This post comes from a friend of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and contains personal and community reflections and resources about sexism, patriarchy, and sexual assault. Trigger Warning for sexual assault and violence.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
-Dr. Maya Angelou
This past week, another tragic mass shooting occurred in Isla Vista, California. This time, the shooter released several videos and a manifesto that made clear his distaste for many people, especially, but certainly not limited to, women. In these materials, the shooter expressed his belief that women should be judged on their appearance and that he was owed sexual experiences from women.
Also this past week, we also lost a great American hero, Dr. Maya Angelou. Assaulted as a young child, Dr. Angelou did not speak for five years, believing her words brought on the death of her perpetrator. She later found her voice and used it to raise awareness about the many times she experienced sexual violence and assault throughout her lifetime in over 30 works including autobiographies, anthologies of poetry, books for children and more. She taught countless women the importance of sharing our stories to release the guilt and shame we might otherwise internalize after experiencing sexual violence.
And on a personal level, this past week I was sexually assaulted.
Shortly after the Isla Vista shootings, the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag sparked a nation-wide conversation on misogyny and patriarchy, and I had a burning desire to share my story. These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.
Immediately after the assault, friends and family pointed me to resources that have helped me profoundly. I hope all of you reading this have never experienced, and will never experience sexual assault or violence. Sadly, statistics and personal experience force us to acknowledge and bear witness to the fact that far too many women, far too many people, will have to suffer through this as well.
If you, or a loved one, experience sexual assault, here are some points you may find helpful:
• Ask for and accept help as you are able and willing: This might be something that is usually hard. I realized early on I needed to be honest with a close circle of people about what happened so that I could have their support. I also reached out immediately to a local rape crisis center and survivor’s advocacy network. To find information on your own local resources visit: RAINN and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
• Be prepared to make difficult decisions: The circumstances of every assault are different, but in my case, like so many others, I knew my assailant. There were many things that needed to happen immediately so I could be in a safe space away from harm, and that was the most important thing I needed to focus on. You or your loved one might also be confronted with many other immediate decisions, like whether to go to a hospital to get a “rape kit” done, when to reach out to sexual assault detectives, or deciding to press charges. People will likely give you conflicting advice, something I experienced over and over. I was also told: “ultimately it is up to you to decide”, as if that would be comforting. It wasn’t. I didn’t ask to be assaulted in the first place, and it felt like I had this huge burden of making all of these deeply uncomfortable decisions that felt overwhelming. I got through it by practicing self-care while journaling to see what felt like the right things to do for me. You may find creative expression might be something that helps you as well.
• Remember that ending patriarchy and misogyny will take work: Transforming the way we treat ourselves and each other will take lots of love, compassion and time. But we have to take action today to ensure that the normalization of violence against cisgender and transgender women, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people ends. For more information on transformation check out Black Feminism Lives, Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further the Feminist Revolution and the UUA Reproductive Justice Curriculum for Congregations.
For a few days after my sexual assault happened, all I wanted to do was scream with rage. In fact, one day I had to do just that. I parked my car in an almost vacant lot, turned a warrior women song on full blast, so loud my car shook, and I screamed. I screamed until my face hurt, until I let all that rage and anger and fear out of me, so it wouldn’t stay inside and become toxic. Then I made a very conscious decision to stop screaming. I turned off the music, and sat very still. Later, I wrote some words from Dr. Angelou in my journal: You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
One thing you might consider doing is sharing this story with others in your lives, so they have access to these resources. You might also want to share your own story, perhaps anonymously like me, or with your own voice—whatever feels most comfortable and safe to you. In the words of Dr. Angelou: History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
I ask you to join me so that collectively we can change the long history of sexual violence in our communities. Listen to the stories shared by people directly impacted by violence. Our collective future of love and liberation depends on it.
PS: #YesAllWomen has acted as an important rallying call in recent days as people share stories of systemic and personal violence that is normalized. We recognize that people with many gender identities are impacted by violence. Let us begin with working for the human rights of all people to be respected.More >
Love is the greatest justice cause of our time. And love is the greatest spiritual imperative of our time. How are you an evangelist for love?
Not all that long ago, my passion for a better world was fueled by anger. I was angry that injustice existed and I felt hatred for people who perpetuated it. And you know what? Acting from that place was toxic. It left me feeling empty and hopeless.
So I found another way—a path grounded in faith and paved with love. Now my passion for a better world is fueled by the flames of love. Love for all life. A desire for all beings to thrive. And it fills me with purpose and hope.
Love is what makes me a person of faith. When people meet me, I want them to feel that love and sense that I am someone different. That I am a “love person.” That’s my evangelism: inspiring people of all beliefs, backgrounds, and identities to join the cause of love, each in their own way.
I want to be clear: I’m talking about unconditional love. I don’t have to like someone to love them. I don’t have to see eye-to-eye with someone to wish the best for them. It is hard work to access compassionate, unconditional love for people I struggle with (and I don’t always succeed!), but that’s what makes it a spiritual practice.
If every single person believed in, as the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives,” there could be no war. There could be no inequality. There could be no inhuman treatment. That’s what makes love the greatest justice cause and the greatest spiritual imperative of our time.
So, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Standing on the Side of Love, how do you stand (or sit, or roll) on the side of love? How are you an evangelist for love? Rev. Meg Riley calls her SSL shirt a “working shirt.”
What are you working for?
Join me in being a love evangelist: share how you reach out in love here!
In loving faith,
Congregational Advocacy & Witness Program Coordinator
Unitarian Universalist Association
P.S. At General Assembly 2014, love = justice. Attendees will get the chance to witness for love at this year’s public witness event at WaterFire Providence! Learn more.More >
The stakes are high for committed youth working to make the seemingly simple transition to their home communities. In a climate where economic resources are scarce, racial anxieties are high, and the will to overcome these and other challenges is wavering, our children, particularly children of color, find themselves caught between the desire to achieve endless possibilities and the stark realities that diminish these possibilities for this particular group of bright minds.
Created in November 2009, the mission of Building Bonds, Breaking B.A.R.S. (Barriers Against Reaching Success) is to provide the committed youth population with the resources to overcome many of the racial, structural and systematic barriers they’ll face upon release. The founders, Javonie H., Samuel P., Bo N., and myself see the value that these kids have and the assets they can become to society.
In order to achieve this mission, building bonds becomes an essential part of this work. Though I have not made personal contact with the criminal justice system, I understand that my personal successes is due in large part to the folks along the way that decided to invest their time and resources in me. This is true for many of us. Making this notion a part of our service, we believe that taking the time to learn the personal stories of our students and build relationships with them that transcend present circumstances is imperative. We focus on who they are as individuals, how their experiences can be used as assets in our program, and what they’re long term goals are in life so that we may tailor the sessions to meet their individual and collective needs. Through these bonds and the knowledge we share in the safe spaces we create and occupy, the students become equipped with the necessary tools to confront and deny any external force that suggests or proclaims their inadequacy.
To overcome these barriers against reaching success, it is important to know our rich history and the organizing of our forbearers. In our North Carolina and Washington DC chapters, the overwhelming majority of the students who participate in our program are students of color, with 100 percent of the DC students being male students of color. Understanding the demographics, the history presented is that of the Civil Rights Movement. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2011) showed that many of our states fail to teach the major events, people, and places of the Civil Rights Movement, therefore producing high school graduates void of a framework to understand why modern efforts at school and residential segregation, voter suppression, and other issues, have a deep and complicated history. In the DC Chapter, every Thursday, Adrian and I discuss racial oppression and political disenfranchisement with a historical foundation that shapes the student’s understanding of contemporary vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow. It is with this critical perspective that our students become equipped with the tools to overcome these barriers and engage the external forces head on.
In order to show the greatest degree of love, we must believe that the success of all our children is inextricably linked with our own. I believe this deeply, and carry James Baldwin’s words with me every day as I continue juvenile justice advocacy and service: “For these are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” If we love our children, and truly want the best for them, then we must also care for and tend to those who are most vulnerable. It is never enough to wish our children well; rather we must be active in creating the spaces where success is attainable and where all children can thrive.
As the nation rallies behind the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, let us not forget our young brothers and sisters who are currently committed in residential detention centers. If we are truly invested in successful rehabilitation, then we must bring the unique needs of these children to the forefront. Failure to so means that we have chosen to fail all of our children. Therefore, let us commit ourselves to building strong, safe, and successful communities where all our children can prosper. This is the greatest act of love that we can do right where we are.
Visit the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to find out how you can contribute in your home state.
In service to our children,
Jeremy MartinMore >
On February 8, 2014, I marched with over a thousand Unitarian Universalists and eighty thousand others in Raleigh, NC to make it clear to the North Carolina legislature that we weren’t going to stand for attacks on voting rights of African Americans and other historically marginalized people. People died, and many others risked death, to secure those rights for all Americans. Fifty years ago this summer, over 1,000 mostly white college students descended on Mississippi to work alongside thousands of mostly black Mississippians, to register people to vote and to set up freedom schools and community centers in black communities.
After the murders of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, a black Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) activist from Mississippi, CORE organizer Michael Schwerner, and summer volunteer Andrew Goodman (both of whom were Jews from New York), eyes from around the nation were on Mississippi. Although the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in July of 1964 didn’t end the violence in Mississippi, that, combined with the efforts of the Mississippi Summer Project volunteers, changed the course of the voting rights movement.
From July 5-12, 2014, you have the opportunity to explore the impact of the Mississippi Summer Project with first hand accounts of those who were there. The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice and the Living Legacy Project are honoring the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with the multi-generational Mississippi Civil Rights Journey. Ignite your commitment to assuring legislators, like those in North Carolina, don’t reverse the rights that people in Mississippi and other Southern states fought so hard to secure fifty years ago. Learn how the strategies and tactics employed by civil rights workers in 1964 still have relevance today. You have only a few more days to register for the Mississippi Civil Rights Journey (Registration deadline is May 19, 2014). Click here to register today!
Yes, it will be hot! Mississippi in the summer is always hot. But unlike those intrepid volunteers from so many years ago, you’ll go from an air-conditioned bus to air-conditioned restaurants, hotels, and meeting places. Don’t pass up this opportunity to expose yourself, your children, and your grandchildren to this important part of our history.
Learning the stories of Mississippi Freedom Summer has inspired me to work for justice in my state of Virginia and to fight against voter suppression wherever I see it happening. I hope you’ll seize this opportunity to feed yourself so that you can be fortified and renewed in your work for justice in our time.
LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director, Unitarian Universalist Association and member of the Living Legacy Project Board of DirectorsMore >
I just returned from the Interreligious Organizing Initiative’s Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race. The event brought together people who were formerly incarcerated, congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs), congregational representatives, policy experts, and funders. Throughout the summit, we shared stories and statistics, brainstormed about strategies and made commitments.
We heard stories from people directly impacted by the mass incarceration crisis. One speaker in prison for 28 years, including 20 years on death row, for a murder he didn’t commit. He was finally exonerated by the Innocence Project. Another speaker, an Iraq War veteran, is the mother of two teenage sons in jail who received a combined 200+ year sentences for reporting a violent crime. Because witnesses placed them at the scene! Story after story was told of communities and families under duress from systemic violence and policing, non-violent drug offenses and harsh prison sentences, and lack of re-entry options for people coming out of prison.
We heard about facets of the crisis including:
The Business of Prisons
Prisons have expanded at unprecedented rates in recent decades. This is, in part, due to the monetary gains to corporations involved in the prison industrial complex. Attendees talked about the connection between private prisons, big business and low-wage labor for prisoners coupled with the systemic employment discrimination people face when they return home.
Human rights violations surrounding the prison industrial complex including policing, detention and incarceration were discussed as pressing issues for advocates to address. The U.S. has one of the largest numbers of people in solitary confinement, considered torture after 15 days by the United Nations, in the world.
As prisoners are moved within their home state and nationally, census numbers shift. Though prisoners cannot vote while incarcerated, and many states have laws barring formerly incarcerated people from voting, they count as residents in the creation of voting districts.
And we brainstormed solutions:
I’m grateful for the folks who shared their stories throughout the weekend pushing attendees to ask questions about leadership. Countless speakers emphasized the need for efforts to end mass incarceration that are led by formerly incarcerated people. Their experiences, coupled with their visions for the future, will transform how we build new organizations and institutions.
Leading with Who We Are
Aptly titled a Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race, the convening was centered in an analysis and guiding principle that racism and white supremacy in the U.S. have been a primary cause of our current “carceral state.” From policing and detention to incarceration and return our identities (including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, language, and ability) impact our experiences with the criminal justice system. Our organizing must recognize the centrality of that reality.
Faith in Action
Faith, religion and spirituality were central to each activity of the convening. The moral imperative to understand and take action on the issue was made clear by the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton’s opening convocation about putting faith to work because as he reminded us, “Faith without work, is dead.”
What You Can Do
• Support the Smarter Sentencing Act – Join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales on this Clergy Sign-On
• Lay Leaders can sign this petition from Families Against Mandatory Minimums:
• Join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration
• Read the UUA Statement of Conscience on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform and find out how your congregation is already working on these issues
• Check out resources on the UUA website about work already happening to end mass incarceration
• Learn more about efforts to end mass incarceration led by formerly and currently incarcerated people with Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement, All of Us or None, and Black and Pink, among many organizations.
• Research folks working on mass incarceration, prison reform and abolition in your community
Join us as we continue to explore and support efforts to end mass incarceration.
Standing on the Side of Love