Action Alliance Statement on Governor Northam’s Veto of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Bills

The VA Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance applauds Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to veto two bills that passed this year’s General Assembly session that supported mandatory minimum sentencing for particular crimes. One of those bills, House Bill 2042, would have created a 60 day mandatory minimum sentence for a second conviction of assault and battery of a family or household member within a 10 year period. While we applaud legislators’ instincts to take crimes of domestic violence seriously and to seek victim safety, we do not believe that mandatory minimums are a real solution that protects victims of domestic violenceIn fact, mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.

“…mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.”

Loss of judicial discretion in sentencing, that takes all of the facts presented in a particular case into account, is one of the strongest arguments against the use of mandatory minimums. The criminal charge of assault and battery against a family or household member does not necessarily take into account a pattern of ongoing behavior that includes a broad range of crimes and offenses designed to exert power and control over an individual. Many victims do fight back in self-defense. Creating a mandatory minimum sentence can land victims of domestic violence in jail and serve to reinforce the control of the abuser.  Many judges understand this and often craft solutions to hold a victim accountable for committing a crime of assault and battery yet allow for options that recognize the broader circumstances, such as referring a victim, who has committed violence in an act of self-defense, to a domestic violence program.

We believe that working to address and change practices and procedures at the community level – such as effective enforcement of protective orders, appropriate law enforcement response to crimes of domestic violence, appropriate charging and prosecution of crimes, and a coordinated community response to this violence – is the work that recognizes the complexities of domestic violence, understands the impacts of trauma on families, and addresses real community solutions to this devastating issue.

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance opposes mandatory minimum sentences as a strategy to address domestic violence in the Commonwealth. Putting our resources towards real solutions like strengthening coordination of systems, creating trauma-informed, healing-centered communities, providing services to both victims and offenders that help to strengthen families, and removing guns from convicted abusers and respondents in protective order cases are all strategies that bring about real safety for victims.

Trauma is an underground river: On Charlottesville, Healing, and Transformative Justice

TRIGGER WARNING: Charlottesville attack, white supremacist violence, physical harm

…….

…….

Almost two years later, I still think about Charlottesville nearly every day. I hear the sickening thud thud thud thud thud of the car hitting people in rapid succession. I see projectiles in the air that my mind could only register at the time as bricks, not what they actually were: shoes knocked off feet from force of impact. I feel the shock of my body hitting the pavement as I tried to run. I remember the fleeting sense that this was where I was going to die. Trampled.

When I consider the arc of trauma in my life, Charlottesville looms large. Most days, it sits on my right shoulder; a dull ache and stiffness from being injured that day. On better days, it slumbers just beneath the surface. I’m not sure it was the hardest thing I’ve ever survived, but it was one of the most terrifying.

Charlottesville is for me both a shared trauma and a private one. I share the experience with the others who were there, and in a different way with the millions of people whose hearts squeezed tight when they bore witness to the horror through captured images. My love is the only person also there on that day with whom I’ve processed what happened. Only she knows how often those pictures hover in my mind’s eye and make my heart squeeze again.

Trauma is an underground river. It winds through invisible passages below the surface, often snaking quietly. Sometimes, though, it roils.

Two weeks ago, my love and I watched BlackKKlansman together. We knew ahead of time that Spike Lee had inserted footage from Charlottesville at the end of his film to illustrate how little has changed since the 70s. We prepared ourselves. It had been nearly 2 years; I thought I was ready to see the footage again with some detachment. But of course, I wasn’t. As we watched the grey Dodge Charger slam into the crowd, nausea rose up in me. My heart drummed like a hummingbird’s wings as I tried to steady my breath. My heart beats just as fast now as write this.

A similar-looking grey Dodge Charger picks up a student at our son’s high school on a regular basis. I’ve noticed it every Monday and Tuesday at 2:15pm in car line since the beginning of the semester. When its rumbling engine revs, it sickens me a little. The rational part of my brain knows it’s not the same car, but the primal part of my brain, the part designed to keep me alive, does not.

When the movie ended, my love and I rewound BlackKKlansman and watched the drone footage of the attack over and over again, pausing and searching the image for ourselves. Looking from that vantage point—a bird’s eye view—that blur there…was that us? Right there in the middle of the intersection? We must have rewound it at least 5 times, feeling grateful for the two cars that impeded his rampage and saved our lives, and sorrow for those who were caught between us and him.

We didn’t know at the time whether this was a single incident or the beginning of more attacks. We wanted to remain alive for our 3 amazing kids and the others we love, so we didn’t stay at the intersection after it happened. I still feel guilt for leaving the scene of the carnage. I wonder if the guy in the grey Dodge Charger feels his heart heavy with remorse looking back, or if he still feels justified in trying to murder as many of us as possible. I’d like to think that time for reflection has helped change his mind.

My father died a year before Charlottesville. I fell asleep many nights as my brain replayed how I held his hand after he died, my grief crystallizing as his body grew cold and stiff. It’s a memory weighted with gratitude but mostly deep sadness and loss. I wouldn’t try to summon the memory; it would just show up and take a stroll through my mind’s eye and my heart as I tried to drift off. After Charlottesville, my falling-asleep brain switched channels and started replaying Charlottesville over and over instead of my dead father. I felt relieved, in a way, for new images to fall asleep to. I wonder how morbid this would sound if I ever said it out loud.

My love and I recently honeymooned on the Yucatán Peninsula. It was magical. One day, we explored a cenote in the middle of the jungle. A cenote is a sinkhole that exposes groundwater underneath when the limestone rock above collapses. We swam through the underground cave, enveloped by a darkness so deep it felt palpable. It was other-worldly and yet not far from the 10-passenger Eurovan that brought us there. Creatures thrive there that are not meant to survive the light of day.

I wonder if a cenote is an apt metaphor for collective trauma: an interlocking network of unmapped underground rivers revealed only when the weight of the earth on top becomes too much to bear. Then again, maybe it’s a metaphor for grief.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what accountability and repair should look like in the wake of harm. I’m sure many others who live in Virginia have too, ever since the Governor’s yearbook was made public with racist images and the Lt. Governor was reported by two women to have sexually assaulted them. Both are serious harms, rooted in different kinds of interlocking, systemic oppressions. What should happen when harms like these come to light is not an easy question to answer.

I’ve worked in the movement to end gender-based violence since I was a student at Oberlin College. It’s the only profession I’ve ever known. In the 1990s, we fought hard for sexual violence and domestic violence to be taken seriously. Rape is a violation and should be a crime in all circumstances, no matter your relationship with the person who hurt you. If a man beat his wife, he should expect the full force of the community to come knocking at his door. Making something a crime affirmed that it was a serious matter and should be treated seriously. We said, “perpetrators need to be held accountable”, but often what we really were saying was “perpetrators should go to jail.” We began to conflate taking responsibility with punishment. We began to conflate accountability with incarceration.

I know now that we were mistaken.

We knew the criminal legal system could deliver neither accountability for perpetrators nor healing for survivors…or we should have known. Indigenous women and other women of color—in particular our Black sisters in the movement—cautioned us again and again not to choose this path, and we failed to listen.

Accountability is an active process that requires the person who has committed harm to take responsibility, acknowledge the impact, express remorse, and commit never to engage in the harm again. None of those things happen when someone is incarcerated. Incarceration punishes and isolates; it does not help us find our humanity–whether we are the ones on the inside of the bars or the outside. The system wasn’t built to help us heal.

IMG_6597Now, 25 years later, I and others in this work have started to reckon with this legacy: how and why did we manage to turn a movement that once held up liberation as our bright future into a profession that is so invested in and bound up with a system that puts people in cages[i]? How could we think more police, more prisons would bring freedom?

Almost everyone who commits violence has also survived it[ii]. How does it shift our perceptions when we stop thinking of someone as either a perpetrator or a survivor and embrace the complexity that most people who use violence are both/and? How would it change my perception of the driver of the grey Dodge Charger if I learned about the trauma he survived before he drove his car into a crowd of people? Knowing wouldn’t mitigate the harm, but perhaps it would shape a path forward beyond containment and retribution.

We’ve built a prison nation by incarcerating more people than any other country in the world. We treat people of color, poor people, people who are trying to migrate to save their families, and other historically oppressed communities as though they are disposable, and it diminishes our humanity. I often think about how my life would be different if I were seen only as the worst thing I’ve ever done, if I were never given the chance to grow and do better. What if everyone were given grace to fail and learn from it. What if we chose all of us[iii]?

I believe in redemption, change, and forgiveness, and I think and talk about it a lot with my friends and colleagues who strive for what we call a “radically hopeful future”: one in which we all thrive.

img_6595.pngBut if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really put those beliefs to the test. I may be able to think of the 20-year-old driver of the grey Dodge Charger as a wounded person, but can I also see him as someone capable of redemption? What would Marissa Blair and Marcus Martin, two people who were directly in his path, need from him, if anything, for healing and repair? What about the family of Heather Heyer, who died at the scene? Here we encounter one of the complexities of trauma, healing, and repair: each person’s experience and needs are different.

I recently read a piece written by a man who tried to kill a police officer when he was 17. Twenty years later, he and the officer met at the officer’s request. The man who wrote it is serving a life sentence for attempted murder. He apologized to the officer for the pain he caused him and his family, sobbing from the weight of his guilt and shame. He said the meeting was the best day of his life. I don’t know, but I imagine something lifted in the officer’s heart too. Perhaps the encounter was transformative for both of them.

We can and should ask more from people who commit harm, more than asking them to sit in a cell and live out their punishment. I wonder if we can think more deeply and with more complexity about justice, accountability, and healing in the aftermath of harm. Something beyond punishment and retribution. Something that strives to maintain the humanity and compassion that we’re all capable of giving and worthy of receiving. Something that could transform us collectively.

I wonder if we could truly stop seeing anyone as disposable, and begin to see all of us as worthy, no matter how badly we fail, how many we hurt. I wonder what would happen if we commit to choose all of us. I wonder how that might change us.

 

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 across the country to mobilize toward a future in which all of us have what we need to thrive. She first wrote about her experiences in #Charlottesville in a blog post dated August 15, 2017.

#charlottesville #transformativejustice #accountability #harm​​ #whitesupremacist #domesticterrorism


Featured image: Kate McCord

Notes:

[i] Credit to Dr. Mimi Kim for unveiling this concept. Also see Dr. Kim’s related, fascinating paper, Dancing the Carceral Creep: The Anti-Domestic Violence Movement and the Paradoxical Pursuit of Criminalization, 1973 – 1986.

[ii] Danielle Sered, Common Justice. See her powerful 1-minute video here, a longer talk about “Violence, Restoration, and Accountability” (starting at 11:50) here, and a great podcast, On Restorative Justice: What Justice Could Look Like, featuring Danielle Sered and Sonya Shah.

[iii] “We choose all of us” is a sentiment first shared by one of my teachers, Norma Wong. Inspired by Norma’s words, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence has created the beautiful “We Choose All Of Us” Campaign, a middle school and high school campaign to deepen our connections with one another and nurture transformative culture shifts.

TransformHarm.org is a resource hub about ending violence. It offers an introduction to transformative justice. Created by Mariame Kaba and designed by Joseph Lublink, the site includes selected articles, audio-visual resources, curricula, and more.


Join the work of the Action Alliance.

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.

 

OB

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.

 

 

Rise-Up-photo-credit-Molly-McLeod

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.

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.

What really happened during the 2018 Session? An advocate’s guide to politics and new legislation in VA

The 2018 Virginia General Assembly (GA) adjourned “sine die” on March 10th – with legislators having passed 919 of the original 2,778 bills that were introduced during their 60-day session. A lot happened in those 60-days. But with all eyes turned to the ongoing debate over Medicaid expansion, one thing that didn’t happen was an agreed-upon state budget. Given this, House and Senate members will reconvene in Richmond for a governor-advised special session beginning April 11th. During this time, lawmakers will focus on the specific task of producing a $115 billion-dollar, two-year budget for the Commonwealth.

The following is an update on what really happened and how it really happened in the 2018 GA session, with a few sprinkled in predictions for where we’re headed and how that direction might impact everyday advocates, survivors of violence, and the communities and families that we serve in our work to respond to and prevent sexual and intimate partner violence in Virginia.

The political backdrop

With civic engagement and public protest on the rise in 2017, Virginia’s electoral base produced an unprecedented change in the makeup of the state legislature. Voters brought 19 new faces to the halls and committee and subcommittee rooms of the GA in 2018, with an overwhelming majority of these new faces being younger, browner, more immigrant, more LGBTQ, and more gender diverse. In both the House of Delegates and in our Governor’s Office, these new faces appear to be more reflective of and responsive to the various communities that make up our Commonwealth. These faces are also, overwhelmingly, Democrat. The 2017 elections brought the House of Delegates to a much more balanced split of 51 Republican seats to 49 Democrat seats. Needless to say, there was a vastly different energy abuzz in the GA this session. And with this new energy abuzz, there were also a set of new politics, voting strategies, and trends that quickly began to emerge within our legislature.

Data captured by Virginia’s Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonprofit nonpartisan organization providing insight into politics in Virginia, provides us with a clearer picture of the impact of this nearly even House split in 2018.  Looking at rates of recorded party-line votes – these are votes where Republicans or Democrats voted unanimously on an issue – we find that House Republicans were 57% more likely to vote party-line in 2018 than they were in 2017. That’s a jump from 20% Republican party-line votes in 2017 to 77% Republican party-line votes in 2018. Democrats, on the other hand, were slightly more likely to vote independently.

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Source: Virginia’s Legislative Information Service, URL: https://www.vpap.org/visuals/visual/party-line-votes/

While some political forecasters predicted more bipartisan collaboration in 2018, this wasn’t always how things panned out. Given the nearly house split and the new trends in committee and subcommittee party-line voting, those bills that sought to do things like make reporting easier and more trauma-informed for sexual assault survivors on campus, or require consent education as part of the Family Life Education curriculum, or protect LGBTQ Virginians from housing and employment discrimination – all wonderful steps in the direction of achieving equity and cultural change – were either defeated or significantly changed as a result of party politics and voting practices. Though our legislature may not be entirely ready for sweeping social change, the good news is that they did agree on a handful of bills that would be beneficial to survivors and the advocates who serve them. Let’s take a look at a few of those now.

Highlights from this session: laws impacting advocates and survivors

Changing VA’s Family Life Education Curriculum: Consent, Sexting, & Boundaries

Right now, education on the “law and meaning of consent” are permissive elements of the Virginia Family Life Education (FLE) Curriculum. Meaning that should a parent allow their child to participate in FLE programming in a public-school system that includes consent education teaching about consent might show up in school-based instruction. Building on their bills that made this possible in previous years, Delegate Filler-Corn and Senator McClellan set out to make the “law and meaning of consent” a mandatory part of Family Life Education in 2018. Unfortunately, these efforts were blocked, on party-line votes, by a House Education Subcommittee. However, the Senate and House did pass a bill that requires any high school FLE curriculum offered by a local school division to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention of sexual harassment using electronic means (read: sexting and digital harassment) and the importance of personal privacy and boundaries (read: bullying, harassment, and bodily autonomy). This bill also permits any FLE curriculum offered by a local school division to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention, recognition, and awareness of child abduction, child abuse, child sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse (read: Erin’s Law). Just like the issue of consent education, any instruction on child abduction, abuse, or sexual exploitation is permitted but not required. The bottom line: these are improvements to the code, but we’ve still got some work to do!

Dismantling VA’s school-to-prison-pipeline

Early on in the session, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced a series of bills intended to curb the school-to-prison-pipeline and promote conditions that ensure every child reaches their full potential. Of the four major bills introduced, two of them were passed. Students in pre-k through third grade are now protected from being suspended for more than 3 days or expelled from attendance at school (with exceptions for “certain criminal acts”). Similarly, another bill reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days (with certain exceptions). These bills set us in the right direction and offer our lawmakers the opportunity to engage in discussion with those communities and advocates who are directly impacted by the school-to-prison-pipeline or trauma-to-prison-pipeline. That’s a good thing.

Reducing perpetrator access to firearms

Unfortunately, bills like Delegate Levine’s HB405 – intended to prohibit a person convicted of sexual battery or assault and battery against a family or household member from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm – were cast as unnecessary firearms restrictions and subject to strict party-line votes in the House and Senate. Bills to encourage universal background checks, close gun-show loopholes, and ban bump stocks met a similar fate. These bills were typically defeated in committee and subcommittee rooms or were never voted on at all.

#MeToo: Sexual harassment training for the Legislative Branch

DLike many other state legislatures around the country and amidst the cultural wave of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Virginia’s legislature moved to adopt sexual harassment training as a requirement for the Legislative Branch every two years beginning in 2019. While the discussion over the what, when, and how of this training was highly debated on the House floor, the end result is a move in the direction of responding to and preventing sexual harassment in the legislature (pictured here are House Democrat and Republican leaders, Delegate Watts and Delegate Gilbert discussing the legislative response to #MeToo). This is an area of focus that we hope our lawmakers will expand on and learn from in future sessions, in an effort to build truly comprehensive sexual harassment prevention and response strategies. For examples of what this might look like – and what our Policy Team has been using in our ongoing communications with partners and lawmakers alike – see the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault’s timely white paper, Assessing Sexual Harassment Response and Prevention Strategies After #MeToo.

Resources, cell phone service, and lifted age restrictions for petitioners of protective orders

Building on prominent conversations from previous sessions, Senator Wexton’s original SB426 called for the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and court clerks in the Commonwealth to distribute information on the local sexual and domestic violence agency, community service board, and other social services to petitioners of protective orders (emergency, preliminary, and permanent POs). A great idea, highlighting the power of advocacy in restoring hope and saving lives in our communities, but one that also, unfortunately, created fiscal impact. After a series of twists and turns, this bill became one that would require court clerks to distribute DCJS’ Protective Orders in VA – A Guide for Victims and Domestic Violence Victims in VA – Understanding the Legal Process for Victims of Family Abuse to petitioners of protective orders statewide.

Another change to protective order statute this session – and one that we have reservations about – enables judges to grant petitioners of family abuse protective orders (and where appropriate, any household member of the petitioner) exclusive use and possession of a cellular device. While this new law certainly comes from a place of good intentions – ensuring that survivors of violence don’t lose access to their cellular device, including important data stored on that device – it also has the unintended consequence of allowing the respondent of a protective order access to everything that comes along with maintaining that cellular device: plan information including incoming and outgoing calls/texts, GPS, etc. In this increasingly digital age, it’s not uncommon for us to see a survivor be harassed, manipulated, and stalked through electronic means. Given this, the final bill also includes a brief caveat stating that “the court may enjoin the respondent from using a cellular telephone or other electronic device to locate the petitioner”. We are confident that survivors who are working with advocates in the process of petitioning for a family abuse protective order will be informed about these concerns and will be able to work with their advocate to determine what is best for them/their safety as part of a larger safety planning process.

Another interesting bill (HB1212), carried by Delegate Cline, changes Virginia code to allow a minor to designate a “next friend” in court pleadings and motions. This bill allows a “next friend” – which can be a parent, legal guardian, or individual designated to serve as the authorized representative of an individual who has been determined to lack capacity to consent or authorize the disclosure of information – to sign pleadings, motions, or other papers required by the court. Previously under Virginia law, a minor who was unable to afford an attorney could not sign court pleadings on behalf of themselves and a parent of a minor who was unable to afford an attorney could not sign court pleadings on behalf of their children. This was obviously a barrier to minors – and particularly those from low-income families – pursuing and accessing protective orders (or similar pleadings and motions) within the court system. This small change in the code should make it easier for both parents of minors without an attorney AND minors without an attorney to file for protection orders in Virginia.

Looking forward

As we prepare for lawmakers to reconvene in Richmond, finalize our state budget, and decide on whether or not to expand Medicaid in Virginia, the Action Alliance Policy Team will be working with our members, partners, and lobbyists to amplify the voice of survivors in the ongoing work of this special session and the roll-out of new legislation in 2018. With the intersections of domestic and sexual violence, poverty, and access to healthcare being such prominent issues with which our movement grapples, we anticipate program and survivor voices being important ones for our legislators to hear from. Be on the lookout (via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) for action alerts and calls for support from our Policy Team in the upcoming weeks! Please also be on the lookout for a full end-of-session report made available to membership by mid-April.


Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence. Since 2007, Jonathan has worked in the anti-violence and public health fields in various capacities – coordinating primary prevention projects for a state coalition, managing Rape Prevention & Education funds for a state health department, supporting prevention and outreach projects on a college campus, and consulting with national resource centers on violence prevention and anti-oppression work. Jonathan is a sociologist by training and an outspoken advocate for Southern social justice work, LGBTQ youth empowerment initiatives, the movement for black lives, and any space in which people are re-envisioning a world free from violence and oppression. Jonathan is also a pop-culture + pizza + animal lover living in Richmond, Virginia with his partner, their 2 dogs, and a one-eyed cat.


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

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.

CSEC

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.

silence

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. 

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
www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org.


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.