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March 5, 2013

Shifting the Boundaries On Building a Movement

Over the past couple of months since being given the gift of this fellowship I have been struck by the impact that it has had on my thoughts and conversations. The question Move to End Violence is posing is: Where do we go in this movement to end violence against women and girls and how do we get there? Do we want to shift the boundaries?

For me, the inquiry starts with -- Who is part of this movement currently and who do we want to be part of this movement in the future?   What do we see as success from the past and success for the future?

Since 1993, I have worked predominantly in the health care arena helping clinicians talk to women and girls about domestic and sexual violence whose health complaints could be related to the violence she’s experienced. We have worked with countless doctors, nurses, social workers, mental health providers, and public health professionals in over 35 states and 25 Tribal communities. Since 2000, we have held 6 National conferences which this past year brought 1000 people working on domestic and sexual violence in the health care setting to San Francisco. Among them -- an amazing group of loyal women and men that can no less be called activists, because they champion this work in their communities --  training others, changing medical practice, and spreading the word. Some of them have attended 3 or more of the conferences. They come to get recharged and feel part of something. Some of them are feminists or have become feminists, others just want to prevent violence.  In my mind many are members and leaders within the movement. Do others share this viewpoint? Is it a shared goal to encourage and ‘allow’ these people to be part of the movement? Are there barriers that we have created within this movement that get in the way of expanding our movement and making more progress?

I look at other movements, and in particular the civil rights movement of which I declare myself a member, and ask: What happened there what did the civil rights movement create? Can there be a parallel in what we want to build? Is the movement alive and thriving now? There have been enormous measures of success, yet we are constantly witnessing and experiencing backsteps and failings.

Some say that we have not built a movement yet; that the movement has failed. I agree that it is still dormant for many. It is clear that there needs to be more opportunities for communities on the margin to define, lead, and be heard in movement building efforts. However, there is a great deal we have advanced:  shelters, judicial, police and prosecutor training, innovative organizing in communities of color, curriculum for high school and middle school, the Affordable Care Act that will allow preventive health services for domestic violence to be covered, and substantial change in public attitudes to name a few. Due to our collective advocacy, we have public sector funding with many programs benefiting from federal or state dollars. During the election, candidates that publicly professed misguided viewpoints about sexual assault lost and that gives me hope.

In order to move the movement and figure out where we are going, we must examine the advances that have been made and identify the measures of future success. How do we measure the impact of our interventions and advocacy? Violence against girls and women still comes through our doors in horrendous numbers and with tragic outcomes, but there is some indication that the incidence of domestic violence among women aged 25 and up has decreased. We can and should celebrate that and take full responsibility for our achievement and recognize we have so much more to do particularly with those younger than 25. Do we have a common view about what we’ve achieved, the progress made, and where and how to address the unintended consequences? Are there structures that get in the way of making more progress?

But now what is the paradigm shift that is necessary to achieve more safety, health and healing for victims? What is the ordinary magic that needs to happen in the public sphere: where friends and family members can help make a difference in the lives of survivors and their families? How do we create stewardship and inspire? How do we interrupt the impact of violence and trauma in the lives of children and reverse its impact because it is reversible. How can we continue the path to a sea change where the next generation is able to be resilient and thrive?

I look forward to continuing these conversations.

I thank my colleague Patti Giggans, Peace Over Violence (POV) and a Durfee Foundation Stanton Fellow -- for contributing to this conversation with us last week.  POV is a sexual and domestic violence, stalking, child abuse and youth violence prevention center headquartered in Los Angeles and dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence.

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