Holiday Gift Guide for Social Change Enthusiasts

As the holiday season approaches and you start to think about what you’ll be gifting your loved ones, our team at the Action Alliance wanted to share a few things to give to the emerging or seasoned preventionists and activists in your life!


FOR CHILDREN

A is for activist

Cover image for book, A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist or Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for. The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books.”

counting on community

Cover image for book, Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

Counting on Community is Innosanto Nagara’s follow-up to his hit ABC book, A is for Activist. Counting up from one stuffed piñata to ten hefty hens–and always counting on each other–children are encouraged to recognize the value of their community, the joys inherent in healthy eco-friendly activities, and the agency they posses to make change. A broad and inspiring vision of diversity is told through stories in words and pictures. And of course, there is a duck to find on every page!”

 

 

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Cover image for book, Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth

 Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg

“A comic book for kids that includes children and families of all makeups, orientations, and gender identities, Sex Is a Funny Word is an essential resource about bodies, gender, and sexuality for children ages 8 to 10 as well as their parents and caregivers. Much more than the “facts of life” or “the birds and the bees,” Sex Is a Funny Word opens up conversations between young people and their caregivers in a way that allows adults to convey their values and beliefs while providing information about boundaries, safety, and joy.”

 

 

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A sample box of materials from Little Justice Leaders, including markers, a book, and a journal.

Little Justice Leaders Subscription Box

Perfect for kids in grades K-5, this subscription box highlights a social justice issue each month through arts and crafts, projects, books, conversation starters, and other activities that help the young person in your life how to understand complex issues. Options include a sibling pack for families with more than one child and a teacher version for teachers!

 

 

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Cover of the book, My First Book of Feminism (for boys) by Julie Merberg

My First Book of Feminism (For Boys) by Julie Merberg

With simple and colorful illustrations and engaging, age-appropriate language, this book is perfect for children ages 0-3! At the Action Alliance we believe it’s never too early for young people to learn about respecting other people’s boundaries and no’s and that masculinity can be expansive, tender, and caring; this book is a great way to start those conversations with the young people in your life!

 


FOR YOUNG ADULTS

the hate

Cover image for the book, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

 

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Cover image for the book, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Recently named a National Book Award Winner! “Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

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Cover of Girls Write Now book

Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Stories from Young Female Voices by Girls Write Now

Girls Write Now builds community through their Writing & Mentorship Program, Digital Media Mentoring Program, and monthly workshop series. For the last 20 years they have connected girls and young women with progression women writers to provide mentees with tools to grow as writers and storytellers. In a starred review, Booklist wrote, “Through poetic verse and infused with native language, these 116 autobiographical short stories from black, Asian, and Latina young women are thoughtful, earnest, raw, regretful, angry, and impassioned . . . The authors’ authentic experiences will elicit strong emotional reactions from readers and maybe even encourage them to write their own. Strongly recommended.”


FOR EVERYONE

Fund Abortion Earrings

Fund Abortion/Build Power earrings in purple

Fund Abortion/Build Power Earrings or We Fund Abortion Socks by National Network of Abortion Funds

The National Network of Abortion Funds builds power with its members to remove barriers to abortion access. In their work they center people who have had abortions and organize at the intersections of racial, economic and reproductive justice. Many Action Alliance staff have a huge crush on NNAF and the abortion funds (and individuals) that make up their membership (including the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project), and it’s not just because they have some of the coolest merch out there.

 

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Cover image of the book, Octavia’s Brood, edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown

Octavia’s Brood edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown

“Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres–sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism–but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renee Thomas.”

 

unap

Cover image of the book, Unapologetic, by Charlene Carruthers

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers

“Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, including the Haitian Revolution, the US civil rights movement, and LGBTQ rights and feminist movements, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist. This book provides a vision for how social justice movements can become sharper and more effective through principled struggle, healing justice, and leadership development. It also offers a flexible model of what deeply effective organizing can be, anchored in the Chicago model of activism, which features long-term commitment, cultural sensitivity, creative strategizing, and multiple cross-group alliances. And Unapologetic provides a clear framework for activists committed to building transformative power, encouraging young people to see themselves as visionaries and leaders.”

 

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Free Our Mothers t-shirt in black

Mama’s Bail Out Shirt or Chisholm for President Crewneck

Philadelphia Print Works is a social justice brand and screen printing workshop. They have partnered with organizations such as the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Assata’s Daughters, March to End Rape Culture, and the Philly Trans March to support organizing around food security, police brutality, liberation, tlgbq+ rights, mass incarceration and more!

 

Chisolm for President

Chisholm for President shirt in red, available at Philadelphia PrintWorks, a social justice heritage brand and screen printing workshop. It was founded in 2010 by Maryam Pugh and Ruth Perez.

 

 

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A picture of the Rise Up game board and playing pieces.

Rise Up: The Game of People & Power

This collaborative board game is all about building people power and winning together for social justice! A great game for nights in with friends or office team building alike, this game is all about building movements. Created by the folks at the TESA Collective, don’t forget to check out the rest of their store full of expansion packs and other social justice-centered games.

 

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An image of the Repeal Hyde Art Project’s poster, which is an illustration of two crabs with the header, “Friends don’t let friends plot to dismantle the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy alone.”

“Friends Don’t Let Friends” Repeal Hyde Art Project Print

The Repeal Hyde Art Project aims to create dialogue and awareness around the Hyde Amendment. Passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment prevents people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. This art project highlights how the Hyde Amendment has disproportionately impacted women of color and is connected to other forms of oppression such as transphobia, ableism, and classism. Many Action Alliance staffers have these beautiful prints in their office to reminds us that “Friends don’t let friends plot to dismantle the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy alone!”

 

Gumbs

Cover image of the book, Revolutionary Mothering, edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams

“Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines is an anthology that centers mothers of color and marginalized mothers’ voices—women who are in a world of necessary transformation. The challenges faced by movements working for antiviolence, anti-imperialist, and queer liberation, as well as racial, economic, reproductive, gender, and food justice are the same challenges that marginalized mothers face every day. Motivated to create spaces for this discourse because of the authors’ passionate belief in the power of a radical conversation about mothering, they have become the go-to people for cutting-edge inspired work on this topic for an overlapping committed audience of activists, scholars, and writers. Revolutionary Mothering is a movement-shifting anthology committed to birthing new worlds, full of faith and hope for what we can raise up together.”

 

bitch

Feminist fury pencil pack from Bitch Media

Feminist Fury Pencil Pack by Bitch Media

Bitch Media has provided thoughtful feminist responses to mainstream media and pop culture since 1996 in print, online, on the air, and on campuses. This pack three-pack of neon pencils are ready to help you write or sketch out your angry feminist agenda and support Bitch Media at the same time!

 

 

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Cover image of the book, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith

“Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America—“Dear White America”—where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.”

 

Be the Change: Just Seeds Coloring Book by Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

BeTheChangefront

Cover image for the book, Be the Change by Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Be the Change is the first coloring book featuring the art of Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative!  These 35 illustrations envision radical social transformation and pathways toward a more just future. People of all ages will find inspiration here. In a world that is getting faster every day, slow down and celebrate art and resistance. Make the revolution bright, colorful, and irresistible! Together we can be the change we want to see!”

 

 

 

 

queer

Cover image of book, Queer and Trans Artists of Color by Nia King

Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives by Nia King

“A collection of sixteen unique and honest conversations you won’t read anywhere else… Mixed-race queer art activist Nia King left a full-time job in an effort to center her life around making art. Grappling with questions of purpose, survival, and compromise, she started a podcast called We Want the Airwaves in order to pick the brains of fellow queer and trans artists of color about their work, their lives, and “making it” – both in terms of success and in terms of survival. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses fat burlesque with Magnoliah Black, queer fashion with Kiam Marcelo Junio, interning at Playboy with Janet Mock, dating gay Latino Republicans with Julio Salgado, intellectual hazing with Kortney Ryan Ziegler, gay gentrification with Van Binfa, getting a book deal with Virgie Tovar, the politics of black drag with Micia Mosely, evading deportation with Yosimar Reyes, weird science with Ryka Aoki, gay public sex in Africa with Nick Mwaluko, thin privilege with Fabian Romero, the tyranny of “self-care” with Lovemme Corazón, “selling out” with Miss Persia and Daddie$ Pla$tik, the self-employed art activist hustle with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and much, much more. Welcome to the future of QPOC art activism.”

marsha-p-johnson

Poster image of a drawing of Marsha P Johnson with heading, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us” by Micah Bazant.

Marsha P Johnson Poster by Micah Bazant

The tagline on Micah Bazant’s website is “making social change look irresistible,” and that is very much what they do. They are a “a trans visual artist who works with social justice movements to reimagine the world. They create art inspired by struggles to decolonize ourselves from white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and the gender binary.” This particular poster was first created in 2014 for their “No Pride for Some of Us Without Liberation for All of Us” series as a way to “challenge whitewashed gay pride and celebrate Marsha, one of the mother of the trans and queer liberation movement.”


This holiday gift-giving guide is brought to you by the Action Alliance’s Social Change Team, which works on social change and movement building to disrupt the conditions that give rise to violence and oppression.

Responding to the Kavanaugh Hearing With a Commitment to Prevention

On September 27th, I watched Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of  the Senate Judiciary Committee in my mostly darkened office. The day was already gray, and only my small desk lamp and computer screen provided any sort of illumination. I watched as Dr. Ford described the sexual violence she experienced as a teenager, as she repeatedly apologized for not remembering every detail, as she politely asked for caffeine and then a break, and as she patiently and scientifically described the ways that this trauma imprinted on her brain. When I took my own break and walked over to a coffee shop to grab a drink, my eyes burned thinking about what Dr. Ford remembered most vividly—their laughter, “two friends having a really good time with one another.”

I then watched Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony. I watched as his face twisted and got red, his body seemingly unable to contain his anger, fear and defiance. I was immediately struck by his rage and how clearly he felt entitled to it. Writer, social justice facilitator, and healer adrienne marree brown reflected on this in a blog post titled “Dr. Ford’s Dignity” when she wrote, “Kavanaugh has been marked by his actions in public, his dirty hands showing, his rageful face showing precisely how a boy who sexually assaults a girl while he is drunk looks when he grows up. his true self showed today, and every survivor who saw his face, who heard Christine Blasey-Ford say she was once scared he might kill her, recognized him as a perpetrator.”

For many of us who recognized Kavanaugh as a perpetrator, his confirmation a little over a week later, was not surprising, though still devastating. Just as so many things that have happened over the past few years have been not surprising, though still devastating.

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Image credit: Andrea Arroyo

In our own work, we must continue to show up for survivors. From Thursday, the day of the hearing, to the Sunday after, RAINN saw a 338% increase in hotline calls. While advocacy and direct services continue to be vital for the communities we serve and the survivors who come to us, it’s equally important to commit to primary prevention work.

At the Action Alliance, we define primary prevention as a set of practices and values that seek to shift attitudes, behaviors and norms that support and perpetuate the root causes of violence. Primary prevention uses anti-oppressive frameworks and understands that systems of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy are at the heart of sexual and intimate partner violence.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained. An understanding of rape culture allows us to see how the violence Dr. Ford experienced, that so many survivors experience, goes beyond what happened one summer night in a Maryland suburb. And when we use primary prevention practices we are able to prevent instances of violence and dismantle the culture that allows this violence to happen.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained.

With a primary prevention lens, we can see how misogyny and privilege build a culture where boys feel entitled to a young girl’s body, where they do not take her struggle seriously, where they in fact find the situation amusing, even fun. We see how this phrase that flows so easily out of some people’s mouths, “boys will be boys,” reinforces the idea that harm is inevitable and boys, specifically white boys, should not or cannot be held accountable for their actions. It is rape culture that sends the message to survivors that speaking publicly about the violence they have experienced is harmful or unfair to their perpetrator; it frames this unveiling of violence, abuse and trauma as a “scary time for boys” rather than the reckoning that it is.

We can better understand the differences in Dr. Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s demeanors on September 27th with a primary prevention lens because we understand how gender roles and stereotypes police behavior. It was necessary for Dr. Ford to be polite, courteous, and controlled because she is a woman and to be too emotional, angry, or frustrated would make her dramatic, hysterical and thus unbelievable. While Dr. Ford was dignified, Kavanaugh, as a man, was outraged; even, arguably, in excess. What are we teaching young women and trans or non-binary people when some are entitled to express their emotions to a point of a menace, while others must keep even the deepest parts of their grief contained and quiet?

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Image credit: Sharyn Lee

With a primary prevention lens, we can better unpack how the public perceived Dr. Ford in comparison to Anita Hill, a black woman who testified in front of an eerily similar Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. Because with this lens, we know that racism is also a root of rape culture and sexual violence and that when a CNN pundit described Dr. Ford’s testimony as more resonant because she projected vulnerability while Anita Hill projected strength and poise, we know this is connected to racial stereotypes about black women.

The Kavanaugh hearing and subsequent swearing in prove the necessity for a deep culture shift. We want to live in a world where people understand and practice consent, where sexuality is joyful, where boundaries are respected, where open communication is expected. In this world, those who have harmed are held accountable and these harmful behaviors are transformed and changed. In order to get there, we must commit to violence prevention. We must invest in and value prevention trainings and education; community building, organizing and connection; and the work of people and organizations in other movements that fight for justice and liberation (National Network of Abortion Funds and SisterSong). As organizer and educator Mariame Kaba reminded us on twitter in 2017, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”

Thank you, Dr. Ford.

Thank you, Anita Hill.

We believe you.

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Image credit: Ashley Lukashevsky


Additional Reading:

We Still Haven’t Learned from Anita Hill’s Testimony (NYT) by Kimberlé Crenshaw

What Christine Blasey Ford Reveals about Womanhood (The Guardian) by Moira Donegan

Listen: Déjà vu All Over Again (NPR Code Switch)


Laura Chow Reeve is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work at the Action Alliance, Laura worked with Girls Rock Camps, youth programs that use music and creative expression as a tool for social justice. She has a MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA and writes fiction.

 

Ending Child Marriage: A Priority to Ending A Cycle of Violence

Content warning: sexual assault, suicide, physical violence

On May 10, Sudanese courts sentenced a 19-year-old girl to death for defending herself and stabbing her rapist, whom she had been forced to marry at age 16. Although the sentence was overturned over a month later, Noura’s case has prompted international outcry and has further highlighted the need to address child marriage, which about 12 million girls experience each year.

When discussing child marriage, it is imperative to recognize its connection to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. According to a UNICEF report, girls who marry in their childhood are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. In fact, girls who get married under the age of 15 are 50% more likely to suffer physical or sexual violence from a partner. Girls Not Brides further reports that ending child marriage would reduce rates of intimate partner violence by more than 10% in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Additionally, child brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced – as was the case for Noura. In fact, one study in northern Ethiopia found that 81% of girls who were married at ages 10-19 “described their first sexual experience as against their will.” Likewise, in India, child brides were three times more likely to be raped than those who married later. Other studies have reported that many women who were married young continue to be raped throughout their marriages.

As noted by Global Citizen, child marriage often forces children to be separated from their family and friends and “transferred to (their spouses) like a piece of property.” This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors – all of which are associated with child marriage. Furthermore, child brides are often deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety, have a higher risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and are more likely to live in poverty. All of these conditions uphold a cycle of violence against the children, which continues into their adulthoods and oftentimes into the next generation. Child marriage also “ensures that (girls) remain dependent on others all their lives, strips them of their agency, and hands control over their lives to someone else” – therefore systematically disempowering them.

 

Source: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/GNB-Child-marriage-human-rights-infographic-1200px.jpg

On the contrary, girls who remain with their families and continue their education are able to become financially independent and “engage more fully with society.” In fact, just one extra year of primary education can boost a girl’s future earnings by 15%. Thus, by robbing girls of education and economic opportunities, child marriage forces girls into a cycle of poverty – the very poverty that oftentimes is the reason they were forced into their marriages in the first place.

 

Here in the United States, more than 248,000 children had been married, mostly to adult men, between the years of 2000 and 2010. In Virginia specifically, almost 4,500 children were married from 2004 to 2013. Of these children, 90% were girls, and 90% were married to adults. Virginia records additionally showed brides and grooms as young as 12 years old. Although the minimum age of marriage in most US states is 18, 48 out of 50 states have exceptions that allow children under 18 to get married. Furthermore, in half of those states, there is no minimum age at all below which children cannot get married – despite the fact that the age of consent, across the nation, ranges from 16 to 18 years old.

In 2011 alone, in New York, state data showed that a 14-year-old was wed to a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old to a 25-year-old, and a yet another 15-year-old to someone aged 35 to 39. Such age differences would typically result in third-degree rape charges, which occurs when a person over the age of 21 has sex with a child under the age of 17, a felony punishable with up to four years in prison. However, a current loophole exempts New York’s statutory rape law from applying to those who engage in sex with juveniles they are married to. As one author wrote in the Houston Chronicle, “marriage provides a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators, while doing nothing to protect the girls.”

Although some may argue that there is not much difference between an 18-year-old’s level of maturity versus a 17-year-old’s, Fraidy Reiss, the founder of the nonprofit Unchained At Last, notes an important distinction. “It’s about legal capacity. In most states, you’re not legally an adult until age 18, meaning you can’t take the legal steps you might need to protect yourself if you are married before then, including getting into a domestic violence shelter, retaining a lawyer, and getting a divorce,” Reiss told Global Citizen. “It puts the lock into wedlock.”

It was not until May 2018 that Delaware became the first US state to ban all child marriage, without exceptions. While several other states are in the process of following suit, there is still considerable – and urgent – work to be done. Girls Not Brides has reported that if child marriage is not reduced, the number of women around the world married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050 – “with devastating consequences for the whole world.”

Ending child marriage is a necessary component of ending sexual violence and intimate partner violence. There are many ways to join the movement to end child marriage, such as supporting girls’ education – a powerful tool to empower girls and allow them the opportunity to grow into confident and independent women.  It is also important to recognize that education alone will not end child marriage, as the issue is multifaceted and caused by various factors including gender inequality and poverty. Although the various, overlapping aspects of child marriage can make it harder to eradicate, they also allow for countless opportunities to get involved. Lawmakers can work to close loopholes in laws and policies that leave children vulnerable; teachers and community leaders can learn to recognize signs of child marriage, as well as form trustful relations with children they mentor so that children may feel comfortable seeking help from them if a harmful situation arises; and all concerned individuals can use their voices to call on global leaders and politicians to protect children.

If we work together to tackle child marriage, we can create a world where girls and women are empowered, in charge of their own destinies, and able to live their lives free of violence,” said Mabel van Oranje, the Princess of Orange-Nassau and co-founder of Girls Not Brides. “This is a world that makes all of us better off.”

Featured image source: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/delaware-child-marriage-ban-us-first/

 


Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

On The Violence Against Women Act: Ensuring We Don’t Harm Those We Seek to Help

“VAWA has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals has come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate.” –  The National Domestic Violence Hotline

The Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization in 2018. While helping to establish essential, coordinated responses to sexual and intimate partner violence, some advocates believe VAWA’s affiliation with the criminal legal system has also resulted in unintended consequences that harm survivors. VAWA reauthorization this year offers us an opportunity to create a VAWA that gets us closer to the world we want.

THE GOOD: VAWA PROVIDES MANY IMPORTANT, LIFE-SAVING SERVICES

First established in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has had a lasting impact on survivors of sexual and domestic violence, as well as the communities serving them. The Act has provided life-changing services for the survivors of violence. These services include:

Through these services, VAWA has not only worked to prevent violence through tools such as education, but also played a significant role in easing the burden on survivors. This is exemplified through its housing protections, as well as its ban on states charging rape survivors for forensic sexual assault examinations, among many other provisions.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of IPV against females [1] declined 53% between 1993 and 2008, after the passage of VAWA. Similarly, the IPV rate against males declined 54%. Furthermore, between 1993 and 2007, the number of homicide victims killed by intimate partners fell 29%. Based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, between 1993 and 2008, the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against females declined by 70%, and the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against males declined by 36%.

THIS YEAR, VAWA IS DUE FOR REAUTHORIZATION – A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR REVISIONS TO THE ACT

Every five years, VAWA expires; with the last reauthorization of VAWA taking place in 2013, the Act is due for reauthorization this year. Over the past two decades since the initial passage of VAWA, the Act has been successfully reauthorized three times – each time with a set of revisions. VAWA’s first reauthorization took place in 2000 and allowed for additional protections for immigrants who are survivors of violence, a new program for survivors in need of transitional housing, funds for rape prevention and education, and an inclusion of survivors of dating violence. In 2005, VAWA’s reauthorization added programs for indigenous people who are survivors of violence. VAWA’S latest reauthorization, in 2013, added provisions targeting human trafficking, provisions for LGBTQ individuals, and provisions for tribal courts to have jurisdiction over domestic or dating violence offenses committed by non-Native people.

THE BAD: VAWA HAS HAD UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES THAT COULD HARM THE VERY PEOPLE IT SEEKS TO HELP

While VAWA has generally grown more inclusive and comprehensive over the years, it has also had unintended and unfortunate consequences. Passed with the intent to recognize and treat domestic violence as a serious crime rather than a private family matter, VAWA has contributed to the expansion of the role of the criminal legal system in cases of gender-based violence. Furthermore, the Act “encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest policies that allowed domestic violence cases to move forward without the cooperation of victims.” One of the unintended consequences of such policies is that if police are unable to detect the primary aggressor at the scene of an altercation, they can simply arrest both parties – thus further contributing to additional trauma for victims of violence.

Mandatory arrest policies can also discourage some survivors from reporting domestic violence due to the fear that their partners, who may be the family’s only earner, will be immediately arrested and jailed. This means that domestic violence victims can actually be in even more danger, as they feel unable to seek help. In fact, a Harvard study, which used FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, found that mandatory arrest laws actually increased intimate partner homicides – thus “harming the very people they seek to help.”

ADVOCATES SUGGEST REALLOCATING MORE FUNDS TO SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS INSTEAD OF INVOLVEMENT IN THE CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM

Many advocates hope the next reauthorization will disconnect VAWA’s funds from its close involvement in a criminal legal system that often marginalizes people of color and breaks up families, thus leaving people more vulnerable to violence. Researchers have noted that VAWA’s connection to the criminal legal system fails to address the actual causes of intimate partner violence (IPV), which are highly correlated with economic distress. Additionally, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes that “lack of employment opportunities, low wages, lack of affordable housing and social supports such as childcare dramatically affect the ability of battered women to escape violence and rebuild their lives.” If VAWA funding devoted to the criminal legal system could instead be reallocated to services – such as transitional housing – that help survivors of IPV leave abusive partners, we would be closer to achieving a victim-centered approach and ensuring that, in our response to violence, we do not promote a cycle of incarceration that ultimately results in more violence.

As we envision the future we hope to live in, we dream up a world where everyone is able to live safely without the threat or fear of domestic and sexual violence. Safety also means a nation where mass incarceration no longer traps more than 2.2 million people behind bars, leaving them and their families vulnerable to economic hardship and more violence. By reauthorizing VAWA this year, and de-carcerating it in the process, we can be one step closer to making this dream a reality.


Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

[1] The report does not address transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Featured image source: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/04/debate-over-violence-against-women-act-centers-on-the-vulnerable/

Justice. Healing. Liberation. 2018

From May 2nd through 4th, in Glen Allen, Virginia, the Action Alliance hosted our Justice. Healing. Liberation. conference for 140 advocates, law enforcement, preventionists, attorneys, case managers, and more. We held 32 workshops presented by over 40 presenters, a panel of 5 incredible storytellers, and 3 inspiring keynotes. Our conference included daily yoga sessions, two passionate performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia, and a fundraising paint night hosted by Lynn Black from Paint for Good.

“[The conference] opened my eyes to struggles our clients go through and how we can help them cope with it.” -Conference attendee

We began on Wednesday, May 2nd, with a Trauma 101 session that offered our attendees a base understanding of different types of trauma, how trauma manifests, and its impact on the brain and body. Then, we dove into the nitty gritty. Attendees could choose from five different workshops during any time slot throughout the course of the day. Workshops covered topics from supporting human trafficking survivors, to looking at the intersections of trauma, oppression, and racial justice, and walking through a case study of intimate partner violence from the perspective of a law enforcement officer.

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Arianna Sessoms from James Madison University delivers a workshop about how to integrate racial justice practices into trauma response.

In the evening, the Latin Ballet of Virginia put on a vibrant performance that brought us back together as a group and re-energized us after a long day of learning. Our keynote, Dr. Dawn O’Malley, Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy, taught us about the history of brain science, and how critical the last 20 years of research have been for our understanding of how trauma impacts the brain. We concluded our evening with a dinner reception with distinguished guests, including Attorney General Mark Herring, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daniel Carey, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gena Boyle, and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Duke Storen.

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The Latin Ballet of Virginia

Thursday was focused on the power of storytelling, and how telling our stories can be a critical step in the healing process for survivors, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance for those who have experienced similar struggles. We started out with another performance by the Latin Ballet, whose movement and music told stories of hardship and joy. We even had some audience members and Action Alliance staff join them on stage. Then our keynote, John Richardson-Lauve from ChildSavers spoke to us about how telling one’s story after a traumatic event can foster resilience.

“I just LOVED it.  The food was great, the workshops were very informative, the dancing entertainment was a breath of fresh air and the keynote speakers and panel discussion were inspiring.” -Conference attendee

Next, we hosted our “Storytelling as Transformative Justice” panel, with KJ Delgado from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, Lieutenant Deuntay Diggs with the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, Gaynell Sherrod from Virginia Commonwealth University, Rodney Lofton of Diversity Richmond, and Lisette Johnson, writer of Shameless Survivors. We were honored to hear these inspiring individuals share their stories, and learned about how stories can change hearts and move minds. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to workshops focused on survivor stories, both heard and unheard. Participants had the opportunity to view and discuss the documentary Baltimore Rising, look at the intersections of sex education in the United States, and understand the process of fatality reviews in the state of Virginia.

 “The best part of this conference were all the different workshop options and what they brought to the table for learning, growth and discussion.” -Conference attendee

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Tiffany Turner-Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

The final day of our conference was focused on emerging trends in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and shifting the way we respond to and prevent violence. Our keynote, Tiffany Turner -Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, started the day talking about promising practices in “allyship” and her role in life as a truth-teller. This led into our workshop sessions that included topics like “Restorative Justice as a Tool for Healing from Abuse” and “Policing in the 21st Century”. We ended the day with some words of wisdom from our fearless Executive Director, Kristi VanAudenhove, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday the same day. We sang her happy birthday, enjoyed lunch and cake, and said our goodbyes.

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Happy birthday, Kristi!

These three days provided an incredible opportunity to connect, share, and inspire. For everyone who joined us, thank you so much for your energy, stories, and wisdom. We hope that you are able to take these lessons and discussions back to your communities, and we’ll see you in 2019 for our Biennial Retreat!

 


Laurel Winsor is the 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.

On an Unjust Justice System: Innocent Until Proven Poor

Our country’s system of cash bail doesn’t work like you were probably taught. Every year, millions of people are coerced into paying money bail after they’re arrested in order to remain free while their cases are processed. Even though these individuals are still innocent in the eyes of the law, they and their families or communities are forced to pay non-refundable ten percent deposits to for-profit bail bonds companies. Rather than helping to ensure that defendants return to court for future court hearings (a reminder phone call works just as well), the cash bail system fuels mass incarceration and disproportionately impacts Black and low-income communities. 

Oftentimes, young children are fed certain beliefs to give them a basic understanding of how the world works. They are told that doctors make them feel better when they are sick, that prison is where bad people go so they don’t harm others, that their teachers are always to be trusted, that the justice system rights wrongs and makes the world a more just place.

As we grow older, it is imperative that we question the beliefs we were taught and analyze them for ourselves to search for the truth – if any – within them. Today, I ask you to challenge your beliefs about the “justice” system and its accompanying money bail system.

How many people does this affect?

Here in the land of the free, there are 646,000 people locked up in more than 3,000 local jails – of these people, 70 percent have yet to be convicted of a crime and are legally presumed innocent. Who are they, you may ask, and why are they there? According to data from the non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), fewer than 30 percent of those currently locked up in local jails were arrested for violent crimes. And the reason they are still there? It has a lot to do with the United States’ system of money bail.

Through the money bail system, defendants are required to pay a certain amount of money as a pledged guarantee that they will attend future court hearings. Defendants who are unable to come up with that money, however, can be incarcerated from the time of their arrests until their cases are resolved or dismissed in court – a process that can, sometimes, take up to 10 years. The Pretrial Justice Initiative found that most people detained pretrial will receive “dismissals, no jail time, or a jail sentence less than time served in pretrial detention.” It seems that the “constitutional principle of innocent until proven guilty only really applies to the well off.”

Bail amounts are often equivalent to a full year’s income

According to PPI’s research, which uses Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the median annual income for people in jail, prior to incarceration, was $15,109 – this is less than half (48 percent) of the median for people of similar ages who are not incarcerated. Since those in jail are drastically poorer than non-incarcerated individuals, it is oftentimes extremely difficult for them to pay the required bail amount. In fact, the nationwide median bail amount is almost equivalent to a full year’s income for the typical person unable to meet a bail bond.

Also important to note in these statistics is the fact that Black women had the lowest incomes prior to incarceration. This means that the money bail system especially harms Black women, as they are the least likely to be able to afford their bail amount. Many may have heard the story of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in custody in July 2015, after being unable to afford the $515 amount. Sadly, this story is not hers alone. In that same month, five additional Black women died in jails around the country waiting to post bail, the majority on minor shoplifting charges.

The money bail system further disadvantages people of color, as data presented by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that Hispanic men had a 19-percent higher bail than white men, while black men had bail amounts 35 percent higher than white men.

Cash bail often triggers housing, employment and custody crises

The bail system further exacerbates a system of poverty. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71 percent of inmates were employed when they were arrested. As stated in the aforementioned article by Brave New Films, “there is no way to calculate how many of those people will lose their jobs because they can’t afford to bail out and will fail to come to work, or how many will lose their housing as a result of the downward spiral.” Additionally, people can also lose custody of their children during this jail time – thus leaving entire families more vulnerable to violence.

Huge profits for bail bonds corporations; a cycle of poverty for individuals

Like most instances of injustice, this has dire consequences not only on those directly affected, but on family members as well. One practice for families that cannot afford bail is to enter into financial agreements with bail-bonds corporations. A practice that is only present in the United States and the Philippines, these for-profit bail businesses require individuals to pay a non-refundable portion of the total bail amount to a bail-bonds company. Even if there’s no conviction, defendants and their families will never get that money back. Not only do these bail bonds “often leave families paying loan installments and fees even after a case is resolved,” but they can even result in property loss if a house or other asset was selected as collateral.

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Source: Prison Policy Initiative

Jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

Cash bail can/should be eliminated

Instead of utilizing the money bail system, which further disadvantages people of color, especially Black women, courts could adopt non-financial forms of release, such as release on own recognizance – in which a person is released “after promising, in writing, to appear in court for all upcoming proceedings.” Additionally, instead of arresting people, police could issue more citations – “orders to appear before a judge on a given date to defend against a stated charge” without having to serve jail time or be subjected to pay money bail. It is also worth noting that jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

You can help us TAKE ACTION

As we rethink our own beliefs about money bail, let us not forget those who are currently suffering the consequences of this unjust system. Currently, the Action Alliance is supporting Southerners on New Ground (SONG)’s Black Mamas Bail Out Action – a project to free as many Black women as possible (cis and trans) to bring them home to their families for Mother’s Day. Join us today in supporting this cause and reuniting families for Mother’s Day.

On May 10, the Action Alliance will host, “Getting Our People Free: What is Bail Reform and Why Do We Need It?”. This teach-in will be held 5pm-7pm at the Action Alliance office and is co-sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of Southerners on New Ground. Join us for community, conversation, snacks, and to learn more about how to end money bail.

Cover image source: https://www.injusticewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FullSizeRender-1170×889.jpg


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

On Conscious Living: Ending a System of Human Trafficking

Last month, students from around the world participated in my #MyFreedomDay to celebrate freedom and raise awareness about modern-day slavery.

At the Bangalore International School in India, students in the third and fourth grades talked about what freedom means to them.

At the Saint Mary of the Hills school in Argentina, students composed a song about freedom.

At the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, students signed a petition urging governments to take action to help stop modern-day slavery and human rights abuses.

If there’s something we can learn from these concerned students, it’s their care and their desire to raise awareness and take action into bringing about a world of safety and freedom. Though young, they remind us of the innate goodness of humanity, thereby planting the seeds of hope for a better future and inspiring us adults to take action.

When it comes to human trafficking, people sometimes tend to feel detached from the issue. Since – according to their misconceptions – it’s not happening in their backyards, they feel that there isn’t anything they can do about it. That, of course, is not quite true. In fact, since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported 40,200 cases of human trafficking – the majority of which are sex trafficking cases – in the United States. Here in Richmond, Virginia, we are ranked the ninth highest in the country for the most reported cases per capita of human trafficking, according to a report published in 2017 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And it’s not just about where it occurs or how close it is to us or how much at risk we personally are; it’s about how we can unknowingly be complicit in a system that upholds human trafficking.

For example, when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of children, it’s important to recognize how we end up contributing to the problem in our daily lives and what steps we can take to dismantle our own harmful contributions. The solution starts with self-awareness—recognizing our own biases, our own flaws, and where we need to improve on ourselves.

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This diagram shows how various behaviors and other forms of oppression can ultimately lead Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Life of Freedom Center: https://www.lofcenter.org

Another way to reduce our indirect, but harmful, impact on this issue is by being conscious consumers who are mindful of what brands or companies we are supporting. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are over 370 line items believed to have been produced by child labor or forced labor. In fact, popular clothing companies such as Adidas, Gap, and H&M were believed to have ties to slave labor, according to an article published in Salon. Sadly, this applies to a long list of companies, ranging from Walmart to Victoria’s Secret to Starbucks – who, through prison slavery, exploit people’s labor for profit just like human trafficking does – to Nestle. The same goes for sex trafficking, as well, which has an estimated 4.5 million victims worldwide. For example, are we conscious of whether we visit and support strip clubs where workers are forced to provide commercial sex to customers? Are we researching to make sure we’re not supporting illicit massage businesses that force human trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex?

As citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to be mindful of which practices and which industries our time and money are supporting and ask ourselves if we are – albeit unintentionally – complicit in contributing to modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Whether it’s through using methods such as boycotting and buycotting to become more deliberate consumers or by doing our part to raise awareness about human trafficking (like the active students who participated in #MyFreedomDay), there are always ways we can help – if even in the tiniest bit – to end human trafficking. One of the most powerful methods to go about enacting change is by addressing the root of the problem.

Like all forms of oppression, human trafficking is intersectional. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are various recurring vulnerabilities among victims of trafficking, especially sex trafficking. For example, immigration status is a recurring vulnerability; strip club networks often target victims of particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Those in vulnerable financial situations, such as individuals who have debt or family debts, are often targets for sex trafficking as well.

This pattern is not unique to the United States, of course; the same goes for those targeted for sex trafficking all around the world. In Italy, migrants from Nigeria who come in pursuit of educational and economic equality are highly at risk for sex trafficking. Even in Canada, the indigenous population makes up just 4% of the nation, yet 50% of those trafficked for sex due to a legacy of poverty and racism. However, by empowering individuals from marginalized communities, supporting immigrant and indigenous people’s rights, and continuing to stand up for racial justice, as well as economic justice, we can help prevent more people from falling into human trafficking.

Lastly, it is important to ensure that there are always safe havens for survivors of trafficking and for those who come from marginalized populations at a risk to be trafficked. It’s not just about providing physical places of refuge, but about creating a society that is, at large, a place of security and freedom. It’s about all of us becoming safe havens ourselves, about becoming individuals who use our own privileges and power to bring about a safer and more just world.

Which practices have your time and money supported this week? What have you done today to empower other individuals? And what will you do tomorrow to embody a safe haven within yourself?

Featured image: CNN: https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/myfreedomday


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change. 

The Super Bowl, Suppression, and Survivorship

In the late hours of Sunday, February 4th, and the early hours of the following Monday, the Eagles fans took to the streets of Philadelphia to celebrate their hometown’s first-ever Super Bowl win. A lot happened—cars were flipped, police and civilians were injured, street poles were ripped out of the ground, fires were started, and property was destroyed. What’s even more noticeable, however, is what didn’t happen—authorities did not fire tear gas or shoot at the unruly crowds, police dogs were not brought in, and media outlets did not use rhetoric laced with negative connotation to describe the rioting football fans.

Instead, although the Philadelphia Police Department’s presence was heavy, the city congratulated the Eagles, the mayor—as well as the city’s fire commissioner—encouraged fans to celebrate safely, and the police sergeant said it would be great if fans could go home. While this may seem like the expected and natural response—I mean, police exist to keep citizens safe, after all, right?—it serves a sharp contrast to ways police responded to similar gatherings of large crowds of predominantly people of color.

In fact, that very same morning before the Super Bowl, Minneapolis police arrested people gathered to protest police brutality. While the protest and the celebration riots occurred within 24 hours of each other, responses were strikingly different—especially considering that the Black Lives Matter protest was not harmful to any civilians or property.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. For years, protests against police brutality, racism, and sexism have garnered violent police responses – even when the protests themselves are peaceful. It appears that outraged responses to people of color protesting are not a matter of public safety, but rather another tactic to suppress the voices of people of color. One needs to look no further than responses to athletes simply kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality to see that even the most peaceful forms of protest by people of color or in support of people of color are still condemned and shut down.

Just as people of color are automatically faced with blame, white folks are almost immediately given the benefit of the doubt for their actions. The large groups of white folk rioting after the Super Bowl were not immediately assumed to be “thugs” or “terrorists”—instead they were thought of as passionate sport fans, perhaps a little overzealous at most.

When people of color and allies are constantly met with more police brutality and racially charged rhetoric by media outlets, and frequent blame, they are robbed of their voices and their opportunities to speak out time and time again. A culture where people of color’s voices are constantly suppressed leaves us with several problems as a society—namely, a cycle of more violence against people of color.

Over time, with white people not being held to the same level of accountability and with people of color silenced, the power scale gets further tipped for the favor of white people. This power difference increases the risk factor for sexual violence and intimate partner violence, as it creates the opportunity for abuse of power. Silencing the voices of people of color when they stand up for justice only makes it even more difficult for people of color who are survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence to speak up about their experiences and receive support. This becomes even more agonizing when the abuser holds more power and is therefore less likely to be held accountable.

As a society, we should strive for a culture of racial equity that holds all individuals to the same degree of accountability and ensures that all voices—especially those of survivors—are heard loud and clear.

Featured image: Getty Images: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a15839429/eagles-fans-crisco-poles-fight/


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change. 

 

Stop Honoring Dishonorable Men

Today, January 12, 2018 is recognized in Virginia as “Lee-Jackson Day”–an official state holiday.

Created back in 1889 by Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Lee-Jackson Day was established to honor two Confederate generals from the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Despite many Virginia cities choosing no longer to observe Lee-Jackson Day (including Richmond, Charlottesville, and most recently Blacksburg), Virginia remains the only state in the nation that continues to celebrate this holiday.

The question of whether this remnant of the Confederacy should still be around today is not new, but has become a point of national attention, particularly in the wake of events like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past summer. Statues, schools, and roads all bear the names of men who led the treasonous seceding states in the Civil War. Arguments in favor of keeping these vestiges alive involve the character of men like Lee: “He wasn’t pro-slavery, he just inherited them from his father-in-law!” “He was an amazing war general!” “He was a good and honorable man!”

Recently, I saw statements like these pop up in a different national conversation: #metoo. “He’s not a rapist, he just made a mistake!” “He’s a brilliant athlete/ director/ businessman!” “He’s a nice guy, he’d never hurt a fly!” As survivors of sexual violence and harassment like the Silence Breakers (led by Tarana Burke, and including Ashley Judd, Dana Lewis, etc.) garnered national attention for sharing their stories, many rape-apologists and victim-blamers came out of the woodwork. For every accusation against a specific abuser, I saw a string of comments expressing how implausible it was that Person X could ever do something like that because of their impeccable character, or that it was unfair to besmirch their name and try to rob them of their bright future/career.

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The entertainment industry has been central to this wave of silence breaking, especially after the dozens of accusations against Harvey Weinstein hit mainstream news. We saw and heard the stories of many brave individuals who were pressured, coerced, threatened, and forced into things they weren’t comfortable with. And we saw an outpouring of support for these survivors, most recently with Oprah’s powerful speech at the Golden Globes. Her entire speech was beautiful and worth watching (check it out here), but this excerpt felt particularly relevant: “…What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

 But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

oprah

If we circle back to Robert E Lee’s history, we see accusations leveled against him as well by brave individuals who spoke up about the injustices they faced knowing it could lead to retaliation. In 1859, Wesley Norris, a man enslaved under Lee’s control in Arlington, Virginia, attempted to escape his enslavement with his cousin and sister but was unfortunately captured. In 1886, Norris testified to the National Anti-Slavery Standard about what transpired when they were returned to Arlington. Norris stated that Lee ordered that he and his cousin receive 50 lashes. As the county constable carried out the order, Norris recalls “Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams [the constable] to ‘lay it on well,’ an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.” Two additional, anonymously published letters corroborated the testimony.

The accounts of this event are well documented. You can read about it here and here.

A black man, an enslaved man, spoke his truth about the violence he endured at Lee’s command, probably knowing full well that the world at large would likely not be empathetic to his case and that he could face retaliation, either in the form of verbal insults or all-out physical assaults. Lee denied the accusations, and those who supported him (or his legacy) ignored or denied Norris’ testimony, choosing instead to focus on the fact that he eventually freed his slaves (when his father in-law’s will legally required him to do so) or that he made a statement in a letter to his wife where he wrote that “slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country” (even though he went on to say that somehow slavery was a greater evil to white people than black people and that “the painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race”).

We’ve seen this pattern for centuries. Men who abuse and assault are praised for their accomplishments, whether they lead a war or are Academy Award-winning filmmakers, and the stories of the victims who suffered at their hands are buried, minimized, or denied. We wouldn’t celebrate a Harvey Weinstein Day, a Woody Allen Day. or a Ben Roethlisberger Day. And we shouldn’t celebrate Lee-Jackson Day.


Laurel Winsor is the 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.


Featured image source:  https://img.thedailybeast.com/image/upload/c_crop,d_placeholder_euli9k,h_1440,w_2559,x_0,y_0/dpr_2.0/c_limit,w_740/fl_lossy,q_auto/v1505947196/170920-Brasher-robert-e-lee-tease_ohrcpr

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.