Activism Roundup

How to take action this week

Farmworkers and advocates in Whatcom County are mourning and organizing after the tragic death of 28-year-old Honesto Silva Ibarra, a worker on a blueberry farm outside Sumas, WA. Seventy workers hired through the “guest worker” (H2A visa) program were fired for “insubordination” when they stopped work for one day to push for safer working conditions. Many of the fired workers are Mexican nationals who are now stranded with no jobs, no work visas, and no way to get back home.

Here is how you can help the workers in Sumas fight for justice, and why this matters to anti-violence advocates everywhere:

  • Migrant workers are vulnerable to abusive labor practices in the same ways that immigrant survivors are vulnerable to abusive partners. Employers hold immense power over workers’ livelihood and legal status. That makes it difficult and often risky to complain about poor working conditions, or report abuse and harassment on the job.
  • When immigrants are marginalized and threatened, our whole community is endangered. The threat of detention and deportation keeps victims from turning to law enforcement for help, and abusive partners commonly use that fear to further isolate and control victims. When victims are afraid to turn to law enforcement and community resources, all of our safety is at risk.
  • Workers’ rights = immigrant rights = women’s rights = human rights. We cannot have safety and justice for survivors without justice and safety for migrant workers.

Take action:

  1. Support the workers fired from Sarbanand Farms
  • Contact Munger Farms (Sarbanand is a subsidiary of Munger)
  • Call 661-725-6458 (then dial 9, then dial 686)
  • Talking Points:
    • Renew all workers’ visas.
    • Immediately pay wages owed to displaced workers. Sending paychecks to Mexico is NOT adequate.
    • Pay airfare for any workers wishing to return to Mexico.
  1. Attend a Dignity Vigil to stand in solidarity with undocumented and immigrant workers and families organized by Keep Bellingham Families Working.

Monday, August 14th

11:30 AM – 1:30 PM at Bellingham City Hall

and

5:00 – 6:00 PM at the Bellingham downtown bus station

  1. Donate to Community to Community Development and Familias Unidas por la Justicia. These organizations are doing grassroots work on the ground every day to organize for farmworker rights, and support survivors of domestic violence.
  1. Follow Community to Community Development and Familias Unidas por la Justicia on Facebook to keep up-to-date on what immediate support is needed.
  1. Get more information on how to support immigrant survivors.

Good talk

My kids are at that age where they are starting to have playdates, so I’ve had to figure out how to ask about guns in their friends’ homes. Ohmahgah, it’s so hard! I mean, I’m socially awkward anyway. And an avid conflict avoider. (I’ve had decades of practice with my very conservative family). So when it came time to ask, I was terrified. But I had to do it. My experiences growing up in a house with guns and the constant news stories about kids being killed gave me the courage I needed.

This is how I do it. “So, do you keep your guns unloaded and locked away?”

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

Yikes! It’s hard every time. Responses so far have ranged from a calm and understanding “Nope, we don’t have any.” to “What!? We don’t have guns in our house. Do YOU?” to “Actually, we have one that is dismantled and unloaded and locked in a storage unit that the kids don’t have access to.” So far I haven’t gotten a response that would make me feel like my kids couldn’t play at a friend’s house, but I’m sure that will happen at some point, because I’m going to keep asking. My kids’ lives depend on it.

So now I’m inspired by my new found bravery to dive into other tough conversations, like talking about relationships with my kids. Not just the birds and the bees, but age-appropriate ways to talk about love, consent, and bullying.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month, I’ve decided to have at least one conversation a week with my kids about this stuff. Here are some things I will be asking them:

“What does it mean to be a good friend?”

“What do you do when you don’t like what a friend is doing?”

“Who do you play with on the playground? What do you like about playing with them?”

Hopefully it will become a habit that lasts. One more thing I’m going to do—talk to my parent-friends about talking to their kids. Hmmm, that sounds hard too. Maybe I’ll just show them this blog post and say, hey—wanna join me? That’s doable. Because the more the merrier when it comes to helping kids learn how to be respectful, kind, and loving adults.

From there to here

here-there-signpostI started doing domestic violence advocacy in 1994. It is 2015. Wow. Just wow. But this post isn’t about feeling old. Instead it’s about how amazing this work to end violence and support survivors is. One of the things I love most is how I am continually changing my mind about things. Here are just a few examples of where I was (and maybe you were too) 21 years ago and where we are today.

From beds to bedrooms

We used to focus on how many beds we had, stuffing survivors and their children into all the nooks and crannies of our shelters with that elusive goal of “safety” looming over our heads. Now we’ve realized that dignity is actually what we are looking for. We are working to create empowering spaces where survivors get their needs for self-determination, security, and connection met. And we’re doing things to support families, like creating quiet spaces where kids can do their homework. Keeping families together and supporting survivors to get what they need is what matters most, not how many beds our overflowing shelter can hold.

From safety to safer

I have learned so much from Jill Davies’ and Eleanor Lyon’s new book. They argue that while safety from an abuser is critical, to be truly safe “requires more than the absence of physical violence. A victim who is no longer hit by a partner but has no way to feed her children or pay the rent is not safe.…Victims are safe when there is no violence, their basic human needs are met, and they experience social and emotional well-being.” So that means helping survivors experience less violence, more economic stability, and greater well-being is the true heart of meaningful advocacy.

From intervention to prevention

OK, let’s be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about prevention in 1994. In fact it hadn’t yet occurred to me that domestic violence was preventable. But guess what, it is! As critical as it is to help people in need, we also need to spend energy on stopping the violence before it starts. And this is an exciting time as we are figuring out how to actually do that. We’re creating a whole new language to help us get to a world where beloved community and better relationships exist—it is all so exciting! I can’t wait to see how many more things I change my mind about in the future.

#WhyImVoting

o-WHY-IM-VOTING-900

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!

Equal Pay Day is no holiday

Design by Andria Waclawski
Design by Andria Waclawski

Last week we marked Equal Pay Day. It is the day that represents how many days into 2014 women must work to make as much as their male counterparts did in 2013. And as this day came around again, I just had to say: sigh.

In 1963 we passed the Equal Pay Act. Then, women were making on average 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. I’m here to tell you that we have made progress. Today a woman earns on average 77 cents for every man-dollar. So it’s taken over 50 years to close the gap by $0.18! Wow. We MUST do better.

This year on Equal Pay Day, President Obama signed two executive orders to help expose wage discrimination. That’s a step in the right direction. But the very next day the Senate failed (again) to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, with some claiming unequal pay is a myth and political tactic. It’s true that lower wage jobs often employ more women, and women’s pay—more often than men’s—is affected by taking leave for the care of children. This accounts for some of the gap, but not all of it. Even in occupations where women are the majority of employees, the men in those occupations Make. More. Money. What?! Gender discrimination happens on the job, whether it’s about wages or hiring and promotion practices.

I’d like to live in a world where women can make decisions about their relationships without regard to the financial impact of those decisions. A world where no one must choose to stay in a relationship they would otherwise end because staying means having a warm place to sleep and food for their kids. When we ensure that women have equal pay, are treated fairly at their jobs, and have opportunities to compete for higher paying jobs we create safe and peaceful communities.

Improving effectiveness of domestic violence protection orders and safety for victims

This afternoon, Governor Inslee will sign ESHB1840 (concerning firearms laws for persons subject to no-contact orders, protection orders, and restraining orders) into law. We issued the following press release after it unanimously passed the Washington State Legislature.

Last night the Senate approved ESHB1840, a bill that prohibits domestic violence abusers with protection orders against them from possessing a firearm, with a   49-0 vote. The bill unanimously passed the House last month, sending a strong message from the legislature that they support victim safety and recognize the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers legally deemed too dangerous to have them.

Abusers’ access to firearms increases the lethality of domestic violence and makes it more dangerous for friends, family, and law enforcement to safely intervene. “Domestic violence is about control; the abuser controlling the victim’s life,” said Grace Huang, Public Policy Coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “For some victims, getting a protection order is the first step in taking their lives back. And that’s threatening to the abuser and where we often see guns come into play.”

A national research study found that a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed when there’s a gun around. In Washington State, guns are by far the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides—more than all other weapons combined.

“When a victim gets a protection order and is separating from an abuser, the violence can escalate. Removing firearms at this point is critical for victim safety,” said Huang. “We thank the legislature for furthering the protections of domestic violence victims in this important way.”

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.

Where are you?

I have to admit I want to know where my daughter is all the time, and know that she is safe. She seems so young, beautiful, and vulnerable to me as she seeks greater independence and freedom in her day-to-day life. I am haunted by images of girls her age who have disappeared, never to return to their families, because a man who was a predator took a fancy to them or saw an opportunity.

footprintsappscreenshotSo I decided to get an app on her phone, and mine, that would allow me to see where she was. While installing the app, I thought, why not add my partner? She drives to and from Oregon on a weekly basis, and then I would be able to see where she was and when she’d be home. Done in a flash! Now we all get notices about each other’s whereabouts.

The next day, my partner noted that she knew what time I dropped our daughter off at school, thanks to this app. I found myself checking her location twice during the day. My daughter had lost her phone privileges this week, so ironically, we aren’t monitoring her, which was our intention, but each other. The following day, when my partner texted “I see you’re home!” I honestly was just a bit taken aback. What have I done? The element of surprise in day-to-day life seems to be over! Between this and the banking technology that provides instantaneous info on purchases, it’s a snap to get a picture of my day.

I realized how easy it is to feel obligated to provide this information on one hand, and to abuse access to it on the other. My partner isn’t controlling. But what if she were? It would be extremely difficult for me to see a friend or go to a social service agency without knowing I might be observed, interrupted, or questioned. I could give up my phone or get rid of this application, but if I were in an abusive/controlling relationship, doing either of those things would likely increase conflict and danger.

So what role does privacy play in healthy relationships? I love making a decision about how to spend my time without checking it out with anyone, not because I have anything to hide, but because I am an adult and I enjoy feeling in charge of myself. I also love trusting my partner, and being trusted. Feeling like an independent, decision-making grown-up is essential to my comfort in my relationship. Actively choosing closeness with the knowledge I could also choose distance or privacy keeps things interesting, and keeps me in touch with my choices, limits, and integrity.

And that brings me back to my daughter. It’s not her I distrust, it is other people; I am not sure she is ready to negotiate the big world on her own yet. On the other hand, I don’t want her to learn that closely monitoring a person’s movements is a normal aspect of an intimate relationship; or that she does not have the right to move through the world on her own, making decisions, and having that exhilarating feeling of being free and responsible for herself. So what I am going to do with this app? I think I’ll live with it for a while, but I am already looking forward to getting rid of it.

Caring about Obamacare

I’ve had the government shutdown on my mind for the last couple of weeks (like many of you, I’m sure). As I’m writing this, it looks like there is an agreement in the works, and just in the nick of time because it was about to get even uglier for women. But I don’t want to get into that. Let’s think happy thoughts…thoughts of Obamacare.obamacare-logo

What?

Obamacare doesn’t stir warm fuzzy feelings in your heart? It’s actually called the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Better? No? OK, full disclosure; I have mixed feelings about it as well. But something that does warm my heart is to know that many folks who were unable to afford health insurance before will be able to get it now. This will undoubtedly include people who are dealing with abuse in their lives. Access to healthcare for survivors of domestic violence is key to getting and staying healthy, healing from the physical and emotional wounds of abuse, keeping a job and income flowing…I could go on.

It’s part of my job to think about the implementation of Obamacare and how it affects those who are experiencing abuse. Here’s what I know:

  • Washington State, after a rocky opening day, has one of the best working systems for implementing the ACA in the country right now.
  • The ACA gives financial incentives for health care professionals to screen patients for domestic violence and refer them to local supportive services.

This is all really good news for survivors of abuse in Washington. But, there is still a lot we don’t know about the system and how it will (or won’t) work for those dealing with abuse, like:

  • Tax credits are awesome, when you can get them. To get this one you have to file jointly if you are married. That’s going to be a problem for many married survivors.
  • What exactly happens to the information entered into the Health Benefits Exchange, the marketplace for those purchasing private coverage? As an advocate, I know how important it can be to keep information confidential if someone’s abuser is stalking them.
  • How safe is this system for undocumented mothers trying to get healthcare for their children? Can the feds access and use information from this process to track immigration status?
  • Who is teaching medical professionals how to screen for domestic violence? Are they considering a person’s safety when asking these questions (like not asking in front of their partner)?

Sigh. So many questions and only 24 hours in the day. There is still a lot that remains to be seen about how Obamacare will ultimately fare, but I’m optimistic. And overwhelmed. But mostly, optimistic.