to fix the jurisdiction issues on tribal lands. Last year Congress failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) specifically because of the protections for Native women included in the bill! VAWA was just reintroduced this year in the Senate. Contact your representatives in Congress, and express your support for Native women in VAWA. Ask them where they stand. If they ignore you, ask them again. If they issue statements that make no sense to you, ask more questions. This is one time and place where those of us who are non-Native can be great allies to Native women. Join and BE idle no more!

The Man of the House

We are nowhere.”

He’s right. John Boehner was talking about the fiscal cliff, but he could very well have been speaking in general. Because Congress is nowhere.

Nowhere on Violence Against Women in Indian Country.

Nowhere on disability rights.

Nowhere on leadership that looks like you and me.

But “nowhere?” Really?

With so much at stake, that’s the best we can do?

Native American women cannot wait for Congress to get somewhere.

“Eighty-eight percent of the abuse against Native women is committed by non-Native men—but we, as citizens of the United States, permit this abuse to go unchecked because we do not allow police officers, prosecutors and judges on tribal lands to perform their legal obligations regarding these non-Native men. In other words we, citizens of the United States, have sanctioned ‘open season against Native American women by non-Native men.’ This is simply unconscionable. Each of us has an opportunity, now, to right this wrong.”

People with disabilities and their advocates cannot wait for Congress to get somewhere. Yet we are forced to endure the mind-numbing word catastrophe that are press releases from senate leadership as they try to explain why they did NOT ratify the UN Disability Treaty. ‘Blah blah blah – the American family – blah blah blah – sovereignty – blah – cliff – blah – going over – blah – be very afraid.’ For the love of God – say something. At least ‘I have no experience of or interest in human suffering’ would be honest.

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And finally. WHY are we nowhere on the leadership in the House?

Did Congress not learn anything from their insanity, inanity, and insulting ignorance about contraception and rape. IT PISSED US OFF! Representative Boehner – you can’t even find one measly woman to put into leadership??!?   Not even one man of color? Are you quite certain?

I don’t know about you, but I need OUT of nowhere. And  I’m on fire about it.

I’m looking for young women interested in running for public office. Women who want to act to solve problems.

And I’m making it a daily habit to coach, cajole and yes shame if necessary as many of my elected officials as I can. My message? “I need you to reach across whatever aisle you are sitting near to get some serious work done. To do otherwise is unethical and unforgivable.”

They need to hear from each and every one of us. Daily as necessary until they dig themselves out of nowhere. If we don’t have leaders who can do that, it’s just a damned shame. All the way around.

No safety without sovereignty

The debate in Congress is still raging over whether to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). One of the major points of conflict between the champions of the bipartisan Senate bill and the deeply flawed Republican House version is over the power Indian tribes have to investigate and prosecute domestic violence crimes.

The Senate bill would restore Indian tribes’ ability to prosecute non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or domestic partners. Dating back to the much-criticized 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe, only the federal government can prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians on tribal land. The decision was a disaster for tribes’ ability to protect their communities.

[youtube http://youtu.be/yIV7-XASQy8?t=22s]

The vast majority of violent crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indian men, and current law leaves a gaping hole in accountability for abusers and protections for victims. Tribes do not have the authority to hold these offenders accountable, and the federal government does not have the resources or the will. Federal authorities decline to prosecute 46% of assaults and 67% of sexual abuse cases in Indian country.

Violence against Native women is at epidemic levels, and has been for many years. A new CDC study shows that 46% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. In Washington State, Native women are killed by husbands and boyfriends at nearly three times the rate of white women.

Safety for victims of violence and sovereignty for tribes go hand in hand. Some VAWA opponents are using misinformation and scare tactics to try to minimize the extent of violence against Native women and deny tribes the tools to confront it. Tuesday, June 26th will be a National Day of Action to support the real VAWA and its long overdue protections for Native women.  Make sure your representatives know where you stand.

Party time!!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this winter. I find myself being inordinately happy – laughing out loud. Sometimes at myself and (full disclosure) sometimes at you too. We can be a grim lot in our movement, wouldn’t you say? Seems like it’s against the rules to celebrate.

Case in point. We just had a great victory. When the brand new Congressional leadership started the session with a bill to try to force us back into a little box by redefining rape, we raised the roof with an outcry.  Shaming them until they backed down.

Take one minute – that’s 60 full seconds – to feel your power.

That, my dears, is the taste of liberation!

Thank you Nick Baumann and Linda Feldmann for your outstanding reporting and follow up on this. Thank you Jon Stewart for your brilliant satire.

Thanks to everyone who

  • posted a link to info on Facebook or email,
  • talked about it with friends,
  • contacted one of the co-signers on the bill.

That was fun!

Someone. Turn up the music! It’s party time!!