I have been to India

WSCADV executive director Nan Stoops with Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi

As you might know, I have the privilege of participating in the first cohort of the Move to End Violence, a 10-year initiative that seeks to strengthen our (U.S.) collective work to end violence against women and girls. Recently, the cohort spent 11 days in India meeting with survivors, activists, scholars, and government officials to learn about Indian social justice efforts in Delhi, Jaipur, and Kolkata. Over the next few months, I will post some of my reflections from this inspiring, unforgettable experience.

We began our journey in Delhi with a visit to Gandhi Smriti, the place where Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhiji) spent his last 144 days and the site of his assassination in 1948. We immersed ourselves in Gandhian philosophy and walked his last footprints. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.” Witnessing the legacy of Gandhiji―his influence on everything from governmental policy to social justice organizing to informal conversation to daily prayer―adds relevance to Dr. King’s statement. The memory and will of Gandhiji are pervasive.

I was particularly struck by one of Gandhiji’s last notes: “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”

We conceptualized the “poorest and the weakest” as “the last man, last woman, last girl.” We met some last girls. They are not so different from the last girls that live in our communities here at home. HERE.

Sitting with a last girl, the only thought I had was: there but for the grace of God. . . How can I not work for her freedom? As it will be mine too.

Year in review

First post of the year (again) and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. Last January, I wished for some simple messages to accompany our collective efforts to end domestic violence, and lo and behold, I got what I asked for! It turns out that “Domestic Violence is preventable!”

It sure is.

While there are lots of explanations for the pandemic of violence against women and girls, there aren’t any acceptable justifications. It happens, but it doesn’t have to.

We actually can stop this violence before it starts―by promoting healthy relationships, shifting culture, building skills, and addressing root causes of violence.

So as a new year begins, I’m excited to reflect on the paths that we laid this past year―paths that will bring all of us closer to a world where boys and girls know that they are loved and know how to love, gender doesn’t define how we treat each other, and everyone experiences healthy, loving, and safe relationships. We made great progress in 2011: highlighting new ways to talk about prevention, learning about teen relationships, talking with our own kids, sharing messages about respect, joining national ventures, and making plans to end violence against women and girls.

We (yes, that includes YOU) are now in a position to make incredible leaps forward. Onward to 2012, huzzah!

What next? Part 6

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the final installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #5: Recognize the beloved community

I want to close by talking about the beloved community. I was recently re-introduced to the concept of beloved community, and I had two instant realizations: one was that beloved community describes what I have always hoped we can achieve, and the second was that the beloved community is something I have already experienced.

For me, the beloved community is characterized by integrity, respect, openness, kindness, honesty, curiosity, authenticity, compassion, patience, forgiveness, hard work, fair play, good humor, and a belief in the abundant possibilities of our humanity.

I experience the beloved community in different ways with my co-workers back home, with friends, family, my softball team, and neighbors. Almost always, food is involved. Laughter too, and, sometimes, tears. We acknowledge that we are in community with one another, we work together to sustain it, we appreciate the privileges it represents, and do not take it for granted.

At certain times, I expect to be in the presence of beloved community. But it is the unexpected moments that take my breath away. Like when the driver of elementary school bus #4 told her riders that she would drive her route for as long as she could while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for her cancer, and that night the children shaved their heads in solidarity.

Or when 16-year-old Isaiah T. read his poem entitled “It was taken some time ago” about the many losses in his life, and about staying with his homeless mother, and staying in school, and staying with the memories of all that was taken some time ago. The standing ovation Isaiah received was our wish for a beloved community for him.

Or when a 62-year-old woman marched in Seattle’s “Slutwalk” to protest against the Toronto police officer who said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This particular woman marched in grey pants, a red sweater, a scarf, and brown loafers. She had bought them 40 years ago to replace the same outfit that the police had bagged as evidence after she was raped. She had never planned to wear the clothes, but she just wanted to have them. As she marched, she carried a sign that read “this is what I was wearing.” Beloved community.

Each of us might think of beloved community differently. What’s important is that we know it when we see it. And that we work today as if we plan to live in it tomorrow. Beloved community. Freedom, now and always.

What next? Part 5

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #4: Love those teenagers 

We often talk about the need to shift popular culture and change social norms. This is the language of primary prevention, and it is gaining momentum throughout the mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault field. For the past 8 years, I have watched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many of our colleagues on the mainland strategize about how to integrate prevention activities into our work, and we are now beginning to see these efforts take root in some of the target communities.  Almost all of it involves teen and youth engagement.

While I’ve been largely uninvolved in the CDC initiative, I have been hard at work closer to home. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old son, Hanson, and some of his friends, they too are participating. My frequent announcements of “I feel a lecture coming on” are met by loud groans and an occasional “oh god.” Video games, music, TV, certain levels of Angry Birds―nothing is held harmless. I’ve played “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” watched “Jersey Shore” and two of the “Jackass” movies, and danced to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I am offended by almost all of it, but Hanson is at an age where he is regurgitating the advice he has received his whole life. Don’t reject something without trying it first. And you can’t change what you don’t know. So I study what I can, and go about my parenting in fits and starts.

There is very little polish on most of what I do as a parent. Some day in the future, Hanson and I will thoroughly evaluate my briefings on pornography, condoms, sexting, and what girls like.  Someday, I hope he will understand that my social norms work with him really boils down to a mother’s love for her son.

What next? Part 4

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #3: Be a good partner

We know that violence against women is everywhere. It’s in every section of the newspaper, in every profession, in every community. So, whether we pick a group, topic, or activity, there is collaborative work to be done. Until we say that we are a single issue movement, we aren’t. And just as survivors bring us the complexity of their lives, so too must we be living the complexity of ours.

I have found wonderful collaborations and opportunities in the two things I love the most: sports and money. There isn’t time for me to rattle on about this, but I work with various sports organizations on coaching and mentoring leadership, respect, strength, and community-building, and I’m hoping to begin a philanthropy project at a girls’ school in Seattle. Some of my best work happens without ever mentioning domestic violence or sexual assault.

And so I encourage you to collaborate toward your passion. Sing, dance, pray, march, read, write, and play. Work hard, find joy, and be a good partner.

What next? Part 3

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #2: Evolve our shelters

Emergency shelter saves lives. It’s a refuge, a resource, and a respite. It’s also costly, sometimes chaotic, and almost always, limited in the time, space, and material assistance it can provide. I don’t know if and how you experience these challenges, but I think they are so prevalent now that we must face head-on this question about how to evolve shelter services. While it is essential to keep shelters going, we need to be honest about the fact that they serve only a small percentage of survivors, they make the community dependent on US to provide support and care, and, while they may stop violence against some women, they do not end violence against all women.

In Washington, we are examining shelter in three ways. First, we are re-evaluating shelter rules, so that families have more flexibility and self-determination while in residence. Second, we are designing shelters architecturally and programmatically to support moms with parenting, to respect religious and cultural practices, and to reduce how many people have to share communal spaces―like a kitchen and a bathroom―as a part of shelter life. And third, we are helping shelter programs focus on providing what women say they need in order to be financially self-sufficient: housing, job training, childcare, in one instance, a bicycle, and in another a spare tire.

This work is confirming the thinking that brought us to it. And that is―nobody really wants to live in a shelter. So let’s find a way to preserve what does work and incorporate some other things that might work even better.

What next? Part 2

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #1: Bring the past forward

Our work to end violence against women is rooted in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, in particular the efforts to secure reproductive rights. Early organizing strategies were learned from the Civil Rights, Labor, and Anti-War movements, where work was launched by personal testimony about violence, oppression, and dehumanization. Many of us remember the 60’s and 70’s as an angry, energetic, and passionate time.

I think we are in another period of unrest. While the big issues have evolved into the 21st century, they appear to be very familiar. And we have a great opportunity to bring what we’ve learned into the present with a more nimble and visionary approach to our social justice work.

We must remain vigilant about reproductive rights. There are three times as many anti-choice bills in state legislation this year as there were in 2010. Anti-choice campaigns are controlling and hateful, and shameless in their strategic manipulation of race, class, and immigration.

The wars are taking a tremendous toll on our communities. Not only are we faced with the devastating effects of war on families, we are also suffering from the economic and political fallout caused by years of troop buildup and declining morale. Women around the world continue to be both the victims and tools of men’s war against each other. I hope we are working to support the families of returning troops, and I also hope we are joining in global organizing against militarization and U.S. domination.

Civil rights for immigrants are being dismantled. The war on poverty has been completely lost. And technology has added elements of speed, invisibility, and recklessness to the exploitation and abuse of women and children.

Over the past 30 years, we have developed an increasingly complicated rhetoric about our work to end violence against women. It’s so complicated that sometimes I’m not really sure what I’m talking about. So I want to suggest that we return to plain talk. Plain talk about what happens to women. Plain talk about what we are doing and what we want in our future. We need not care about being impressive. We need only care about being heard.

What next? Part 1

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Over the next six weeks, we will post installments of her speech. After all, if we can figure out how to end this kind of violence in five steps, shouldn’t we all have a look?

I honour your gods. I drink from your well. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place.

These words from a Susan Wright prayer express how I feel about being with you here today. I am enormously humbled to be a part of your conference, and I thank the organizing committee for the gracious invitation.

Hawai’i is like a home away from home for me. I come here as often as I am able, which, of course, is not often enough. But always, the colors, the water, the people, the food, and the pace of life remind me why it is that I am forever contemplating a one-way ticket to this place. It is here that I encounter the timelessness of friendship, renewed passion for our collective work, and an understanding of the fundamental importance of connection.

In 2008, we stayed at a house near Haleiwa where we were in the company of some very social Honu. One in particular kept my attention. She was quite large; she had one flipper that, either by birth or by injury, was ½ the size of the other; and her shell was full of scratches and chips. Each day she would arrive in the cove and slowly make her way onto the beach where we would spend the morning basking in the sun as if we were friends.

I learned early on to keep a certain distance from the Honu, and I did. I would even move away, only to be followed. We never spoke, we never shared a meal, we did not friend each other on Facebook. I wondered about her journey and how she decided when to ride the current or swim against it. I wondered if she knew when she was being tossed against the rocks. I wondered if she had a plan when she left and didn’t return.

I have wondered the same things about so many women I’ve encountered. I can’t begin to count them, but I remember many of their names, their faces, their children, and the stories they told. Some are surely dead. And some are surely free.

I am here today, talking with you, because of them. Public speaking is not the comfort zone of introverts like me. But I am indebted to a long line of survivors who have filled my life with theirs. They are my past that informs my present and gives shape to my hope for the future. For me, they are the Mo’o.

I want you to know that I love being able to do the work I do. I see it as a blessing, a privilege, and a chance to participate in something really, really big. I have been fortunate to work with a Who’s Who of advocates and activists all around the country, and to witness the visionary organizing that is happening in other parts of the world.

I believe we are at a critical juncture in our anti-violence, social justice work. We now have state and federal laws that criminalize rape, domestic violence, incest, and trafficking, and that authorize funding for a vast network of shelter, treatment, and advocacy services.

We understand how domestic violence intersects with numerous social and community issues―homelessness, poverty, juvenile delinquency, chemical dependency and substance abuse, differential access to education, healthcare, and public benefits, immigration, sovereignty, global political unrest, and war.

We are paying more attention to what many of us call violence in the margins. We know that the experience of gender violence and the response to it is affected by a host of other factors, like race, ethnicity, class, status, age, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive ability, religion, culture, first language, and so on.

Our work to end violence against women is now quite complex. When I look back over my own 30 years of advocacy, I am both enormously proud of what we have accomplished, and somewhat concerned about where we are headed. In my home state ofWashington, I am referred to as a “movement historian,” and advocates often ask me if I get tired of doing the work. Now once I get over the shock of being considered old enough to be a historian, I always reply, and I mean this, “of course, I get worn out and worn down, but we are in a very challenging and exciting time right now, and I think a fresher and better version of ourselves is going to emerge. I want to see it and I want to be a part of it.”

Here’s the deal. We have been in the anti-violence business for more than 40 years. Many of us talk about being a full generation into the work and, in fact, we see every day what that means. We have women and men who, as children, lived with their mothers in shelter and now as adults, are again calling us for help. We have activists who were raised by activists, young people who now join or replace their parents in our workforce. Some of us work alongside four generations of people, which means that the workplace is equally complicated and dynamic. We welcome new, diverse, energetic voices and ideas at the same time that we mourn the growing loss of our earliest leaders, founders, mothers, and warriors.

When I think about all that we have learned over the decades, and all of the growth and progress and change, what I always come back to is that which has stayed the same. And perhaps the best way for me to describe it is to reflect on my own experience as a fledgling advocate in 1981. I remember being oddly passionate and irritable. I had the textbook answer to the question “Why does she stay?” But whenever I was asked that, I would say, “Because she can’t leave. And you should be asking me ‘Why does he batter?’ The answer to that is ‘Because it works and he can.’ ”

To this day, even though I am capable of articulating a more sophisticated and nuanced response, I still often rely on “she can’t/it works/he can.” My participation in a full generation of anti-violence work has landed me, in some ways, very close to where I began, and this simple fact is what guides my hope for our collective future.

I want to offer the Nan Stoops five-point plan for ending male violence against women. It isn’t written down anywhere, except here. And this is the first time I’ve said it out loud. It’s in no particular order, and it may not even make sense, depending on what you do, with whom, and to what end. However, what I hope comes through is the importance of thinking about the conditions that allow, encourage, and perpetuate violence and the opportunity and responsibility we have to do work that matters.

Jump to: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6