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 Voices Against Violence and Circle talk about investing in the idea of Freedom.
INVESTING IN OUR VISION: FREEDOM
By Breanna Weaver, Staff Attorney
The fierce willingness to repudiate domination in a holistic manner is the starting point for progressive cultural revolution. – bell hooks
“Freedom is the unrestricted ability to act on one’s own initiative in all aspects of life, without fear of repercussion,” explained Eliza Cain, an advocate with Circle. Olivia Gamsu and Shannon McMahon of Voices Against Violence agree, adding that being free means being able to make choices that allow a person to be their authentic self without fear, and having the resources available to make those choices.
The daily act of supporting people impacted by violence and abuse teaches vivid lessons about how systems of dominance devalue, disempower and terrorize people and communities, severely constraining freedom. At the same time, being in relationship with survivors illuminates the ways people live resistance against domination. The work also schools us in the power of relationship and community in growing our collective capacity for freedom.
Within the Vermont Network’s membership community, investing in freedom is a cultural norm enacted through traditional advocacy practices and in many small moments every day. Kristen Fowler of Circle explained, “I invest in freedom in my work by listening to survivors and allowing them to express what they need. I always ask what would feel best for them and hold space for them to not know what feels best because freedom is so new.” Eliza lifted up a foundational advocacy value, explaining that in her relationships with survivors, “I always hold them as the expert on their own life.”
bell hooks reminds us that “[O]ne of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.” Voices and Circle see their community-building work as central to their investment in freedom. In their view, a community that can embrace a person’s authentic, holistic and complex self is one where more freedom is possible. Olivia and Shannon shared that Voices offers a weekly support group for LGBTQIA+ survivors in a local correctional facility. “It is an investment in freedom because it acknowledges the full humanity of people who are marginalized and also don’t fit the system’s false dichotomy,” they explained, “because they are both people who have been harmed and who have caused harm.”
Kristen also spoke about a support group offered by Circle and the community that thrives among the survivors who attend, “as they grapple with freedom on many levels; through leaving the relationship, raising kids with an abusive partner, through court proceedings, financial, emotional, and feeling liberated – they are met with other women who have shared experiences… This investment in freedom isn’t just a Thursday night for 2 hours, it’s the highlight of my week as an advocate. It’s seeing familiar faces & new faces and witnessing women be empowered by other women to step into their power and journey of freedom.”