Back to school!

School has finally started here in Seattle!

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You might have heard that Seattle schools didn’t start on time because the district and the teachers disagreed on several contract issues. So the teachers went on strike for our kids and our schools. As the mother of a first grader I’ve been scrambling to secure child care, but I support our teachers.

The thing that made this strike a bit unusual (as far as teacher strikes go) was the huge amount of support teachers received from parents and communities. I’m not talking about a handful of parents bringing brownies to the picket lines. I’m talking about district-wide grassroots organizing. Parents, students, and community members came out strong—they walked picket lines with teachers, held their own march, and kept teachers supplied with food, water, and that liquid sunshine known as coffee.

Neighborhoods with lots of support trekked across the city to places with less and provided food and supplies there. Neighborhood childcare collectives popped up. An organization started by a couple of parents called Soup for Teachers exploded on Facebook as the place for parents to not only organize lunches for teachers, but also a place for accurate and timely updates on how the negotiations were progressing.

So kids, let’s review what we’ve learned from this strike about community engagement:

  • It’s possible for A LOT of people to come together and rally around an issue that is pressing and important.
  • Community members who are not directly affected will get involved when they understand how others in their community are impacted.
  • When community members show up and do what they can, people get the support they need.

Awesome! Guess what? Violence in our homes is also a pressing and important issue affecting all of us. How can we take what we’ve learned from the strike and apply it to supporting survivors, holding abusers accountable, and promoting healing for all?

I knew this day would come

My 15-year-old daughters reached another milestone yesterday. Experiencing street harassment at the bus stop is not something I wanted to commemorate. I knew this day would come, and I dreaded it. If someone we knew demeaned their spirit or sense of safety, he or she would not be welcome in our lives. But how do you take on the commonplace attitude that men are entitled to comment on women’s looks at a bus stop or during a presidential speech? One of the men said, among other salacious remarks, “oh, if I was 25 years younger, I would have you.” I hate that ownership language. And besides, why would he assume that my daughter would have him? It is one thing to have a theoretical discussion about the objectification of women, but it is quite another to have your kids wondering if it is more risky to get on the bus or to walk back home.

My twin daughters, raised in the same environment, reacted very differently to the harassment. One said “you can’t show them that you are scared.” The other was more unnerved. Another woman at the bus stop yelled out “What did you say?” which made my daughters feel less alone. (Bless you bus stop ally.) teen-girls

I didn’t want to end the conversation with my daughters feeling powerless. We talked about noticing people around you, hanging back if you are uncomfortable, going into a store—really trusting your gut if something feels off. Don’t be afraid to yell out that someone is bothering you. I also had to tell them that this will probably happen again, and it is not about what you are wearing, how old you are, or what you look like, it is about being seen as less than a whole person.

At home, I talk about building a beloved community with each other, among our friends and neighbors, and in my work. How do we build a beloved community that is a big enough tent that this wouldn’t happen again? Emily May, co-founder of Hollaback, thinks we can end street harassment by  documenting each incident and sharing it with the world to shame harassers and build public understanding about the harms of it.

One of my daughters asked for a ride today instead of taking the bus. I gave her a ride, but I also told her that I don’t want her to be afraid to take the bus. I still have some work to do to help repair her sense of self.

Other people’s business

Two of Ariel Castro’s neighbors are being held up as heroes for helping Amanda Berry escape his house after being imprisoned for over a decade. Not to take anything away from these guys, but seriously. When a woman is screaming for help and trying to break down a locked door, it doesn’t take a hero to recognize that the situation calls for action.

What’s heroic is taking action when the situation is not so clear. We’ve now heard that over those years other neighbors saw disturbing signs and called police. So why didn’t those attempts lead to their rescue?

I know from my work studying domestic violence murders that a call to the police is often not the solution. Many of the police calls prior to these murders played out just like what Ariel Castro’s neighbors described. Cops show up to a scene, knock on doors, ask questions. They don’t find evidence of a crime. Maybe they suspect something more is going on, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they write a report, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they follow up later, and maybe they don’t.

There is plenty of room to criticize the police response. But we cannot let that be the whole story. It is naive to think law enforcement can protect us from every evil, and it is dangerous to suggest they should try. Do you really want armed agents of the government empowered to break down your front door because the neighbor saw something suspicious?

The answer is much more complicated, and requires more from all of us than a 911 call. When you see a woman pounding on a window looking like she needs help—go ahead and call. But don’t stop there. Better yet, don’t start there.

Domestic violence murders have something else in common with the horror that unfolded on Seymour Avenue: deep roots. Ariel Castro had a long history of brutality against women and was apparently a victim of sexual abuse himself. His violence had scarred generations even before the kidnappings. Charles Ramsey got it right, talking about his decision to run toward the screaming and the locked door: “It’s just that you got to put that—being a coward, and ‘I don’t want to get in nobody’s business’—you got to put that away for a minute.” Getting to the roots of this kind of violence means putting those attitudes away for good.