By Robert Jensen, AlterNet
One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.
In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.
Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.
That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not…
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For the last month, I’ve been training to become an advocate for victim-survivors of sexual assault. As part of the Sexual Assault Response Team, my job is to show up at the hospital, police station, or courtroom, and be the one person in the room who doesn’t require anything from the client. My job is to make sure that the client is making decisions regarding the outcome of procedures, from the evidence collection exam, to the police interviews, to the courtroom interviews. One of the first things I learned, and something that really stuck with me, is that nowadays the premise is that the victim-survivor had their choice taken away, and the first priority is to restore that ability to make decisions and to have choice in their life again, as this does the most towards allowing recovery and emotional healing. I was so happy to hear nurses saying in response to concerned family and friends, “The most important thing you can do right now is BELIEVE and SUPPORT the victim-survivor.”
This belief is a welcome change from my own situation, back in 1990. I wasn’t expecting it to be the case, but doing this training has made me an advocate for the little girl I was, back then. I feel so much anger at the way she was immediately disbelieved, made to feel ashamed and dirty, and isolated by family and community, as if her only worth as a human was tied up in her presumed virginity (which as an abused toddler had already been lost years prior). A year later, when the brother-in-law attempted rape, her parents determined it wasn’t an issue for the police since “the damage (loss of virginity) had already been done.” She was made to understand that she must have done something terrible to lose some supposed spiritual protection that would never allow her to be raped–completely the wrong way to go about taking care of a child who’d experienced sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, and then experienced rape on top of everything else. Completely the right way to nearly destroy the mind and heart of a child, however. Rape violates the very center of a person. How can you feel safe, when the very heart of you has been opened and splayed for everyone to see? I’d fought, but eventually ran out of strength, and that was seen as proof of my compliance, and I was ‘marked’ as a bad person in the eyes of god and everybody. I felt unsafe in my own skin for years, as a result. This body that had betrayed me and not protected me was a disgusting husk I longed to shed.
All I can say is, I’m glad I had a small seed of stubbornness, a small voice inside that said these people were wrong. My rebellious streak saved my life, as I contemplated suicide so many times, only to tell myself that I needed to wait just a little longer. I had the plan in place, and the plan was enough to calm that part of me. I held on to the “someday hope” of suicide for so long, and oddly enough it tamped down the desire to carry it out. I was finally able to run away from that toxic environment and create a new life for myself. But the “lessons” I learned from those years stayed with me. I always felt like I had to excuse every decision I’d made up until the rape happened, I even regretted the A’s on my school report-card that had allowed me a free pass to the pool that day. I internalized the messages from my family and community and still felt ashamed and isolated and unworthy. It wasn’t until I took criminal law and criminal investigation classes that I understood that rape is an act of aggression, not seduction, that I had not seduced anybody, as a toddler or as a brand-new teenager, and somehow brought those horrific acts on myself. Rape is hardly ever just the stranger in the bushes–more often it’s the friend of a friend, it’s the trusted community member, it’s the family member you must live with. Rape victims range in age from from infants to people in their 90s, hardly sexual objects in most people’s minds. The one thing in common is vulnerability.
I can’t go back in time and undo what was done to me, but I can stand up for others. It’s what I feel compelled to do the most, besides writing. I am learning so many GOOD lessons, this time around. I can feel myself getting stronger, the better to protect and advocate for people who find themselves feeling violated, vulnerable, and lost. I can’t change how the story started, but I can make the ending better than I was told. If I can save one life, then it’s worth it.
The story I know by heart, I can’t tell here. It’s another in a lengthening line, though I’ve learned to be careful in the last decade and managed to slow it down a bit. I told the story on another blog, a place for small tragedies to be recorded. So many people commented that the story resonated with them. This fact is comforting and saddening, all at once. I’m comforted to know that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like a lone sailor in a tiny boat, way out in the middle of the ocean, wondering why it’s so easy for others to leave me behind. I’m saddened to know that so many other people endure the heartbreak of realizing a friendship was very lopsided, that someone took and took and then walked away when they were full and happy. How does the typical person get through this? And who is luckier, the one who owns a greater capacity for love, or the one who is able to walk away from a friendship without a second thought?
We sat cross-legged in a loose circle at the head of the staircase. A fifth of Jim Beam made the rounds, burning our throats as we told ghost stories. We bore witness to the demise of prior residents, each one more gory than the last, all suicides and murders. Though none of us knew the prior incarnations of this three-story rooming house, we sensed the despair and loneliness that emanated from each of the spare, dark 10 x 10-ft. cells. The mahogany woodwork spoke to grander times, but the peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster moldings revealed a downward twist in the tale. Six of us were alcoholics, four of those would be dead within the next two decades. Three of us were underage. Leota and I took our turn with the ouija board. We worked in near-telepathic tandem, telling the story of a young salesman who shot himself in room 202. One of the other women shrieked as we spelled out his name with no hesitation. “They can’t be moving it themselves,” people marveled at our synchronicity, but we moved that planchette with an easy calm. We didn’t need nonexistent ghosts to tell our stories. The microexpressions we sent each other had become a second language. We’d been storytellers for too long already.
When Leota died, I never thought to try again. I would have worked that small planchette to splinters for the sake of revealing her destination, if I could only believe. Twenty years after that night, I learned the house served several decades as a nursing home. Perhaps those room vibrations of lonely death were accurate, just not as intentional as we’d portrayed.
it isn’t difficult for aesthetically pleasing people from wealthy backgrounds to find other aesthetically pleasing people from wealthy backgrounds. it almost seems inevitable. and when their beautiful, wealthy girlfriend advises them to leave behind their plain-looking, non-wealthy friends, is protesting this decision a form of vanity and jealousy or a genuine, anguished plea for sanity?
time will tell. I hope you find the peace you seek, the peace you sought and had seemed to find in our friendship. I hope I can one day reconcile the person I knew and loved with the person you’ve become.
and I hope it wasn’t just the case that I didn’t really