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Posts Tagged ‘Organizing’

Recently, a long-time friend, coach and colleague asked me for my recommendations on how she can become a super social media guru.  She’s a nonprofit consultant with vast expertise and wants to grow her skills and experience to continue to be the great resource she already is to her clients. (more…)

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Feminist blogger Kate Harding often takes issue with how cynical the progressives on Daily Kos write about abortion politics, but on Nov. 10, they found some common ground. Two days after the House voted to approve health care reform and the Stupak Amendment, which seemed to catch so many by surprise, Kate wrote on Salon and David Waldman wrote on Daily Kos that the passage of Stupak was entirely predictable. Not a shock. Not a surprise. Disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating, perhaps, but certainly, they agreed, everyone should have seen the Stupak Amendment coming.

According to David, the “lavishly-funded national network of professional abortion rights advocacy groups … somehow found themselves blindsided and rolled by a situation that was 100% predictable (not to mention 35 years in the making).” And Kate wrote, “We were rolled with, like, 35 years of advance warning” and she decried Democrats who “will sacrifice pretty much everything they claim to believe in, just because the words ‘Democratic majority’ sound so much better than the alternative.”

Let’s all get over our collective surprise and admit we need an entirely new strategy. The Stupak Amendment represents our decades-long national reality: deep political divisions about abortion rights and moral judgments against women who have had abortions. If we really want different results, we need different strategies. We can’t count on a president, professional lobbyists, or politicians to transform the abortion conflict or assure justice. We can’t even count on ourselves if our only strategy is to “get angry and gear up for a fight.” What we need to do is change the conversation about abortion.

If we don’t fundamentally and proactively change the conversation we risk deepening political divisions and forcing more people to their own sides, leaving out, yet again, the silenced voices we need most: the voices of women who have had abortions.

If we want to transform the conflict, the voices of these women need to take center stage. A true conflict-transformation approach, according to Eyal Rabinovitch, an expert on this approach, “focuses less on solving the conflict than changing how we engage with one another when we are in it. [It works by] giving voice to all affected by a given conflict and enabling open communication between them.”

Note that it does not work by giving voice to those “who speak on behalf of” or “advocate for” a particular group; those speakers certainly have not been silenced in public discussion. Neither are their voices the ones who need reassurance of open communication. Conflict transformation does not try to force opponents to comprise or agree with each other.

A conflict transformation approach on abortion enables open communication for those who have personally experienced abortion, the people whose voices have been silenced most as a result of the Abortion War. Today’s abortion conflict replaces their voices with stigma, isolation, judgment, myths, stereotypes, and the belief that women are best used as case studies to “prove” that one side or the other is right. Every day at Exhale, the organization I lead, women and their loved ones call our national talkline after an abortion to find the nonjudgmental comfort and support they are unable to find in their everyday lives. At Exhale, we witness the personal impact of this war on a woman’s life and her well-being.

Conflict transformation ensures that every story, every voice, is heard, and that each person’s dignity and humanity is respected.

We transform conflict when we take a public stand for each and every woman who has had an abortion, despite how uncomfortable her story makes us feel, or how inconvenient her truth may be to our position. We humanize the issue of abortion when we create room for those who have had abortions to feel supported, respected, and connected to one another.

Personal stories have the potential to change the way we think about abortion and the women who have them, and we must elicit them with openness and an authentic desire to learn. Because it is through personal stories that we can explore the real impact of abortion—positive, negative, and everything in between—in the lives of women and their families, and find new solutions to promote their health and well-being.

We should expect this new strategy to be messy—in fact, we should hope for that. Thelar Pekar, a communications expert, writes: “Story sharing, if done correctly, results in chaos. … Story begets story, which begets story, which eventually … begets chaos. [We should be] surprised, delighted, and frightened by what [we hear.]. Only then, out of chaos, will clarity, innovation, and/or change emerge.”

The impact of this approach on our cultural conversation about abortion will not be predictable like the Stupak Amendment or the political motivations of Democratic leaders. It gives us a real choice with real consequences, just like abortion: we can choose the same battles and get entirely predictable results or we can take a risk and try different strategies with unpredictable outcomes. Listening to personal abortion stories and enabling communication between women who have had abortions is messy, and it grows the possibilities for peace.

This is Pro-Voice.

If you want to be a part of transforming the abortion conflict and building peace, start by being pro-voice in your online discussions about abortion. Here are 5 simple tips:

• Be Authentic—Speak from your own personal experience.
• Be Respectful—Be aware of times you’re reinforcing an “us-versus-them” mentality.
• Avoid Jargon—It tends to be alienating at worst and boring at best.
• Remember Your Readers—Online, your readers could be your friends or family, even your daughter or mother. What would you want them to read?
• Practice Self-Care—If you find yourself drawn into a frustrating or infuriating online discussion, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to back away.

Whether or not you have personally experienced abortion, you can be a champion for women’s voices. Speak from your own personal experience and tell a story about a time you felt heard, truly heard. How did it change the conversation? How did it change your life?

The Abortion War today needs this pro-voice strategy. Instead of seeking only political solutions—where we end up “blindsided” by political sacrifices like the Stupak Amendment—we need a strategy for deep, fundamental culture change. We need to transform hearts and minds.

We start by taking the idea of the Abortion War seriously. Very, very seriously. We must recognize that we are a nation deep in conflict, and instead of trying to win with politics, we must work towards building peace. I believe we can do that by being pro-voice.

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A woman who has had an abortion and who goes online in search of support and connection will undoubtedly find everything that is wrong with the abortion debate in this country. Shame, stigma, anger, violence, and judgment around abortion are the status quo online. Imagine if instead each woman found what she really needs: respect and understanding. Exhale envisions a better online world for women and their loved ones post-abortion and we need your help!

Exhale is in the running to receive a free, new website through the Free Range Youtopia Grant program, worth $15,000! There are more than 400 great ideas competing for the prize, and we need your vote!

Vote for Exhale today and you will take us one-step further towards our goal of a new social website that champions listening, promotes storytelling and builds empathy for every woman who has had an abortion.

Vote!

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I live in Oakland, California and I love it. Lake Merrit is one of my favorite spots. Because I grew up on the ocean I need to be around water and so I always pretend the Lake is the ocean. It works, especially on hot summer days.

If you haven’t been here, you should check it out the next time you visit the Bay Area. There is a gondola, a bird sanctuary, and it’s regularly used for exercise. Families, women, men, couples, and people with dogs, strollers or on bikes take the 3-mile journey around the Lake on a daily basis.

Sometimes, driving by at night, I will see a man running, alone, listening to his music on an ipod. And I will be jealous. So jealous.

I will be jealous because that man is doing something that I will never in my life have the chance to experience. I will never run, alone, around the Lake at night, oblivious to my surroundings while enjoying music on my ipod. Never. Not a chance.

Not because it’s Oakland. Because I am a woman and rape is always a threat.

I was probably about 12-yrs old the first time I took a self-defense class. I learned a lot of tricks to stay aware of my surroundings and how to fight back. But the thing that sticks out most in my mind all these years later is what I was told to scream, should I ever find myself attacked.

“Never,” the instructor said, “should you yell RAPE. Always, yell FIRE.” If you yell RAPE, no one wants to be involved, but if you yell FIRE, everyone wants to be a hero.

To this day, if I ever find myself walking to my car at night, alone, I repeat “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” in my mind over and over in case someone attacks me. I want to be ready with the right word. I want someone to want to be a hero.

The fact that I haven’t been raped has everything to do with luck. It could happen at any time, in any city, day or night. These are the statistics. While never running alone at night or being prepared to yell FIRE may make me feel better and more in control, I don’t know that it’s actually lowering my risks of being attacked.

When I look back on life, especially all the times I was drunk in high school hanging out with the guys, I’m actually quite amazed that I escaped without assault. How sad is it, that I see this as lucky, instead of normal? I know it’s not normal. Almost every friend of mine from high school has a story, a story of a time when they felt threatened, when they went farther than they wanted to because they were afraid, and when they were forced to perform against their will. Almost every friend. I don’t think a single one of them ever reported it. We probably just avoided those guys in the future. We didn’t go to their party.

When I think about how lucky I am to have escaped rape on those drunken nights in high school, I know that I have yet to escape the threat of rape. No one really does. Even if I make it to 90, rape-free, and end up in a nice, quiet nursing home, my chances of being abused may have actually increased. Sexual assault and abuse of elders is on the rise.

This is what it’s like to be a woman in a rape culture.

When I think of the young woman in Richmond who was attacked, it is hard for me to describe my feelings. Pain. Agony. Sadness. Horror.

I think of all the women I talked to when I was a sexual assault counselor at BAWAR, and I know that healing is possible, and I know the road can be long.

I think about her family, her friends, and her community. I think about the family members of those young men who attacked her and how mortified and disappointed they must feel and I know that healing is possible for them too and that their road is also long.

Rape is not only a product of urban environments. Neither is being bystander. It is not just young black men perpetuating violence against young women. Rape happens in every community, in every environment, within and between every race. It is worldwide.

Rape, as every anti-violence advocate knows, is never about sex and always about power and control. It is used as a weapon. It is used to intimidate and to hurt others. It can be used by a husband against a wife, a famous celebrity against a promiscuous groupee, an uncle against a niece, a militia against a community, a prisoner against a fellow inmate. It knows no bounds across race or sexual orientation – straight men can rape other straight men.

It’s about power, not about sex.

None of these forms of rape are acceptable. It will not be OK for these young men to have done to them in jail what they did to the young woman. Violence as revenge, to exert power and control, is not the way to transform a culture from one that accepts rape as the status quo into a culture that supports bystanders willing to intervene when someone yells – or sees – RAPE.

Most of all, it does not help to have people like Deepak Chopra say on national television that these rapists and bystanders are emotionally retarded. This makes my stomach hurt. If one in six women will be assaulted in their life, we are all bystanders. We have all stood by and watched, and laughed and took pictures because if we haven’t done something to end violence against women and communities of color, then we may as well have. Because we’re standing by, letting it happen.

So, what do we do? We do as Akua Jackson, Director of Programs for Youth Together said in her CNN interview: we all take responsibility. Parents, teachers, youth, organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, clergy, community members. Preventing rape, stopping rape, is everyone’s responsibility.

Each of us can stop being a bystander. We can be an ally. An advocate.

What I remember most from my days as a rape-crisis counselor was how few women who are raped are believed, and how few report (and often, for good reason). The primary thing we did on the BAWAR hotline is believe callers when no one else would. Rape is so horrible and unimaginable in most of our minds that we would rather play tricks on ourselves than deal with the reality of a rape of someone we love, or of the truth of someone we love being a rapist.

That night in Richmond, it seems that every single person made the wrong choice. The wrong choice to rape. The wrong choice to watch. The wrong choice to laugh. The wrong choice not to act.

Luckily, we get to make the right choice.

We can start by showing our support for this community and these families and the many people, leaders, youth and organizations who have made significant progress in creating a safer, more just community in Richmond. We can let them know we are with them and we believe.

Community Healing Event and Candlelight Vigil at Richmond High School

What: Community Healing Event
When: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richmond High School (back Football Field), 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA
Who: Students, Teachers, Community Leaders, and Public Officials

Then, perhaps, I can achieve my dream. To run at night, alone, without fear. And a smile.

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I couldn’t agree more.

Glamour Magazine is well on its way to becoming my favorite magazine of all time. It was just a few short months ago that they featured the stories of women post-abortion. Now, they seek advice from experts on conflict resolution in order to create a more “thoughtful and productive dialogue” in a special editorial on page 207 of their September issue (featuring Jessica Simpson on the cover).

Glamour Mag’s Top 5 Tips for Productive Dialouge include:

Respect the Other Side. Believe others care like you do.
Go Ahead. Make it About You. Tell a Personal Story.
Wait. Listen Really Listen (not just wait to talk).
Don’t Let it Escalate No Hate Speech.
Realize the Debate Is Worth It. We can all grow from these experiences.

Sure looks to me like Glamour Magazine is practicing a Pro-Voice approach to their abortion coverage.

But not all dialogue happens in person. These days more dialogue is taking place online. That’s why back in April, Exhale published 5 Tips to be Pro-Voice Online to support the online organizing of peace-makers and pro-voice advocates.

If you agree with me and Glamour Magazine that its time to create abortion peace, then practice the 5-steps for peace outlined by Glamour, and head online with these 5-tips to be Pro-Voice from Exhale:

Be Authentic
Be Respectful
Avoid Jargon
Remember Your Readers
Practice Self-Care

Together, we can, as Glamour Magazine says, “learn to talk about our differences.”

Michael John Aloi, the President-elect of the Assocation for Conflict Resolution, wisely asserts that “being able to have meaningful discussions with someone whose beliefs are the opposite of yours can be rewarding. You can grow from it. You can become more tolerant – just be listening. And that’s its own reward.”

Thanks Glamour. Keep it up! Can’t wait for the next Pro-Voice article.

personal-growth-support

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5tips

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Ten years ago this week, I had an abortion.

At the time, as most of my readers know by now, there was very little attention paid to the emotional experiences of women post-abortion. Some clinics provided counseling sometimes, but there was no universally-accepted standard of emotional care being promoted or adopted by abortion or other reproductive health providers. Some research on women’s emotions around abortion had been done, but mostly it was done to determine if abortion alone could cause mental illness. It doesn’t. There was basically no political discussion, public message or communications strategy intended to honor or reflect the diverse emotional experiences women have with abortion. Instead, most pro-choice political advocates, when called to comment on women’s emotional experiences said some version of: “most women feel relief.” Not untrue. But not enough.

This was the landscape into which I entered the “world of all things abortion-related” when me and my co-founders decided to start Exhale. These were the problems we saw. We addressed them with a three-tiered strategic response:

1) to provide direct emotional support to women post-abortion and help others do the same;

2) advocate for increased research on women’s emotional experiences with abortion to create more understanding and acceptance and;

3) to shift the public and political discussion around abortion so that it is based in women’s real, lived experiences.

As advocates and leaders, it can often be hard to see, or document, your impact on the mission you set out to achieve. Over the last 10-years, there are many things that I can look back upon and say, that as a result of Exhale, something has changed. I can think about all the women and men who found someone to listen when no one else would by calling Exhale. I think about all the amazing volunteers who have been a part of growing our organization and the personal and professional rewards they have experienced as a result of their contributions. I think about every pro-voice article and blog post that let women know they matter, that their voices, feelings and experiences matter. I think about the chills I get every time I hear someone else say “pro-voice” or “women who have had abortions” or “the emotional experience of abortion” because none of these things were accepted, understood or important topics of public conversation. All of these things help me see the difference Exhale has made over the last 10-years since I had my abortion.

Exhale was able to make this difference because so many people cared to be a part of making change. Women and men from all walks of life saw the value – or personally experienced the need for – listening to the voices of women after abortion. These people came to Exhale to serve as volunteers, board members, staff, consultants, donors, allies, advocates and ambassadors. Or perhaps, they never came directly to Exhale because they found a way to carry the message in their own way because it was their message all along. The idea of pro-voice – of listening to the voices of those most impacted by an issue, of those who have lived it – is not a new concept, it just hadn’t been applied to abortion recently.

I am also proud of how Exhale has become a place for kindred spirits to gather together in order to use our individual strengths and talents to pursue a shared mission, a shared goal. Together, we have truly become champions for women who have had abortions and for their voices to shape the debate.

And, there is one thing, one change, one impact, in particular that makes me downright giddy. There is one thing that feels big, big, big and super duper important. Its exactly the kind of thing I had hoped would happen and didn’t know exactly how to make it happen. It helps me see that change is always possible.

The Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health Program at UCSF has launched a whole research program area on the “Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion.” Under this umbrella they have a number of different research projects designed to “contextualize and depolarize the debate around women’s emotional responses to abortion.”

This is how ANSIRH describes the program:

The Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion (SEAA) Program is a collection of research projects aimed at understanding how women’s lived experiences of abortion are influenced by their own life situations; by the attitudes and actions of others; by viewpoints women encounter or expect to find in their immediate communities, in the media, or on the internet; and by judicial, political, religious, and scientific debates regarding abortion.

Projects in the SEAA program utilize both qualitative and quantitative research methods to investigate women’s anticipated feelings about having an abortion, the feelings they experience during their abortion care and afterward, the availability, timing and types of social and emotional support for women who have abortions, and the challenges that abortion providers face in meeting women’s social and emotional needs related to abortion care. Projects in the SEAA program are also concerned with social stigma surrounding abortion and how women experience and manage stigma when they have had an abortion.

Ten years after my abortion, the emotional experience of women who have had abortions is front and center in reproductive health research.

Yeeee hawwwww!!!!

Ten years from now, I look forward to pointing out how women’s voices are front and center in the abortion discussion.

Double Yeee Hawwww!!!

Celebrate with me!

This celebration would not be complete without recognizing one person in particular: Tracy Weitz, the Director of ANSIRH. You can’t run a program if you can’t fund it, and you can’t fund it unless you fundraise for it, and you won’t fundraise for it unless you prioritize it. To Tracy – thank you for making it a priority!

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