Writing Our Future Story: The Power of Asking “What If” and “Why Not”

Growing up I was often given titles such as difficult and nosey. I’d quickly correct those who called me the latter, “Oh no, I’m not nosey, I’m just curious.” I continuously felt a need to justify my inquisitive mind.

Over time, the need to justify myself transformed into a lack of curiosity altogether. I became exhausted with explaining why I had so many questions and sometimes even being punished for asking them. Of course, I still wondered and asked in my head, but all too often these questions were never heard outside of my own thoughts.

I now find myself wanting to reignite that fire and let the flames of curiosity burn. I have been reacquainted with the power of asking questions like “what if” and “why not”. I was reminded that being inquisitive and curious, though often seen as negative traits, are actually positive ones. Asking questions helps us create innovative ideas and anticipate what’s next.

As I sat in on the Action Alliance’s Membership meeting on Friday, December 7, we were encouraged to ask ourselves and each other “what if…”

What if education was free?

What if everyone had a home?

What if society valued compassion over money?

A space was created for us to wonder. We were allowed to imagine what could be possible in a world 500 years from now and question the obstacles that are holding us back from making our ideal future world a reality. This world where we embrace differences… where freedom, peace, and happiness are guaranteed… a world where we not only coexist with each other and the world around us, but we inter-exist.  A world where we look out for each other and we support each other.

This questioning will guide us in 2018. We will continue to ask ourselves what if and why not and imagine how the world could change and then use these thoughts to create a blueprint for our actions. We hope that creating a plan of action to create the world we want will help us leave a better home to the many generations after us.

Stay tuned for 2018 Membership Meeting dates, at which we will be building opportunities to set long-term movement trajectories and how to get there!

Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.

Featured image credit: Ki’ara Montgomery

A Chance in the World

Early intervention and resiliency are two of the best ways to improve the chances of youth growing up to succeed as best they can and to have the best possible chance in life.

But, in the face of all that our youth are up against today, including ever growing racial tensions, how do we re-weave the fabric of family and community to focus on the needs of our youth?

This is a question I sometimes struggle with as a parent and as a youth advocate. I am often frustrated with the multitude of youth serving programs and initiatives aimed at inventing new ways to help youth navigate their world and the social issues that exist.  These programs fail to address racial inequities and fail to provide space for youth who are directly impacted to have a seat at the table. Almost no one is talking to black youth (or youth of other races) about racial issues in meaningful ways.

Zora Neale Hurston

As a mother of black daughters, I can’t afford not to talk to them about the racial realities they undoubtedly face every day. By having these conversations, I am provided with opportunities to identify and offer ways to counter racism. By having these conversations in consistent, meaningful and relevant ways, I am also challenging the denial of African Americans’ lived experiences.

Regardless of race, youth need the opportunity to build the skills necessary to resist racism. Not by ignoring it when it surfaces, withdrawing from conversations, or minimizing experiences, but by being thoughtful and responsible. It starts within by considering their own moral beliefs about justice and caring for others. To be effective, youth need programs that will help them build both the social and emotional strength and social knowledge to understand what is happening in their community and how to counteract racism.

Youth need caring and responsible adults to guide them and help them understand what they’re up against. Adults who will not only support and listen to them, but will also share their own stories of resistance and teach them practical skills of resilience. These adults are willing to take the time to talk about racial matters in appropriate ways no matter how difficult, painful or uncomfortable the task may be.

By actively taking a position against racism, sexism and social class bias, these adults will pass along the tools necessary for youth to develop a source of strength and purpose to succeed. Both are critical components of healthy resilience and both will allow youth, despite where they start, to have a chance in this world to “jump at the sun”, and live out their dreams. And though they are to be encouraged to follow their own path, they must also be reminded of their awesome responsibility to the next generation.

Mahatma Gandhi

The social change our world so desperately needs will come about when, and only when we are willing to work to make it happen.

Leslie Conway is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Action Alliance. A self-proclaimed ambassador of love and resistor to hate, Leslie believes her life work is to help communities “sow seeds of resistance” and build social supports youth need to thrive in a racist reality and to create ineradicable change. Embracing her ancestors’ history of resiliency, she also recognizes the responsibility she has to pass along these stories to youth in honest and relevant ways. She believes our youth can be confident, competent and ready to take on the challenges of adulthood despite the social systems meant to disillusion and disempower them and that our experiences can serve as a road map towards healthy resistance.

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335

Act. Honor. Hope.

Each year, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hosts an event to honor fierce advocacy and extraordinary action that has moved Virginia forward toward eliminating sexual and domestic violence. This event, Act. Honor. Hope., has historically recognized groups and individuals who have gone the extra mile to create a safer Commonwealth for all of us.

This year, we will be honoring Charlottesville High School students, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn for their combined efforts to incorporate an essential health promotion concept into Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula: consent.

In 2017, ground-breaking legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools. Senate Bill 1475 and House Bill 2257 re-framed the conversation about sexual assault prevention, lifting responsibility off the shoulders of survivors and shifting it towards potential perpetrators. These laws laid the foundation for meaningful prevention education by incorporating age-appropriate education on the law and recognizing consent as a prerequisite to sexual activity.

This legislation would not have existed had it not been for the tireless efforts of a dedicated group of Charlottesville High School students and advocates at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) in Charlottesville. When members of a SARA-sponsored peer education and advocacy club at the school reviewed the Virginia Family Life Education Standards of Learning in 2015, they realized that the information about consent in the curricula was inaccurate and potentially harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Over the course of several months, this group worked with law students, lobbyists, and community activists to help draft legislation that would change the Family Life Education curricula.

Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn collaborated with the students and advocates over the course of several months, and in December of 2016, proposed bills in the Senate and House, respectively. Without their steadfast leadership, these bills may never have made it out of committee. Without the compelling personal statements written by the students at Charlottesville High who were deeply impacted by these issues, the bill may not have received the overwhelming support it did. In March of 2017, after each law had passed through the General Assembly, HB 2257 and SB 1475 were approved and signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

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Act. Honor. Hope. is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible work that has been accomplished this year by the honorees, join together with advocates and allies from across the state, and raise the necessary funds to continue this critical work.

Please join us in HONORing these leaders who have taken extraordinary ACTION to bring about the change necessary to end sexual and domestic violence. Their leadership offers HOPE for a better tomorrow.

Act. Honor. Hope. will be held on December 8th from 11:30am to 2:30pm at the John Marshall Ballrooms and will include lunch as well as a silent auction, the proceeds of which will go towards the policy, prevention, and advocacy efforts of the Action Alliance. We hope you will join us! Purchase your tickets here.


Laurel Winsor is the Special Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice at James Madison University in December, 2016.


Love wins

Love wasn’t on the ballot yesterday in Virginia, or anywhere in the nation. But love was present in our polling places and showed up in the ballot box.

We the people collectively made history yesterday, radiating love as we delivered an emphatic NO to hate, to violence, to racism and misogyny.

Make no mistake: this was not a victory for a party. It was not a victory for politics. Pundits who have been focused on what this means for Democrats and Republicans, who have been counting wins and forecasting seats and talking about how power is going to be divided still don’t get it. There was something else going on.

A new energy is emerging amongst us. It was an outrage to wake up just one year ago to the prospect of a national leader who had been transparent and unabashed about his racism, his sexism, his elitism, and the violence he had perpetrated against women. It was, and still is, untenable that such a person should be embraced by establishment politics and by the majority of white men (and many white women) in this nation as the best possible choice for the highest policy position in the land. It was an outrage; and it was also a clarion call.

We the people answered that call. In particular, people of color, young people, LGBTQ people and women, answered that call. Over this past year we channeled our anger into record numbers of marches, into organizing within faith communities and civic communities, and into educating ourselves.

We fought to restore faith in democracy and the power of the vote. We stepped up in record numbers to run for local and statewide office—because we wanted change, because we wanted incumbents to know that “politics as usual” was not acceptable, because we wanted others in our communities to have a choice.

love sign-white

Many candidates persevered in the face of personal attacks based on racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments. Most candidates were running for the first time, most didn’t follow the usual scripts for preparing to run for office successfully—and every single one of them was a part of history yesterday, whether they won their particular race or not.

Their candidacies are testaments to their personal resilience and to the resonance of their platforms of justice, fairness, inclusion, equity, and caring for the long-term interests for all of us. In short, love.

We have been acting out of love for ourselves and each other as we organized over this past year, as we encouraged each other to step up and run for office, as we funded campaigns and promoted candidates and filled social media platforms with messages about the importance of voting.

Yesterday love won, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to fight for compassion and justice, for fairness and equity, for abundance and joy, for inclusion and community, and liberation and kindness…because we the people know that all of us deserve nothing less.

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. 

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

Study Finds Majority of Crime Survivors Support Shorter Prison Sentences, Alternatives to Incarceration

A first-of-its-kind national survey released by the Alliance for Safety and Justice bucks conventional wisdom regarding the views of crime victims/survivors on incarceration.

Despite popular assumptions that crime victims/survivors support long sentences and prison expansion, the National Survey of Victims’ Views finds that survivors would prefer the criminal justice system focus more on rehabilitation than punishment by a 2 to 1 margin.

In fact, 61 percent of crime survivors support shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation to long prison sentences. The vast majority of survivors also prefer investments in education, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training to more spending on prisons and jails.

Alternative to incarceration

By a margin of nearly 3 to 1, crime survivors believe that time in prison makes people more likely to commit another crime rather than less likely. These views cut across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.

Support for reform and a new approach to safety and justice policy is strong even among survivors of violent crimes. The survey, which interviewed 800 crime survivors across the country, included both survivors of non-violent crime and survivors of violent crime including the most serious crimes of rape or murder of a family member.

“More than 2.2 million people are in prisons and jails across the country and the U.S. spends more than 80 billion dollars each year locking people up,” said Robert Rooks, Vice President, Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Yet the findings show that America’s investments in our current criminal justice system do not align with the views of crime victims or meet their needs.”

The survey finds that survivors of crime experience significant challenges in recovery and healing—8 in 10 report experiencing at least one symptom of trauma. The survey found 2 out of 3 survivors did not receive help following the incident, and those who did were far more likely to receive it from family and friends than the criminal justice system.

One in four people have been victimized in the past 10 years, but that impact is not evenly felt across the country. The study finds survivors of crime are more likely to be low-income, young and people of color; furthermore, people with the lowest levels of education, income and economic status are more likely to experience repeat victimization and serious violent crime.

New Safety Priorities

Instead of more spending on incarceration, survivors want a wide range of investments in new safety priorities:

  • By a margin of 15 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in schools and education to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 10 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in job creation to more
    investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 7 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in mental health treatment to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 7 to 1 victims prefer increased investments in crime prevention and
    programs for at-risk youth to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 4 to 1 victims prefer increased investments in drug treatment to more investments in prisons and jails

Everyone agrees

The full report, survivors’ profiles and a video featuring crime survivors are featured at

Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. ASJ partners with state leaders, advocates and crime survivors to advance policies to replace prison waste with new safety priorities that will help the communities most harmed by crime and violence. Reprinted press release from Alliance for Safety and Justice. 


Justice Parade: Be a Megaphone for Incarcerated Youth

The Action Alliance will soon gather in Richmond with Art 180,  Rise for Youth, and hundreds of other artists, activists, formerly incarcerated individuals, families, and concerned citizens to honor and celebrate the lives of youth affected by Virginia’s shameful trauma-to-prison pipeline.

We will meet for the 3rd Annual Juvenile Justice Parade on Friday, November 3rd at 5 p.m.  at  E. Marshall and 9th St beside the Department of Social Services

The parade will feature musicians, chants written by incarcerated youth, community members carrying art created by incarcerated youth, and an open opportunity for anyone to speak up for youth who continue to be impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.

Participants will be provided signs, posters, and banners.

The parade will end at ART 180’s youth gallery, ATLAS, where they are currently showing the “My Reality” exhibition, a groundbreaking exhibition and virtual reality installation created by teens impacted by the juvenile justice system in Richmond, VA.

Want to join? Sign up for event updates on Facebook and/or contact Kate McCord to receive updates. Bring your positive energy and voices to be a megaphone for our youth!

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Featured image: Art180

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 


Building Power and Community: Black Women’s Town Hall

Black women have two huge strikes against them, living in a predominantly White society and being a woman in a patriarchal system of oppression. Due to these two huge strikes, Black women have their own set of injustices that they and their families deal with daily. An ignorant assumption that Black women are always angry or always leeching leads to society’s scorn. However, Black women deserve to be heard and the assumption of being angry is a false equivalence, a misunderstood passion.

There are few opportunities for Black women’s voices to be heard in a way that is not misinterpreted or misunderstood by society. The Black woman’s voice has been silenced and rarely in the forefront for many discussions on laws and other social & economic issues happening in the community that has a more detrimental effect on them than others society. This town hall will provide safety for all the multidimensional voices & experiences of black women across the state. The hope is that this space will spark more opportunities for conversations and outlets for Black women to no longer be silenced and not be afraid to speak life to their experiences.

What is a Town Hall?

A town hall is a way for people in the community to address concerns and come up with solutions to challenges they are facing, often with a politician present.

Why Specifically a Town Hall for Black Women?

A Black Women’s Town Hall is about building political power of Black women in our communities. It is an opportunity for them to name their own experiences as well as brainstorm solutions to common challenges.1

This is an opportunity for Black women to organize and set a strategic agenda, or list of demands, that reflect the needs, resources, and bold visions for the community.

 The Action Alliance – along with Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color ProjectBlack Youth Project 100, and allied state anti-violence coalitions, has signed on to organize and support the March for Black Women (#M4BW) happening September 30th in Washington D.C.

As we prepare for this event, we are inviting Black women in all their diversity from allied organizations and advocacy groups to attend an in-person and online Black Women’s Town Hall to build power and community.

Children are welcome! Food and childcare will be provided during this event.

M4BW EventBrite invitationBlack Women’s Town Hall event details

Black Women’s Town Hall

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Action Alliance office, Richmond

No fee for this event. Register here.

Want to attend this Town Hall but don’t live in Richmond? Join the event live online by registering here.

1 https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/f0223e_324195651e8a4561a037d83bb8998d9e.pdf

This blog post was submitted by the Black Women’s Town Hall Organizing Team of the Action Alliance.

White Supremacy & Gender-Based Violence: How They Feed Each Other and What We Can Do About It

Gender-based violence (or the process of controlling, coercing, or otherwise exerting power over someone because of their gender) is both a tool and a driver of white supremacy. Ending gender-based violence requires us to see and dismantle the same forces that support the existence of white supremacy. At the same time, this work calls us to envision and work toward equity and liberation. So what does this mean in practical terms for advocates working in the movement to end sexual and domestic violence who are white?

While the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other related groups may be the face of white supremacy, they are in fact merely overt expressions of more covert and normalized systems of power and control wielded over communities of color.

White supremacy is more than just individual attitudes of superiority over people of color and individual acts of violence and suppression. It is a system of exploitation and control that is meant to consolidate and maintain advantages, influence, and wealth for white people.

Many of us are shocked by the recent emboldened activity and hateful rhetoric expressed by white supremacists marching in the streets, however the real power of white supremacy operates in more covert ways, through our country’s institutional policies and practices. As Dr. Cornel West says, speaking about witnessing white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, “…that kind of hatred…is just theater.”

The mainstream movement to end gender-based violence has not historically been working in large-scale ways to disrupt white supremacy, despite the fact that many women of color and organizations of color (Beth Richie, Alissa Bierra, Mimi Kim, and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence just to name a few) have long been articulating the connections and sounding an alarm for the movement to awaken to and act on those connections. It’s not too late to listen.

How do white supremacy and gender-based violence connect?

We know that gender-based violence is both a tool and driver of white supremacy. Here are a few examples of how they operate to reinforce one another:

  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are reluctant to seek help or call the police for fear of mistreatment, deportation, or for example in Charleena Lyles’ case, even death.
  • Gender-based violence acts as a tool of white supremacy when sexual violence against communities of color is used as a weapon of suppression, as in the case of European colonization of the Americas.
  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are criminalized for defending themselves and their families against lethal violence in their homes.
How isms connect-visual

Violence against women in this context includes cis and trans women and non-binary people.

How can advocates — who are white and working in our movement — build racial justice and begin to disrupt white supremacy?

  • We can start by noticing systems of advantages and disadvantages based on skin color: how does white skin privilege play out in housing, media, criminal/legal, banking/loan, and educational systems? How do systemic disadvantages affect survivors of color who may or may not be seeking help from our organizations?
  • We can dive deeper by having open, compassionate, unflinching conversations with other potential allies about how we can and should be working to change those systems.
  • We can and should listen to and take leadership from communities of color, or those who are most directly impacted by racist systems.
  • We can and should show up others who are working on equity and liberation by supporting and amplifying their efforts. We are better together.

How is the Action Alliance working to build racial justice and undermine white supremacy?

The Action Alliance recognizes that racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence, hinder survivors from obtaining adequate safety and support, and impede accountability for people who commit harm. We have made a commitment to conduct anti-violence work through a racial justice lens, with a focus on equity and liberation. Here are a few examples of what we are currently working on and how it connects with our values:

  • We believe that communities of color should be supported in connecting with one another to build power and community. We are hosting a Town Hall by and for Black women in September to offer a venue for Black women to name their own experiences and brainstorm solutions to common challenges.
  • We believe in showing up for one another. We are co-sponsoring the National March for Black Women, September 30, in Washington, D.C., a march organized by Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color Projectand Black Youth Project 100.
  • We believe in keeping kids free. Through education, collaborative partnerships, and policy change, we are working to dismantle Virginia’s “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison-pipeline“)–which disproportionately affects children of color and children with disabilities–and build in its place compassionate and proportional responses to youth.
  • We know that racial justice is an essential framework for providing trauma-informed and survivor-centered advocacy, so we provide ongoing education about the connections between advocacy and racial justice through our Training Institute.
  • We know equity and liberation are built one relationship at a time and require honest and loving conversations, so in our August and September staff meetings we are talking about our racial justice work, and what else we can and should be doing to strengthen our efforts (see images below).

Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are personally working to build racial justice, along with other things we could/should be doing.


Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are  working to build racial justice as an organization, along with other ideas for things we could/should be doing.

None of us will do this perfectly. Working to build racial justice, equity, and liberation requires us to hold many conflicting truths at once. This work is joyful, it is messy, it is painful, it is energizing, it is draining, and it is loving. Most of all, it is necessary, and all of it requires that we do our best to hold ourselves and our comrades accountable and lifted up in honest and loving ways. Join us.

Featured image: Reuters/Ted Soqui 

Thank you to Jonathan Yglesias and Amanda Pohl for their editing help and feedback on this piece.

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia. 



On False Equivalencies and Surviving Domination

Written by The NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse, Seattle, WA. We are grateful to NW Network for creating and sharing this work, and for granting us permission to reprint it.

For many years, the NW Network has talked with our communities about “survivor’s use of violence.” As an organization by and for survivors, we knew this was a crucial silence to break and information our communities desperately needed.

People are often confused when survivors use violence. They want to dismiss survivors who use physical force to survive as “mutual” actors in abuse. This idea asks less of people than recognizing the dynamics of abuse. It asks less than inviting survivors to come out of the shadows and stand in our full humanity–not as objectified victims, but as full, complex humans who want to survive and whose sparks of self-determination, of human will, still smolder despite even the most egregious attempts to extinguish us.

As survivors of battering, rape, bias harassment and violence, police harassment and violence, and all manner of violations by the state, the advocates of the NW Network are all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse. We see the devastating impact of this erasure within our private lives and in the public square.

We know that survival under conditions of domination is as gritty as it is grace-filled.

[We are] all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse.

Daily, we talk with survivors who were calculatedly pushed to the breaking point and are now being buried under such false equivalencies. Abusive partners tell survivors, “Look, you’re just the same as me, no one will help you.” The state tells survivors, “The fact that you survived means you couldn’t have been in danger,” or “If you were really afraid, why were you even there in the first place?”

Such false equivalencies are another in a long list of insults to our humanity, of the willful refusal to understand the dynamics of domination and to stand with people fighting against organized attempts to dehumanize and annihilate them.

Of course, sometimes abuse can be subtle, and it can be legitimately hard for friends and family to discern what is happening.  And then sometimes it is the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists and skin heads and Nazis calling for your annihilation, and the lines are pretty clear cut.

Violent Clashes Erupt at "Unite The Right" Rally In Charlottesville

Getty Images

This week, while neglecting to name Heather Heyer, the social justice activist who was slain by a white nationalist, President Trump stood before our nation and rationalized and asserted tenets of KKK, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi propaganda. You are trying to change history, he said.  You are trying to change culture.

President Trump praised people who took up torches and marched through the streets of Charlottesville chanting violence against Black, Jewish and queer and trans people, calling them “very fine people.” He purposefully and repeatedly insisted that explicitly racist, anti-Jewish, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic actions taken to intimidate and violate communities were the same as actions taken to defend those communities.

The NW Network will continue to stand with survivors in their full humanity. We will not turn away when survivors defend themselves against domination with force.

We take courage from, lift up and stand with the work of Survived and Punished—a group that organizes to free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence whose survival actions have been criminalized.  Some are still in prison, some are confined to their homes, some are languishing in immigration detention, and some live with the threat of incarceration or deportation at any moment.  Some did not make it out of prison alive.”

Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer’s parents, family and comrades and to the Black, Jewish, queer and trans and activist communities of Charlottesville.

And for every survivor who was told “there is blame on all sides,” we see you. We see the lie for what it is, and we are here for you.

Call us if you need us.

The Northwest Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy.  We work within a broad liberation movement dedicated to racial, social & economic justice, equality and respect for all people and the creation of loving, inclusive and accountable communities.  nwnetwork.org 

Feature image: David Brown of Plymouth, Mass., sends a message during a protest Sunday, held in response to a white nationalist rally that spiraled into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., the day before. Credit: Steven Senne/AP. Source: NPR. 

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #falseequivalencies

Charlottesville: Acknowledging the Trauma and Getting Our Normal Back

Minutes before James Fields slammed his Dodge Charger into the crowd, we had been marching jubilantly down Water Street.

Two marching groups of anti-racists/anti-fascists had merged near the Charlottesville Downtown Mall and as we converged, so did our chants. The crowd was celebrating the fact that large groups of white supremacists and nazis had been driven from downtown: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Our group paused at 4th and Water. Several members were calling for a mic check, but their calls were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. We were standing in the middle of the intersection. The crowd looked as though it was about to turn up 4th Street toward the Mall, only one block away. My partner turned to me and shouted in my ear, “Let’s move to the side. I don’t like this. We shouldn’t be in the middle of this crowd.” She had noticed a few white supremacists infiltrating the group.

As she said this, the screams and quick series of sickening loud thuds happened almost simultaneously. My first thought was that a bomb or grenade had gone off, and more were on the way. What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact. In the panic, we tried to run for shelter, but not before my foot snagged on a banner that had been dropped behind me. We both hit the pavement.

What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact.

We crouched under a tree on the corner sidewalk and checked each other for damage. My body felt numb and sharply aching at the same time. Horrified, my partner said, “I swear to god I saw legs flying up in the air. I think those were legs. I swear they were legs.” She said the words over and over, as though repeating it would help it make more sense. We looked back at the scene. A burgundy minivan that had earlier been hidden in the crush of the crowd had lurched several yards into the intersection upon impact (trigger warning: drone video). It now rested a few feet from where we had been standing.

There were so many people hurt. So many people screaming. I called 911. I counted the time the line rang on the other end. 15 rings, no response.

36569860635_b0c2768e17_k flowers in road-Bob Mical

Getty Images

If you were part of or an observer in the counter protest in Charlottesville this weekend, you were likely either a target of violence or you bore witness to violence. Both can be traumatic experiences. Watching the scenes unfold on television can be traumatic too.

If you are a person of color, you have likely lived through being a target of traumatic racist oppression, and experienced the psychological and physical toll that racism exacts on people of color on a daily basis.

As advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, many of us are familiar with the host of reactions that follow trauma. While everyone’s particular reactions to trauma are unique, the range of types of experiences is common. Here are four types of normal reactions to trauma that you may be experiencing after living through what Jelani Cobb has now called, “The Battle of Charlottesville“, along with some tips for helping yourself or a friend move through it over the next few days or weeks.

  1. A nervous system on high alert

What it looks like: Hyper-vigilance is a heightened state of awareness, which is part of our instinctual fight/flight response. It feels like being constantly on guard. Your brain is trying to protect you by constantly scanning your environment for danger (“That guy walking toward me with the short hair and khaki pants: is he a nazi?” “Do those tattoos/slogans on a shirt/bumper sticker tell me whether that person is a white supremacist?” “Am I close to an exit in case I need to run?”). An exaggerated startle reflex may mean you nearly jump out of your skin at the sound of a loud noise or startling sight. As a heightened state of anxiety and physiological tension, hyper-vigilance can be exhausting for both your body and mind.

What to do: Remember that this is your brain’s way of practicing risk assessment by gauging people, situations, and potential harm. Breathe; mindful breathing is a calming technique always available to us. If you need to, disengage with the stressor. As with any kind of healing, sleep is crucial. Reduce caffeine and/or alcohol consumption to promote better sleep and reduce jumpiness. Go for a walk or try any other physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s sports, dancing, gardening, etc. Get some fresh air. Play outside.

2. Re-experiencing the trauma

What it looks like: This can often take the shape of intrusive thoughts: an unbidden replaying of the trauma-inducing scene(s) over and over again, often especially when falling asleep. Flashbacks may make you feel as though you are back in the situation, reliving the memory. Traumatic memories are heavily sensory-related; intrusive thoughts and/or flashbacks will often replay or are triggered by sights, sounds, and/or smells.

What to do: Mindfulness, breathing, and other grounding sensory strategies can help. Consciously slow down and deepen your breathing. Feel the weight of your body sitting in a chair, or your feet holding you to the ground. Rather than fighting the encroaching thought, notice that it is simply a thought, a way of your brain healing itself by trying to make sense of the event; there is no need to react to it. Do yoga. Turn off your screen and stretch before bed to help prepare your body for deep sleep.

  1. Problems concentrating

What it looks like: Inability to focus, or feeling mentally foggy. You may pause a task to start another and then wonder, “What was I supposed to be doing?” You may also notice impaired short-term memory and/or “checking out”.  You may constantly want to check news reports or other accounts of the incident (or avoid the topic altogether): the wealth of commentary and perspectives about the events and impact of what happened in Charlottesville seems limitless. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of news stories, videos, eyewitness accounts, analyses, and troll comments, especially when the incident has captured national attention.

What to do: Consciously carve out a set time for no news consumption. Give yourself a time limit and then put down your phone. If possible, choose work and home tasks this week that don’t require a lot of mental focus. If you must focus to accomplish a series of tasks, keep a running list to help you remember. Get fresh air. Rest. Know that this will pass.

 4. Emotional responses

What it looks like: Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, numbness, feeling overwhelmed. Avoidance of things that remind of you of the trauma. Perhaps thinking the world is more dangerous than you did before. Guilt in the form of criticizing yourself for how you handled the trauma. Survivor’s guilt: feeling guilty for surviving the trauma when others were killed/seriously harmed. Isolation/traumatic bonding: feeling as though only the people who were there can truly understand how it felt. Isolating yourself from people who didn’t share the traumatic experience with you because words are insufficient for conveying the experience to others.

What to do: Activate your support system; find a friend to talk to and share your experience. Journal and/or make artwork about what you experienced and how you feel now. Make plans to expand your actions to build racial justice, and find a community who is working on the same thing. Seek physical comfort by cuddling with a loved one (person or animal). Cook (or order) a delicious and nourishing meal. Tap into your community (whether that community is family, faith, political, academic, athletic, etc). Make time to do activities that normally bring you joy.

Most of us will at some point in our lives encounter and be affected by trauma. Whether you are experiencing a few or many of these symptoms, often understanding that they are all related to the same source will help the symptoms feel more manageable. Most people will discover that the symptoms subside over a period of days to months. If you find yourself struggling to get back on track, seek a survivor advocate or other professional trained in responding to trauma reactions. It will get better.

Healing is happening right now; help it take root. There is much work to be done to confront and dismantle overt and covert racism and oppression; we need you here for the long haul…strong, resilient, feisty, and compassionate…to help build the world that serves and nourishes all of us. We need you here to help build collective liberation.


Helpful resources:

4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible (Self-care for people of color after trauma)

21 Common Reactions to Trauma: It helps to know what to expect after a terrifying event

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Healing from Trauma and Moving On

Simple Self-Care Practices for When It Feels Like the World is Falling Apart

Featured image: Tasos Katopodis/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #DefendCville

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia.