Illumination...the first step to action
These past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about my constant retreating and and re-entry into the domestic violence movement. I’ve been doing this dance since first leaving “the work” in 2004. After a brief hiatus, I returned in 2005. Around that same time, I accepted a colleague's invitation to attend a week long conference that her agency was sponsoring. The conference was thought provoking, but instead of coming up with revolutionary ways to make women safer, much of the conversation centered around the consistent silencing women of color still face in the anti-violence movement.
That was in 2005. These conversations are still happening. Unfortunately, having our voices discounted is not a new phenomenon. Many of my foremothers dealt with the same issues as those of us in the post -modern feminist era. With this in mind, I find myself wondering, how can people of color do social change work without ending up in abusive relationships with their employers, funders and the organizations they work with?
There are many “discussions” of accountability and inclusiveness in this work. In fact, there is no shortage of theories, discussions and trainings conducted by the watchers aka leaders. These recognized leaders love to speak about-not practice inclusion.
I used to spend lots of time wondering whose watching the watchers? Whose holding Executive Directors and Board Members accountable? More importantly, who of them is willing to advocate for the emotional violence that women of color experience in many a mainstream organizations? Who of them will speak to the spiritual violence that results from the undercutting of our expertise and the economic violence we face when we are forced out of organizations for speaking up and challenging authority?
It is no wonder that we become disheartened while doing this work. It is especially difficult for me as a survivor to see so-called social change organizations exhibiting the same power and control tactics as those that choose to use violence in their intimate relationships.
It is no secret that Sojourner Truth (seen below) and many other Black women freedom fighters had to fight for seats at the table during the Suffragist Movement.
I would argue that not much has changed in more than 100 years since her epic Ain’t I A Woman Speech (Recited by Keri Washington below).
Today, the tables of the anti-violence movement are still disproportionately filled with directors that do not represent the populations they are suppose to serve or the staff they employ. At the same time, it can be argued that many women of color also have obtained seats in these organizations, at government agencies and on task forces. However, I have to wonder...how far we have really come when Black and Brown many are still setting those tables, serving and cleaning up afterward?????
So, how can we step into a new paradigm and shake up this table?
They (whoever “they” is) say that change starts from the inside out. The steps below are my offering to you. I’ve used them many times over the years to initiate change in many situations. Hopefully, they will get you closer to where you want to be as well.
- Investigate your current ideas/beliefs about your work and what a leader is/looks like.
- Expand those beliefs and envision more optimal situations.
- Write down what your expanded vision looks like (do not leave anything out).
- Read the expanded vision you created each morning or before bed.
- Imagine yourself living the expanded vision you created. Allow yourself to really feel what it feels like to be in an optimal situation.
- Detach from the outcome. It is less important to worry about how or when changes occur. It is more important to pretend and feel as if the change is already happening in the present moment.
- Act as if your vision is reality.
A personal example: I employed every one of these steps when I decided I wanted to conduct retreats for survivors. I imagined myself on the beach with groups of women, leading them though various exercises and even made an agenda for the entire event. Most importantly, for a few moments each day I lived in the feeling of what doing that work felt like. I’ve now been doing retreats across the US since 2014. Last year, I did two retreats in Ecuador.
I say all this to say that change is possible. It is possible to change our positioning in this work. We don’t have to become anorexic waiting on scraps from the mainstreams tables. We can walk away. We can create our own. But we have to believe in ourselves, our brilliance and our capabilities. WE are the work. It’s gonna follow us everywhere we go anyway...so we might as well be the change we want to see.
Zoë Flowers works nationally and internationally on domestic and sexual violence. Her book, From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood is a collection of interviews with Black women and provides a personal look at domestic violence and the road to healing.