Since I hadn't seen Liss in quite a while, it was a lot of fun to be able to catch-up in person and hang out. I don't think either of us are itching to move to Yakima any time soon, LOL. It's an...interesting...place. If you ever go there, I recommend that you do NOT eat the food at the Holiday Inn. Fair warning.
Anyway! The theme for this year was Beloved Community and, from my perspective, it seemed to me that the theme was truly realized at the conference itself and left the people attending energized and inspired to take it out into their work and in their lives in various parts of the state.
Some highlights, for me:
The last speaker on Monday morning was Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community-to-Community/Comunidad-a-Comunidad:
Community to Community Development is a place based, women-led grassroots organization working for a just society and healthy communities.She gave a powerful keynote regarding the fact that we (as agencies/orgs, as advocates, as activists, as society, as people) need to start not at the "end" with the picking up of the pieces but with the beginning: the institutional and societal oppressions that lead us (as society, as people) to the point of needing domestic violence advocates, of needing food banks, of needing anti-rape awareness campaigns, etc... That what we see is just the "tip of the iceberg" and we need to start looking at the rest of that iceberg. She was fierce and eloquent and amazing. I highly recommend checking out their site and the important work that they do.
We are committed to systemic change and to creating strategic alliances that strengthen local and global movements towards social, economic and environmental justice.
The first workshop on Monday was regarding reproductive justice. Since this concept is not a new one to me--or to any of you--I was going because I was really interested in seeing this fit in with the domestic violence advocacy work, as I think it is a key piece of DV advocacy. Plus shaker Emerald_Isle was one of the presenters! (p.s. Great to meet you!) They had a great number of informative slides though I think what really got the attention of everyone in the workshop was the timeline set up all around the room that highlighted just how violence is a systemic problem. In talking with some of the other participants, it was really eye-opening for them and really helped to drive home what it means when talking about reproductive justice (as opposed to reproductive rights). I was happy to learn about The Northwest Reproductive Justice Collaborative and dismayed to see that only one organization here in Oregon is a member. My new goal to get the word out!
The next workshop, on pop culture and prevention, seemed like it held a lot of promise. Unfortunately, it didn't really deliver. One aspect, which was of no fault of the presenter is technology issues (conferences, amirite?!). So I understand that can really throw you, especially when a lot of your workshop is dependent on the tech. But there were still issues with the content. First was that the people chosen to demonstrate bad relationships were either POC, Chris Brown and Rhianna, or people who are identified with a culture, in this case Italian-Americans, as it was the Jersey Shore crew. The people chosen to exemplify good relationships were all middle or upper class white people--the couple from Friday Night Lights and Carrie & the dude she moved in with (can't recall his character name) from Sex in the City. Surely, SURELY there were other examples, esp. given the theme of the conference. The other issue, which may or may not necessarily be An Issue™ but is related to my expectations when talking about prevention of violence and prevalence of violence in pop culture/media is that the start is not with adult media but children's media. While the majority of media for children does not deal with romantic relationships with the main characters, there are still plenty of relationships in friends, family, and community. The sheer amount of violence as entertainment--and I'm including bullying and mean-spirited "jokes" as violence here--in children's media is fairly well sickening. The idea that violence, verbal or physical or emotional is normal via media/pop culture starts with children and when we talk prevention we need to start there, not starting at Jersey Shore (even if there are some middle-grade kids watch that too). I came away from this workshop rather frustrated.
On Tuesday morning Liss and I gave our workshop. I thought it went all right and I am ever-grateful to Liss for rescuing me when my mind went blank when I was in the middle of speaking, LOL! Well, "blank" isn't quite it, as I was talking and as I was talking I thought of something else entirely that I wanted to talk about. Then I started thinking of that new idea and THEN I realized that I was still talking and I had no idea what I had just said (since I had been thinking of the new idea), LOL! But Liss stepped in and picked up the frayed thread of my conversation and it was awesome.
One thing I wish I had remembered to say--so if you were there (or in the workshop looking for new ideas for support groups)--here is this: another component of community building online is that you can host support groups online. This is not necessarily a perfect solution, as there is the issue of access to a computer. It does, however, help to mitigate the issue of people not being able to attend a group in-person because of work hours or transportation issues. There are a number of free bulletin board hosting sites, phpBB comes to mind. There are many paid hosting sites as well, like vBulletin. It also can help to get people involved in their groups and work towards feeling invested as you can promote discussion moderators from within the groups. There are ways to make boards private and only accessible to certain people (and even private sub-boards within a main board). It may or may not be a solution to ultimately go with but I wanted to mention it here as I totally forgot to mention it in the workshop.
The last workshop on Tuesday was about reproductive coercion. We write about that quite a bit here, so I was intrigued to hear what the presenters had to say. Turns out it wasn't just on "what is reproductive coercion" but also introducing a new pilot program regarding RC and working with not just the usual agencies and orgs but with the medical community like OBs/midwives/doulas to help with prevention and, perhaps, a person being able to access any services they may need sooner rather than later. They worked heavily with Futures Without Violence and their Know More. Say More. campaign (you should check them out!). I was highly impressed with the program and I sincerely hope that when it is out of pilot phase that it can be implemented everywhere. It is SO NEEDED.
On Wednesday morning, Liss gave her keynote. It was AMAZING. It wasn't the shortest speech given (but not the longest, either, LOL) and she held the audience the whole time. She also got a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd--and not one of those reluctant ovations where a few people stand and everyone else goes "well, I guess I should too or else I look like an asshole". No, everyone enthusiastically stood up. It was great and I was super proud of Liss. You did great, Melissa!
The last speaker was Vicki Ybanez, who is now the Executive Director of Red Wind Consulting, a group that "is committed to working with Tribal and Native specific programs to ensure that indigenous solutions are incorporated in our thinking and responses to end violence against Native women." She also was a member, not facilitator but member, of the support group in Duluth, MN, that originally created the Power and Control Wheel that is used by most people when talking about domestic violence and abuse. Vicki's story was powerful and her call echoed that of Rosalinda's on Monday: we must, MUST, if we are serious about ending domestic violence, start working together (as orgs, as agencies) and tackle the fact that it is a systemic problem, not "just about that one family".
So, overall, the conference was powerful and inspirational. The work these people--all of them--are doing is incredible. If you have the time and/or resources to contact your local DV prevention/support org or agency and see what need they have that you can help with.
I exhort you to invest in helping create a beloved community in your area, however you are able and wherever you may live.