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July 13, 2011

Why am I a part of Move to End Violence?

I believe that all of us have our personal “catalyzing moments,” the teaching moments that we keep close to our hearts; ones that transform and drive us forward in this work—in particular, anti-violence work. In my experience, these are sometimes unintentional moments that cause major shifts of our previously held notions, moments that linger on far after their lived consequences.

One particular moment that stands out to me now occurred when I was an ESL tutor at a local homeless shelter in El Paso, Texas in 2003. I was working weeknights assisting a teacher with lessons, and one night, while I was sitting in the transportation room awaiting my ride home, I met a mother and her three children. She sat across from me and without warning, asked me in Spanish: “Do you think this looks broken?” extending the smallest finger in her hand for me to inspect. I was confused, but took a look—besides looking a bit crooked, it looked normal to me. “It was bent completely before,” she continued, “But it’s good now right?” She proceeded to tell me about her husband, and the variety of injuries that her body had healed from throughout the years. I remember listening hard. I remember feeling blindsided, as she pointed to areas of her body that used to be bruised or broken, but now looked, again, normal. “I finally left,” she said, nodding her head towards one of her sons, the tallest one, who had been watching our exchange in silence, “When he told me one night, that the next time—he would kill him. I had to go—my 11-year old son just told me he was going to kill his father.” Quería matarlo. She didn’t talk much after. I remember waving good-bye as I left. I remember not looking at her son. But mostly I remember crying when I got home, because I realized then something that I had known, but did not really know—that the worst thing about violence was that it hid itself, that it was for the most part, invisible.

This is a lesson I have carried with me ever since: it has affected my approach to anti-violence work immensely. Acknowledging the weight of silence and the unseen and hidden in my interactions with folks; watching for the metaphors and the spaces between words. Knowing that to air something without a name is near impossible—but that empowerment and even liberation starts with naming.

When I left our first convening in May 2011, I had similar reflections: that our work as a cohort, together, may also be a “catalyzing moment”—only one that was intentional, and shared and experienced as a group. Below I want to highlight some of the lessons I have taken home with me. They are in question form because we are at the beginning of our work. Hopefully asking the right questions will help the process of arriving at the right answers. But in sum, if we aim to become a movement, we must be one that:

Moves with intention & purpose. Habits have the threat of becoming actions we do unconsciously. Acting unconsciously means that our actions are wasted ones—it has no effect towards what we intend. The threat of moving without purpose and without intention is that in the end, we will not end up where we want to be—in essence, a lot of effort, no results. What is the purpose of our work, individually; and, what is the purpose that we are trying to achieve together?

Moves as one body with many differing parts. Our communities exist today in ways that are far more complex than the past. This means that old strategies cannot work today. This has forced me to reflect on the actual difference in strategy between a) building a movement amongst different organizations and communities by finding that common ground, common goal and moving in that way; and b), learning how to link different struggles amongst different groups in ways that are more strategic. How can we really begin to move as part of our different worlds, different communities, different politics, strategies, cultures, languages, and histories?

Moves towards a similar vision. This last lesson and process, I think, has been most “catalyzing” for me. Our process of creating a vision for a world without violence for women and girls together was not only an inspiring and moving one, but also one that is critical. I have realized, too, since coming back to my work, how little “visioning” I do with others in our collaborative work. And here I mean, “visioning” not in the sense of “here are our short-term and long-term goals” but deep visioning, one that ties directly to our core values as human beings and people who have been driven to do this work due to whatever personal catalyzing moments they have experienced. I have realized, too, that creating this vision together was also a form of naming; that in this process, we are doing the work of naming in order to make visible a world that we want to work towards.

In sum, these are the core reasons why I am a part of the move to end violence and why I am excited to be a part of this moment together with the 15 other amazing cohort members. Until we meet again.

Art by lizar_tistry