they won’t ask where we were

for the so many women who are incarcerated for fighting back to protect their lives and their children’s lives
we have to ask
where we were
when whatever happened,
happened
that they had to make that choice

we have to ask that question because that’s not the question they are asking
in a court of law
they’ll ask where was she
they’ll ask if she was a good girl (otherwise)
how long she took it for
they’ll ask whether it was bad enough
get out a ruler and measure the inches she was to the edge of the cliff
they’ll look over at the rocks and dust kicked over the edge in the struggle and consider
how far down it is
she probably would have survived, they might say
she could have taken it a little longer

and maybe they’ll keep her in a cage
which is where they keep fierce life-loving freedom-fighting women
in worlds where they don’t  think
we should all get
to be safe and free

*This poem is inspired by my friend whose first day of trial was today. However, it is completely fictional and the “she” in the poem (obviously) is used generically and metaphorically. 

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consent-based communication

Yesterday, I was at a great meeting with really great people, many of whom do anti-violence work. But I was really taken aback when we were asked to do an exercise that was centered around thinking back to our earliest experience that contributed to our wanting to do this work.

It was an assignment—not an invitation—that for many people could go to a scary place. No doubt, going to these places might sometimes be manageable, and sometimes be very difficult and yet desired as part of someone’s healing.

The issue is about consent. We all need to learn more about how consent looks in the context of physical contact. But we also need a practice of consent in the context of communication. Just like in the context of physical contact, a consent-based approach to communication requires attention to power dynamics, like those between a facilitator and a meeting participant, between a yoga instructor and student, between a service provider and a “client” or “patient.”

When we find ourselves in a position of getting taken to a place we don’t want to go, I think we get to push back. Yesterday, I did push back for a broader question, which seemed to help others in the meeting too and I felt good about it. Other days, I have not felt powerful enough to do this and, instead, I lie. I think that these circumstances give us that right to lie, to protect ourselves. But this still doesn’t do anything to protect us from the initial harm of getting hard-pushed in the first place.

At the same time, when we are in a position that invokes power, we need to be more thoughtful about this. One dynamic of many positions of privilege, whether that’s being a male-bodied person or being a mental health professional, is feeling that we have a right to have something that belongs to another person, whether that means access to their body or access to information about their lives.

We don’t have a right to ask people to go places that they don’t want to go, tell us things they don’t want to tell, especially with regard to past experiences of violence and abuse.

I want us to be thoughtful about consent when we talk to other people. I want us to start to build a practice of consent in the context of communication.

Leaning Good Consent (a zine) *trigger warning: contains some descriptions of experiencing sexual assault

This zine is a good place to learn more about radical consent and why’s it’s important. I especially like that this zine includes a lot of suggestions and ideas for thinking through what consent looks like for you.

Let me know if you have something on this topic that you love or if you know of a place where someone has compiled such resources.

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criminalizing survival

Chicago-based organizer Mariame Kaba recently hosted a twitter talk on the topic of the criminalization of women and girls, which inspired these comments. Visit Mariame’s amazing blog at http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/.

I think a lot about women in prison because of my clemency work for survivors who have fought back and my pro bono legal work with moms in Cook County jail. And it seems to me that not just some but many of the so-called crimes that women and girls are targeted with are related to surviving.

In the same way that we might think about emotional as well as physical safety, we can think about emotional as well as physical survival, and day-to-day-being-able-to-eat survival. When we think about survival in these broad terms, it seems like so much of what we criminalize is related to the ways that people are trying to survive this brutal world.

Many women who are incarcerated are there for drug-related crimes. Of course, substance abuse is highly associated with experiencing trauma. In studies, virtually all women in substance abuse treatment had histories of experiencing domestic violence or other trauma. See NCDVTMH and especially the work of Patti Bland on this point. Others are incarcerated for engaging in survival sex work. And of course some women are incarcerated for using physical violence to protect themselves or their children from the people who abused them.

What does this framework show us about how we think about our world? I think it gives us a lot of insight into just how ubiquitous victim-blaming culture is in our society. More to come on this…

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intentions and experiments

I created this blog today with the intention of having a place to collect my own thoughts, and to collect from across the virtual world some of the writings and resources that have inspired my learning and growing.

I find myself with much hesitation about starting this project. I can tell that part of this hesitation is about the shame of feeling imperfect, of feeling incomplete in my learning, my political analysis, my work to challenge internalized oppression.

And part of it is being afraid of starting and then abandoning this project! So I want to talk about shame and phases, and experimentation. I’m thinking of all the times I’ve heard an adult talk about how a young person is “just going through a phase.” Imagine if we said, “they were experimenting with…” (cf. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five). In this way, we all, especially as young people, are discouraged from trying out and abandoning new things.

Related to this, I’m thinking of a culture that has abandoned the wisdom imbedded in the natural phases of our world and our bodies.

And so, I am starting this blog with the intention of rejecting the shame that gets attached to phases, cycles, and ever-changing plans. This is how we grow ourselves and build community. As others before me have said, we need a strategy of experimentation to grow and organize, to resist, create, and build the world we want.

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