No more. Do more.

Living near Seattle is an absolute trial for someone as indifferent to football as I am. Before this past summer, I had never heard of Ray Rice and I didn’t know Baltimore had a football team. But suddenly I know these things. I would not ordinarily consider commenting on football, but knowing absolutely nothing about domestic violence has not stopped sports commentators from weighing in.

Contrary to what you might expect, I am not a fan of player suspensions for the same reason that I am not a big fan of the criminal justice system. Ejecting people from sports or from our communities and throwing them away in prisons doesn’t actually work that well. Ask a bunch of survivors if you don’t believe me.

How about turning these non-consequential consequences on their heads? Rather than throwing people away, how about we try the opposite: pulling them closer?

Instead of suspending players, put them into “suspended animation” that looks something like this:

  1. Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
  2. Have the player sit on the bench at each game during their suspended animation wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m sitting here thinking about why I’m not in the game.”
  3. When the player has a clear idea about what they did wrong, allow them to call their entire team to hear them out. The team’s job, to a man, is to fire up and fine tune their bullsh*t meter and judge what the player has to say.
  4. No matter how long it takes, the team keeps the player on the team (and among them) and only when the entire team’s meters fall into the “I believe you really get the wrong you did” zone, can the player be reinstated.

I floated this idea to some people who responded, essentially: “Yeah, right. Teams will just close ranks, slap a lot of backs, and let the dude off because it could be them tomorrow. Even if all the bullsh*t meters are smoking from being so far into the crap zone, the guy will be playing the very next week.”

I was disappointed by how little faith my friends had in men’s ability to step up. That is, men’s willingness to hold one another accountable with real integrity. The bar for men’s involvement in ending  violence against women has been so low for so long that we’ve practically given up on the idea.

But that has got to change. I felt vindicated by the ads that the NFL aired on Thanksgiving. They actually showed some men (who I assume are well-known football players) in full screen looking not just uncomfortable, but positively vulnerable.

So okay then. Men have raised the bar a half inch. After the football season’s over, will more men step up and help build and maintain momentum here?

Men, thanks for supporting No More. Now do more.

To see, to speak, to persuade

Last week I was sitting through the jury selection process for a domestic violence related-crime. Day one: I was questioned alone about where I worked (spoiler alert—the Washington State juryCoalition Against Domestic Violence). Do I know prosecutors? Do we work together? Yes, and yet I am not dismissed. Day two: I realize I am intentionally being kept on by both the prosecution and defense. They ask me questions and see how others react. My role is either educator or provocateur. At first I’m annoyed, but then I realize I’m in a focus group I could never assemble. I get to listen to a group of random adults talking about domestic violence.

I watched how easily the entire group was swayed by the person leading the conversation. The defense attorney told a story about his young children fighting. It is patronizing to suggest that kids’ fights are comparable to one adult using coercion against another to control them. Yet nods of understanding and a feeling of concurrence with the defense swept the room. Throughout the day the defense attorney kept referring back to this story. Each time enforcing the idea of domestic violence as a simple fight rather than the complex reality of how fear and power dynamics affect a person’s options, autonomy, and safety.

When it was the prosecutor’s turn, he asked why someone who experienced abuse might stay in a relationship. The responses felt like a psycho-analysis of the alleged victim’s behavior. She is co-dependent, in a love/hate relationship, grew up in an abusive home. I spoke up, suggesting that she may have tried to leave and was not able to get help, or her partner threatened to hurt her or her family unless she returned home, or she did not have enough cash immediately available for an apartment. The room is with me now, heads nodding.

In the end, no surprise, I am not picked to be on the jury. I think everyone there would agree that violence against your intimate partner is unacceptable—but everyone had a different understanding of what that actually looked like and who should be held accountable. It was too easy to judge the victim’s behavior and too hard to understand all the ways an abuser’s tactics can impact their partner.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

These puppets explain to the Supreme Court why your boss shouldn’t make decisions about your birth control.

There’s been a strong negative reaction to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) recommendation to focus on the criminal justice response to rape on college campuses. Wagatwe Wanjuki does a great job of explaining why this approach is so problematic.

In a recent interview, the director of Girl Rising talks about the story and strategy behind this amazing film.

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.

My teenagers get ACTIVE

MLKpinI am not talking about exercise or turning off the electronics—both good ideas—but about social justice work. Last week, the speaker at our Shabbat service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alexes Harris, grabbed my daughters’ attention. Instead of leaving them feeling like the world’s problems are too big to fix, she inspired them to be actors in their own lives and community. WOW! Anyone who gets my kids as excited about justice as the latest beauty blog is someone I need to pay attention to.

One of my daughters said, “This speech was not just about Dr. King’s legacy, but what I can do today, with attainable ideas, small things that are acts of social justice.” Yes, she really said that. Here is a shortened version of the speech that got her there:

I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, professor and social activist…. I am a person, who was raised in a community that stressed the importance of caring for my family members, my neighbors, and people around me. I am a sociologist who conducts research on social stratification and inequality in the United States…. I was asked to speak about Dr. King’s legacy, what this might mean to us today and how we can become more engaged in social justice work. I would like for you first to picture Dr. King in your mind. Visualize his picture in a frame on the wall in your living room. Then picture a portrait of yourself on the same wall right next to his picture. And envision a square frame around your face. There are four sides. Think of each theme I raise as one part of this frame. With each part of my discussion, I hope I help you think of your role as a social activist—your part to play in Dr. King’s legacy. How do you fit in as an individual in the broader discourse about Dr. King and social justice? My aim is for you not to be passive in the celebration of Dr. King’s life, but someone who celebrates his legacy by taking action all year round.

FRAME #1

For the first part of our frame, the right part, I will begin by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy…. Dr. King spoke and wrote about poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the United States, he fought for the right for all people to vote, he eloquently spoke about the insidious effects of poverty, state oppression, and violence. He spoke out against the Vietnam War; he fought for workers’ rights, equality in living wages, and the right for unions to organize.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.… I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech).”

He was arrested over 20 times, had his home bombed, and gave over 2,500 speeches. His legacy is that everyone who says his name respects him and that we have the right to vote and we have a social justice vision to strive for: three meals a day, education, culture, dignity, equality, and freedom. For everyone regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, pay grade, nationality, immigration status, and age. This is Dr. King’s legacy and this is social justice.

FRAME #2

The second piece to our frame, the top part, is the connection to current issues today—pressing down on us…. Many people note that we have a president of African American decent and suggest that we are “post-racial” that racism is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that Dr. King spoke about we still struggle with today…. We see in every arena from education, to poverty, to homelessness, to incarceration rates, to HIV transmission, people of color and poor people continue to suffer in this country. Whether it is from direct racism, color blind racism, or inattention to or lack of caring and love, we have several problems in our society that need attention.

We need to continue to make changes in our criminal justice system—we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disproportionality. We need to tackle the criminalization of our mentally ill, of our poor, and of our children. Washington’s incarceration rate has roughly tripled since the 1970s, and is estimated to increase by 23% in 2019. Partly due to the war on drugs we have over 16 million people with felonies (7.5% of the U.S. population), and over 2 million living behind bars. Nationally, 1 in 3 adult Black men have a felony conviction. In Washington, studies show that among felony drug offenders, Black defendants have higher odds of being sentenced to prison than similarly situated White defendants. Criminal conviction leads to limited housing and employment opportunities, legal debt, political disenfranchisement, and a host of problems experienced by families and communities….

FRAME #3

Third side of our frame, the left side, what is social justice and what does it mean to you personally?… Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” What does your conscience tell you? I can’t write this frame for you. But, in Dr. King’s words we can find encouragement. Dr. King outlined common goals for social justice—beliefs that are common across all faiths and societies. Speaking on poverty and inequality he said, “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny … We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

Dr. King told us that we must care about each other, we must care about those less fortunate than ourselves…. This is our common bond across faiths, cultures, and age groups. I encourage you to reflect on what social justice means to you personally. What does your faith, your education, and your experiences tell you are unjust and that you must change? Even if we are afraid, or feel overwhelmed? What can we do to make a difference?

FRAME #4

Finally, for the fourth part of our frame, the bottom, I ask you how can you become engaged and take action?… I suggest that we start within our families and among our loved ones. How can we make their lives better?… We can talk about our values, what our Rabbis, Priests, Imams, and teachers say. We can reinforce to our children that what they read in the Torah or learn in school is not just about words or ideas but about action and interaction. It only means so much if we don’t live by example.

We can make sure our children look out for other children who may be different from them, who may be new to their school, or may not have as many friends…. We can acknowledge our own mistakes, that we are not perfect, we have limitations, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.

We can call others into question when they make racist or homophobic statements in our presence. We can simply say, “Your words are inappropriate and hurtful.” We need to be mindful, as Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When we are at work we can say that that joke is not funny, in fact it is offensive. We can stand up in little, but immense ways for ourselves and others.

In sum, if you think about our four frames for social justice:

  • To our right, we have Dr. King’s legacy—and Mandela’s—and so many others who have come before us who have given their lives for social justice: freedom, equality, and improved quality of life for others;
  • Above our heads we have—pressing on us—contemporary social problems: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, inequality in terms of living wages, health care, access to quality education. Problems that can weigh us down but we are reminded that our fear, our sadness, is our fuel to push on…. Let whatever you are afraid of be your courage to fight for change. Only you can figure this out;
  • To our left we have our personal definition of social justice—issues we personally care about and want to make a difference in; and
  • Below us, guiding us, we have our action steps: every day actions, short-term and long-term actions we can take to make bigger strides towards social justice.

You have your personal frame for social justice. Now, you can no longer wake up and ignore social justice. You can no longer only remember Dr. King on his birthday or our national holiday. You have a personal reminder of his legacy—a personal frame—that should remind you of the work you have ahead of you…. I leave you with Dr. King’s words, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Want to hear more from Dr. Harris? She has a book coming out, A Pound of Flesh:  Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for the Poor where she talks about how the system extracts money from criminals as further punishment, even after they completed their incarceration, and how this stops them from ever returning to society as contributing individuals.

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!

True grit meets beloved community

I’m just back from our smashingly successful annual conference, entitled Beloved Community. We had a great vibe—lots of joyful tears and laughter—new ideas and thoughtful conversation. 2012 might have been our best conference so far.

Buried in the stack of junk mail when I walk in my front door is a thank you card from my neighbor for her birthday present, and a long thin envelope. From the minister of my church. Explaining the church’s position on, and the current status of, our music director who is under investigation for possession of child pornography.

Nothing like going from all the warm fuzzies of beloved community to the true grit—where the rubber meets the bumpy beloved boulevard.

Me personally? I have men in my life who have perpetrated horrid acts. And I struggled for years to figure out where to put John (my brother-in-law/murderer) and Joel (my long-time-and-still-good-friend/pedophile) in my world view. And, more importantly, in my heart. I bet anything that you too have people you care about who have done terrible things.

Let’s face it. We do not have a sophisticated way of dealing with this. And I am NOT talking about a criminal justice response—or rather ONLY a criminal justice response.

Beloved community calls upon us all to respond in a much broader assortment of ways—to every street harasser, rapist, and batterer—whether the criminal justice system ever touches them or not. To be kind, assertive, and persistent. To see it through until the victim is made as whole as possible, and only then attending to the perpetrator and seeing that he is made as whole as possible too.

Beloved community can be messy and demanding. So I guess we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.