An advocate’s playlist

David Bowie died last week. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I started thinking of all the people who have listened to Bowie with me during hard times and good times. I know his legacy is unfortunately more complicated than I’d like, but today I’m focusing on how his music made me feel. David Bowie has been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life and because of that, he’s been a huge part of my domestic violence advocacy work too.

I remember that David Bowie’s music made me and the survivors of abuse I was working with in West Lafayette, Indiana feel good about ourselves―that we should be accepted just as we were and that we could dance while we were at it. I remember being a burnt-out shelter worker in Boulder, Colorado and the album Low was a salve to my soul. And more recently, I remember having an all-out sing-along dance party to Ashes to Ashes after a particularly hard week facing what felt like insurmountable obstacles to getting women the resources they need to be able to leave an abusive partner.

There have been other artists on my playlist too. Artists who make my soul come alive with funk, make my hips move with music, and make my heart regain hope and wonder. Here is my playlist this week as I celebrate life, meaningful work, and the fact that I was lucky enough to be alive on this planet at the same time as so many other greats.

spotify:user:wscadv:playlist:5gDW9dCujCiBX257t21lNK

End violence. Start today! Five simple things you can do in 2014.

1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.

You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.

If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.

I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.

2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.

I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.

I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.

That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.

Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.

4. Promote love.

Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.

Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).

And lastly,

5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.

Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.

To review: earth

1. Give up charity—seek connection

2. Give up pity—seek connection

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection

4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection

5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Happy New Year! Are you into resolutions? Find some inspiration in Colorlines’ “Racial Justice Bucket List.”

The YWCA of Spokane is thinking about how the design of their shelter space can impact survivors’ healing process.

It’s stalking awareness month! Check out the presidential proclamation issued by the White House this week.

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?

Building dignity

My introduction to the domestic violence movement was as a volunteer in a battered women’s shelter. It was founded in 1976, just a few years after the first battered women’s shelter in the U.S. It was a product of its time. We were explicit about our feminist politics. We saw our work as part of a larger agenda for justice that took on patriarchal power, institutional racism and state violence, and all forms of oppression and domination.

The shelter itself was a hundred-year-old house, with every available nook and cranny made into space for another bunk bed or more towels or canned food. We were scrappy and resourceful. We didn’t turn anyone away.

On the other hand, it didn’t occur to me back then to think about how our physical space set up survivors to have very limited control over their lives day in and day out. Multiple stressed-out families sharing bedrooms, too few bathrooms, and one small kitchen inevitably led to conflict, and then rules intended to manage the conflict, and then conflict over the rules. Not exactly a recipe for liberation.

Advocates in Washington State have been thinking about how to change shelter for the better. The result? Building Dignity: Design Strategies for Domestic Violence Shelter, a web-based tool-kit for making shelter spaces that help support our mission.

For me, watching this work unfold was a kind of revelation. The kind where you hear an idea for the first time and it instantly seems completely obvious. Shelter is a life-saving refuge. But our hope and vision has always been that shelter is more than a place for women to flee from danger. It is also a launching pad into a life after abuse. A place to restore dignity, reclaim choices, and rebuild relationships that have been eroded by violence. Building Dignity is chock full of creative and practical ideas to make this happen.

Ending homelessness

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’m currently at the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles, where a lot of creative thinkers are sitting together, learning from each other, and sharing creative solutions to reach the common goal of housing families and youth in the right way and the shortest amount of time.

There seem to be a few points emerging:

  • Shift program-based thinking to systems-based thinking. Systems, and not just programs in isolation, must address issues including the lack of affordable housing, limitation of shelter space, and long waiting lists for public housing. The key is to form inclusive partnerships which employ effective strategies to change the way a homeless assistance system responds to families in crisis.
  • Track and use data to your advantage. Data is the cornerstone of evaluation; without it, we cannot understand the performance of the system and whether the system is meeting the goals of the program.
  • Rapid re-housing/prevention works for the majority of families. It’s not just about housing; it includes wraparound services. The services may be “light touch services” (where someone needs assistance to pay off an old debt) whereas others may need advocacy from beginning to end.

We, as domestic violence advocates, cannot ignore the issues of homeless families, just as housing advocates cannot ignore the fact that domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as domestic sex trafficking, impacts the ability to gain and retain safe and stable housing.

I am extremely energized by the positivity and creativity, as well as the commitment that everyone has to end homelessness on a national level. Thank you, National Alliance to End Homelessness for hosting this conference.

Remembering Ellen Pence

In 1986 or ‘87, Ellen Pence came to Los Angeles, where I was working at the time, and did a training for advocates. I remember she asked us: “Are we trying to domesticate these women, or liberate them?” From there, she talked about how shelters should and could create space for women to claim their power, dignity, and visions for their own future.

That was the first time I met Ellen and it impacted me profoundly. I have always remembered that question and it has informed much of what I have done since then. The other gift Ellen gave was to always be so clear that if we wanted to know what would be helpful to battered women, we needed to ask battered women, not think it up in a separate room. So simple, so profound, and so right.

Over the years, I have seen Ellen speak at various conferences and gatherings. Each time, she led me to think deeply, and offered such substantial insight that it shifted and shaped my work. The humor, compassion and loving-kindness she brought to everything she did and said was completely disarming, breathtaking and delightful. Ellen’s life was a blessing for all of us who knew her, and had the privilege to learn from her. And it was a blessing for so many people across the world who don’t know her or of her, but whose lives are better because of all she did.

I am so, so, soooo sad she is gone; she has always been one of my heroes, ever since that first time I saw her speak.