Of Movements and Dreams
My fellow Move to End Violence cohort members and I recently completed our fourth of six convenings. We met in Warrenton, Virginia at the Airlie Conference Center to continue discussing how to propel the U.S. movement to end violence against women and girls forward and to learn about cutting-edge social change tools and effective campaign building. I was once again humbled and honored to be among such exceptionally powerful people who operate with integrity, passion and vision, and who have dedicated their lives to building a world free of gender-based violence.
The Airlie Center is where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. In this iconic speech, King spoke of his vision for humanity and racial justice, and he lifted up the quarter of a million people who marched as a reminder to the country of the “fierce urgency of now.”
This is the same fierce urgency felt by all of us working to end violence against women and the social, racial, and gender injustice that both perpetuates and results from it. Two central questions the Move to End Violence cohort has been grappling with are: how can we honor this fierce urgency and build on the ground-breaking work already accomplished to make our movement even more powerful and effective? How can we achieve the deep and broad-scale societal and systemic change needed to move us toward our goal?
Four key themes running through our cohort’s conversations about these questions that have really resonated with me are:
- Violence against women and girls does not exist in isolation – it is borne of patriarchy, sexism, racism, gender oppression and social inequity and, because of this, the solution to ending violence against women and girls must address these larger systemic issues.
- Violence against women and girls comes in many forms – it is not only interpersonal violence, but also violence perpetuated at the social, political, and economic levels as well. The shackling of incarcerated pregnant women in labor, for example, is a form of violence against women. Mistreatment and devaluing of domestic workers is a form of violence against women. Impeding access to reproductive health services is a form of violence against women. Sending survivors to prison for acting to protect themselves from abusers is a form of violence against women.
- Building the beloved community is a necessary part of creating a world without violence against women and girls. Beloved community is a concept that Martin Luther King popularized and frequently used to describe the type of existence and human partnerships we should all strive for. A world based on beloved community is one that values all people, families and communities, respects human dignity, nurtures human potential, is safe and free, and is rooted in principles of equality, justice and peace.
- The “last girl” should be at the center of and guide our movement. The concept of the “last girl” – which originates from Indian liberation leader Mahatma Ghandi – is the notion that our actions, strategies, laws, policies and programs should all be guided by whether they will advance the position, agency and self-determination of those who are the most marginalized and oppressed.
So how can we move our movement to manifest these fundamental understandings? What is the larger frame of a movement that reflects these principles?
In thinking about these questions, I find it helpful to look at the powerful example of the reproductive justice movement and the shift from reproductive rights to reproductive justice. Securing reproductive rights is critical, but the effort exists mainly in an individual frame that does not fully incorporate the context of women’s lives and the reality that women – particularly marginalized women, including poor women, women of color, native women, immigrant women, and LGBT women – can never truly access their reproductive rights if they are also experiencing multiple other oppressions.
Reproductive justice, on the other hand, recognizes that women’s reproductive health and control over their reproductive destinies are inextricably linked to their ability to have agency, equality, and justice in all spheres of life. As defined by Forward Together (formerly Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice), reproductive justice is the “complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives.”
The reproductive justice frame is exponentially more powerful than the reproductive rights one because it reflects a truly intersectional analysis, recognizes the root causes of reproductive oppression, focuses on the last girl, and encompasses a larger vision for gender justice and a more just and equitable world – and because it allows a much broader circle of people to see themselves as aligned with the movement’s goals.
What does this look like for our movement? What does it mean for our movement to hold the last girl at the center, to propel forward a bigger vision for women, girls and communities, and to reflect, as visionary leader and cohort member Beckie Masaki stated, the “through-line to gender oppression”? Who would begin to see themselves as part of our movement that hadn’t before?
To some, creating a beloved community where violence against women and girls does not exist, where the last girl leads the way, and where all women and girls are valued sounds like a dream. I encourage them, and all of us, to think about the force of Martin Luther King and to remember that it is dreams that hold our visions and goals, it is dreams that inspire and move us to action, and it is dreams that, when paired with effective leadership, strategy, methodology, resources, campaigns and collective actions, can change the world. So here’s to dreaming about our movement. And here’s to making those dreams a reality.
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