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pursuing a radical antiviolence agenda inside/outside a non-profit structure


Alisa Bierra, Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) on "pursuing a radical antiviolence agenda inside/outside a non-proift structure" from The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. http://www.southendpress.org/2006/items/87662/TableOfContents

p.2: IN THE SUMMER OF 1999, SEATTLE RAPE RELIEF (SRR), ONE OF THE first three rape crisis centers in the US, was closed by its board of directors. Founded in 1972 by women who had organized a Speak Out on Rape at the Uni versity of Washington campus, SRR began as a volunteer organization with explicitly feminist politics. Through its 27-year history, SRR witnessed the transformation of the US antiviolence movement, whereby organizations became less associated with a progressive feminist politic and more invested in gaining legit imacy with professional fields such as the criminal justice system, the medical industry, and the social services industry. SRR itself was impacted by the profes sionalization of a once grassroots antiviolence movement, and SRR's volunteers identified this shift in the organization's political identity as the main reason for its demise. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.2: The movement is attempting to streamline these ganizations into being more professionalized and less grassroots oriented. means less critique ofinstitutions that perpetuate sexual violence, no con nection between anti-oppression theory and violence against women theory, less outreach to marginalized survivors (sex workers, prisoners, etc.), no community based fundraising initiatiVes, thinking about survivors as "clients" rather than people, and perhaps, most importantly, little to no organizational accountability to the community, specifically survivors. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: Instead, CAR A prioritized community organizing as the primary tool to increase support for survivors. The organization's founders also wanted to work specifically with survivors from marginalized communities. Such communities have a disproportionately high rate of sexual violence, and survivors from these communities are less likely to have access to support from crisis-based institutions. Assessing the "gaps in service" by review ing the work of other local antiviolence organizations, CARA built projects specifically for people with disabilities, Black people, and young people. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: The volunteer who represented CARA in most of these early meet ings was a 25-year-old queer Black woman. (This same woman eventually became staff leadership at the burgeoning organization.) Her experience of racism and ageism was explicit in the early meetings with the executive directors and the city funders. In one meeting, for example, an executive director called her incompe tent and said that CARA had not earned the "right" to this funding. Despite the contlict, the city provided CARA with $250,000 in 2000, allowing us to establish ourselves quickly and hire four full-time staff members. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: CARA did not yet have a clear and public analysis of institutional oppression and its relationship to the prevalence and experience ofsexual violence, though we acknowledged that these things existed. We asserted a somewhat vague distinction between being a "social service" organization and a "social change" organization, meaning that we did not simply want to "manage" sexual assault, but to seek strategies to transform the way communities confronted sexual vio lence. However, this distinction, though meaningful, did not carry with it a clear political analysis of violence and oppression, making us interestingto city funders but not necessarily threatening. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: From 2000 to 2002, CARA staff created a critical shift in our identity and work from being a "social change" organization that provided a multicultural approach to antirape services to being an organization with a radical feminist of color and disability politic which manifested as grassroots antiviolence projects and campaigns. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: First, CARA staff spent significant time reading and discussing Pedagogy ofthe Oppressed by Paulo Freire, which taught us to critique the way organizers objectify their constituents rather than learn from them. This critique informed our organizing model of centering the experiences of the communities we organized and letting those experiences reframe the work we chose to do, and how we chose to doit. The staff began to figure out not just how to make antiviolence services more "accessible" to marginalized people, but how to have the marginalization of people inform how we define violence and what kind of work we would do. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.3: The staff at the Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Office, most of whom were white liberal feminists (and one of whom was as an original founder of SRR), supported funding CARA for two reasons. First, they endorsed com munity organizing as an important strategy to address sexual violence, and they recognized that, with the other existing organizations providing medical and legal services, a group that used a community-organizing approach could offer a useful complement. Second, the women endorsed a multicultural approach to service delivery; they supported organizations that worked with identity-based communities recognized as "underserved." -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.4: That is, instead of saying, how can we include women of color, women with disabilities, etc., we must ask, what would our analysis and organizing practice look like if we centered them in it? By following a politics of re-centering rather than inclusion, we often find that we see the issue differently, not just for the group in question, but everyone. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.4: In their statement on the 9/11 attacks, CARA makes a connection between our primary political issue-sexual violence-and militarism and racism. We wrote, "We recognize that rape is often used as a tool of war and know that women are often the most brutally impacted by war. We also challenge our leadership's tokenization ofthe plight of Afghan women to justify carpet-bombing their country and their people." The devastating political context of Bush's "war on terrorism" facilitated CARA's process ofincorporating a clear feminist-of-color analysis on militarism and colonization into ourlocal antiviolence agenda. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.5: In 2002, faced with a shrinking revenue base, Seattle's new mayor, Greg Nickels, decided to reduce funding for many antiviolence programs, particu larly those that emphasized community organizing. He justified the funding cuts by asserting that he wanted to prioritize "core" or "vital" human services. Although Mayor Nickels never clearly defined which services he identified as core or vital, his 2002 budget significantly cut antiviolence programs that were using community organizing as a strategy and that were working with marginalized populations. Apparently, according to the Nickels administration, shelters and crisis lines were vital antiviolence services, but community organizing in communities ofcolor and queer communities was not. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.5: CARA tried to avoid being targeted by learning to negotiate the process of lobbying with local government, and subverted its language to fit a program that was more palatable to local politicians. We created a kind of dual identity-a disguised one for the city funders and an authentic one for our constituents. For example, in all materials designed for city officials we replaced the phrase "community organizing," which seemed overtly political, with the phrase "community engagement." -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.6: This kind of"doublespeak" and "dual identity" is a common practice among people of color and poor people who spend time in spaces dominated by white people and middle-class and wealthy people. We do not necessarily endorse this method as a sustainable practice, but we recognize that oppressed people develop creative strategies for survival as we move across the boundaries of our own communities and communities we do not identify as ours. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.6: As the movement developed and became increasingly professionalized, workers were expected to be not "battered women" but experts with a master's degree in social work. Andrea Smith explains: As the antiviolence movement has gained greater public prominence, domestic violence and rape crisis centers have become increasingly professionalized to receive accreditation and funding from state and federal agencies. Rather than develop peer-based services in which large groups of women can participate, they employ individuals with the proper academic degrees or credentials. This practice excludes most women from full participation, particularly women of color and poor women -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.6: A distance between advocates and survivors was enforced throughout most organizations and considered much more professional and healthy. In fact, whereas in the beginning of the antiviolence movement, survivors were prioritized as workers in organizations, it is currently the case that if an advocate identifies herselfas a survivor of rape and abuse, she could provoke a warning flag for employers, for if she was one of them-the damaged ones-how could she possibly effectively advocate on their behalf? -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.7: CARA's practice of community building is deeply connected to our political goals. At INCITE!'s second Color of Violence conference in 2002, Angela Davis captures how we understand the concept of "community" when she asserts, I do think it is extremely important not to assume that there are "communities of color" out there fully formed, conscious of themselves, just waiting for van guard organizers to mobilize them into action. You know some people might saythat there are communities in themselves waiting for someone to transform them into communities for themselves, but I think that's a mistake. I think it's a mistake because we have to think about organizing as producing the communities, as generating community, as building communities of struggle -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.8: Engaging a radical disability politic has taught us to put accessibility in the front of what it means to build communities of struggle and think critically about who finds this process inviting and who doesn't. Ensuring that we have ASL interpretation, wheelchair-accessible office spaces and event venues, accessible transportation options for participants and staff members, and so on, is critical-and sometimes expensive. We've found that, when organizations both inside and outside the non-profit structure have fewer financial resources, what gets cut first is resources for accessibility-for people with disabilities, for children, for parents, for people whose first language is not English, for poor people, and for all of us who need support to participate in movement building. Though CARA's funding from the city sometimes undermines our community-building work, divesting from these funds would undermine accessibility, which also threatens our community-building work. We do not argue that it is necessary to receive funds from the state orto be a non-profit to ensure accessibility (of course, other non-profit organizations that receive government funding sometimes fail to prioritize accessibility-an ethical and political commitment is needed as well). However, we do assert that, as we work ourselves out of the non-profit system to fully realize our revolutionary potential, we must create alternatives to sustain the rich standard of accessibility that these resources have sometimes allowed us to achieve. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014