On the Blog: Advocacy Week- Community

The Network’s membership community invests every day in the future we are building together, for all of us.  This happens through the work they do and the way they do it.  By investing in Voice, Repair, Freedom, Justice and Community, Vermont’s local sexual and domestic violence advocacy organizations are living into a world where all people can thrive.  

Advocacy Organization Appreciation Week is a time to shine a light on these investments.  Each day we’ll hear from people doing the work in their communities.  Their insights can help propel us all to consider where and how we are investing in the future we need, and fuel the joyful collective work of building it together.  Today, staff members from Steps to End Domestic Violence, AWARE, Pride Center’s Safespace program, and the Network’s DIVAS project (supporting incarcerated survivors of violence) talk about investing in the idea of Community.  

Investing in our vision: community

By Kelli Risitano, Director of Advocacy and Healing

Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”  - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Community means a group of folks who share something in common,” explained Julia Bessy of Steps to End Domestic Violence.  “Oftentimes communities hold similar values.”  “Community is all about connection, and acknowledging how we are different, and… how we are the same,” added Laurie McBurnie of AWARE.

Community can be a source of safety, healing, love and collective power, and community can enact and allow great harm.  “Harm doesn’t happen in a bubble,” explained Anne Moyerbrailean of Pride Center.  “Harm done by and to an individual is interconnected with larger, systemic harms. I believe in demanding more for our communities and continually challenging these harms.”  Bessie McManus of Steps agreed: “Within our communities, we have been exposed to and upheld messages of supremacy.  Discrediting these messages and eradicating these oppressive behaviors is work that must be done by us, the community that has committed the harm for so long.”

Our colleagues spoke about the importance of growing our capacity to respond to harm within our communities and engage in community accountability and repair that centers the needs of the person who has been harmed.  Within our Vermont Network membership community, there is a growing sense of urgency for this work, rooted in the recognition that state systems’ responses to sexual and domestic violence often create additional harm for survivors and marginalized communities.  Sonya Shah, an advocate for incarcerated people, expresses it this way: “Accountability is a fierce and radical choice to stay in relationship and in community knowing that we will harm each other.”

Liane Duda from Steps, talked about the responsibility communities have to ensure all members can thrive.  “If people in our community aren't supported and safe then we need to step up and ensure that,” she explained.  “We can't live in a bubble--If half of the folks aren't okay then we all aren't okay.”  Tonda Bryant of AWARE agreed, saying “Our collective healing is interdependent.”

Investing in Community is a way of caring for ourselves and each other.  “We are not meant to be in isolation and we are meant to be in connection,” explained Anne. “Investing in survivors is investing in the community… and community and connection are what so many survivors tell me that they want.”

Tom Nececkas of the DIVAS program talked about the devastating impacts of being put into “segregation” during a person’s time in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.  Sometimes a DIVAS advocate may be the only person who interacts with someone during their one hour a day outside of segregation.  “Being with that person while they shake and cry and just come back to a little bit of their sanity feels like one of the most important ways that we are in community with people who have all had all connections forcibly stripped from them.”

Kylen Veilleux, also of the DIVAS program talked about the way womxn build community inside the jail: “They have these ways of caring for each other that I don’t see a lot outside of the CRCF that are really intuitive to each person’s needs in this not-normal setting. They find ways to get everyone’s needs met even when there are not a lot of resources.”  “Being part of an identity-based community offers the connection and visibility that we may have been denied elsewhere,” explained Anne, “which is a lifeline to so many LGBTQ+ people, myself included.”

Bessie talked about the ways communities can create space to enact an interconnected, life-giving future.  “I invest in community by approaching challenges with a hive mind mentality,” she explained, “asking myself ‘who am I to make this decision, to make this choice that will impact someone else?’ and ‘what is the impact this decision will have on the community?’, and by celebrating the plans we can make and the action we can take as a collective force.  [At Steps we] remind ourselves that the anti-violence movement is bigger than any one of us, that all humans and communities and experiences and behaviors are interconnected, and we are stronger together.”

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