The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities is an incredible anthology (that started as a zine) out from South End Press providing essays, accounts, and testimonials about challenging assumptions of interpersonal violence while constructing and sharing new paths to healing and accountability.
In the intro to the roundtable “It Takes Ass to Whip Ass,” Juliet November notes how “often the very ways we sex workers might protect ourselves…are criminalized by the state.” Peggy Munson details being in the incredibly unjust position of staying with an abuser who takes care of your needs better than an ableist society in “Seeking Asylum: on Intimate Partner Violence and Disability.” And several of the pieces address abuse experience in activist and anti-oppression groups. But the book isn’t just about how social services and state intervention can leave already vulnerable communities more at risk when it comes to addressing interpersonal violence; the personal essays, real-world testaments, and tools provided by the book are about taking transformative justice to the next level and creating community and self-accountability.
Ching-In Chen and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, two of the three intrepid co-editors of the book, took some time from their busy schedules to answer some questions about the book, and shared some incredible organizations and resources that inspire them, including several mentioned in the book. Read on!
The introduction to TRSAH details the many conversations, people, and movements that occurred to make the book. Despite some of the struggles, what was the most rewarding part of seeing the book come together? As the editors, what have the reactions from your many contributors been?
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: That it was a fucking miracle that it went from a tiny little zine, to a 106-page zine, to a beautiful book, by the best independent feminist-of-color press in the universe. With the death of many independent, feminist/queer, of color-led presses, there was no guarantees that this book would’ve come to be. Besides that, though, seeing how feminist-of-color–led anti-violence movements have come into full bloom over the best decade—and how some of those many movements are documented in the book—is the best part for me. My personal impetus for wanting to co-create this project came from my own experience and need for justice and healing, having been in an abusive relationship with a fellow queer activist of color in Toronto. In 2004, I had left the relationship five years ago and wasn’t dead—which is a pretty good outcome, all things considered—but my community was still stuck in a place where my friends had my back, but the larger community was still inviting him to DJ at anti–violence-against-women nights.
While at first I just wanted to collect stories of partner abuse within activist communities so I could stop flipping through the mainstream “woman abuse” books and feeling like a freak, the book ended up documenting a movement lead by Indigenous feminists and feminists of color to create ways of intervening in violence without the cops or the courts. Seeing [both] a giant paradigm shift in the world start to happen and my communities transform is the best present and the best form of justice and healing I could’ve hoped for.
Ching-In Chen: It was a really long journey to make this book—over 7 years. When I got the book in my hands, I almost couldn’t believe that it was this beautiful book I (and whoever needed and wanted to) could hold. Over the period of time we worked on this project, I grew as an individual and we grew as a collective in terms of our understanding of alternative ways that our communities were dealing with violence. If you look at our original call for submissions and what was in our zine [links to PDF] compared to the South End Press anthology, we were able to include more stories of groups of people—collectives, organizations that were more formally structured, informal groups of friends—who have been doing this work and the lessons they’ve learned. It’s been exciting to be able to see that we’ve been able to document and ask for more stories and strategies of transformative justice and community accountability in process.
I’ve been part of other anthology and editing projects, but in terms of working with the contributors of this project, it’s been a huge learning process because so much of what is written about is raw, painful, and just difficult. There were some stories and pieces that we really wanted to include, but the contributors had to withdraw them or weren’t ready. I see what we gathered in the book as just a beginning conversation, and we’ve already heard and seen so many more stories surfacing during events and in other conversations.
The book is divided into four sections: Safety at the Intersections of Intimate, Community, & State Violence; On Survivorship; (Re)claiming Body, (Re)claiming Space; and We Are Ready Now. How did you pick these sections?
CIC: We wanted to structure the book in an intentional way to reflect the kind of journey we wanted our readers to experience, balancing more practical steps and concrete strategies with visioning for the future.
LLPS: “We Are Ready Now” comes from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ poem, “An Archaeology of Freedom” [links to IndieFeed page where you can access Gumbs’ poem in mp3 form] for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Allied Media Conference, which was also the 2008 AMC’s theme. The idea was that we are ready for this future present we’re in: that as overwhelming as these issues are, and as much as we don’t know if we know how to create ways of transforming violence without cops or prisons, we are ready to figure it out. Also, the future is reaching for us and needs us to do this work. (This incisive black feminist readiness typifies the lifesaving love-filled nature of the Allied Media Conference, by the way.)
A lot of the accounts in the book are about personal experiences or organizational strategies. But while reading it, I found myself thinking about (among many things!) women of color and other marginalized communities challenging mainstream feminism’s problematic assumptions about “rape culture” (namely that everyone experiences the same kind of “rape culture” and interpersonal violence), most recently in regards to the rise of Slut Walks and the high-profile DSK rape case. Are there other current news or pop culture issues you see the concepts of TRSAH applying to?
LLPS: I’m probably not the best person to answer this—I watch Democracy Now! and listen to nerd hiphop. I’m more tuned into sub-cultural (lotsa ways) ways we’re building, and am excited about shit like that this year the APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit (which I’ve been attending since 2003, when me, Dulani, and Ching-In all met in the queer caucus) got proactive about shifting the culture, creating safety teams, and opening the conversation about violence, abuse, and positive ways of resolving harm in our communities.
CIC: Those of us who organized Matahari: Eye of the Day’s Global Women’s Forum in Boston talked about including a discussion on mainstream media and pop culture as part of the forum, thinking about the DSK rape case as well as celebrity cases of intimate partner violence such as Rihanna and Chris Brown. Though we felt that there is a connection, we also decided that it was more useful to focus on localized and specific communities we were involved in and had been organizing. One of the conversations the organizing team had was that, in some ways, it’s easier to focus on how the International Monetary Fund director is perpetuating harm (this rich and powerful head of an international organization whom most of us probably do not do closely work with on a daily basis), whereas it’s another [story] when we’re talking about the executive director of the local organizing nonprofit who we have to see at the rally tomorrow and in weekly meetings.
I think this book is quickly going to become a must-read for anyone concerned with gender justice, and is influenced by (and garnering comparisons to) This Bridge Called My Back. What are some other texts and/or resources (including zines, blogs, etc) have been influential to you when it’s come to interpersonal violence and activism?
LLPS: Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ work. All of it. Check brokenbeautifulpress.blogspot.com. UBUNTU. Crunk Feminists and Quirky Black Girls. Philly Stands Up—their breadth of experience successfully working with people who abuse is incredible! The amazing online archive of stories at STOP/ Creative Interventions. Oakland Sister Circle. The Allied Media Conference’s Creating Safer Communities and Growing Safer Communities tracks over the past two years. Audre Lorde Project’s growing Safe Outside the System project—from Safe Neighborhoods to Bed Stuy Pride, resisting gentrification. The Toronto Learning to Action Study Group’s blog—their “beyond consent is sexy” post is bomb! The Boarding School Healing Project’s amazing work critically examining “reparation” in response to boarding schools stealing Native children from their communities. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network for just being totally badass brilliant—their Twitter feed is one of my favorites.
And I loved Vikki Law’s article in Upping the Anti 12 about community-based responses to violence in the ’70s and now was amazing. She talked about the Greenlight Project, a black feminist response to murders of black women in Boston in the late 1970s, where houses volunteered to become safehouses for people fleeing violence, going through screening and orientation and installing green lightblubs on their front porch. Also, CUAV’s Safetylab and Safety Team models for practicing intervention and creating safer club space—watch their website for their soon-to-be-released tool!
CIC: Leah’s mentioned a lot of the resources already that I would recommend. Specifically I found Philly Stands Up’s zine particularly helpful in detailing concrete and practical suggestions for how to organize a community accountability circle. And The Toronto Learning to Action Study Group’s “Learning to Action: Reflections on a Transformative Justice Reading Group” is a great resource if you’re interested in starting a transformative justice reading group of your own.
In the introduction you write, “We dream of how this book is going to be picked up, used, argued with, and transcended. We can’t wait to edit The Revolution Starts at Home: The Next Generation in ten or twenty years.” I love how this book is by no means a definitive collection or solution to interpersonal violence, but just one part of an ongoing process. You’ve done multiple workshops, readings, and book launches since the book was published, and I’m wondering if you’ve already seen, in these events and interactions, new ways that people and readers are taking TRSAH to a new level, or using it to transform their own communities and spaces.
LLPS: I am blown away by the fact that we have had packed audiences at every reading—like over 120 people cramming into Bluestockings on a Saturday night in New York, 189 people in Seattle. That there are already TRSAH study groups in Seattle and lots of places we don’t know about. The People Project, a queer and trans spectrum youth-of-color project in Toronto some friends of mine created, told me that they kicked off the first workshop of their 2011 Outwords session by talking about transformative justice. I was like, whoa, that’s a bold move to kick off the queer youth group with. And they were like, it’s just real—every single youth has faced systemic and interpersonal violence and knows the police aren’t an option, and it also models a way for them to hold each other in a way that’s about love and solidarity. And it’s only been two months since the book came out…
CIC: It’s been inspiring to hear about community accountability reading groups that are using the anthology to discuss how to support survivors and also create community accountability circles in their own communities and also using resources that I’ve never even heard about. At Matahari’s Global Women’s Forum, we used some of the stories in the book as case studies and were able to test out some of the thinking and strategies that came out of the book, which was exciting to see in action. There’s been talk also of using Theater of the Oppressed to help folks come up with new tools in the work, so I’m excited to see what surfaces from that.
The Revolution Starts at Home is available from South End Press, check out its Tumblr page for upcoming events (Portland: The Bitch Lending Library has two copies!). Visit Leah and Ching-In’s personal websites at brownstargirl.org and chinginchen.com.