What to do when you feel powerless.

Last month I was given the opportunity to spend 2 days with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC). Some of my favorite peoples work there and I love, not just their mission, but the way they move in the world.

The training was meant to be a conversation about how the staff at the MDRC could practice Militant Self-Care while shifting into work with the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and experiencing an increase in the number of times they may encounter sexual violence while serving their clients.

Feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness are common when working on the front lines of any move to end violence because, frankly, there’s so much we simply cannot control. We often know the intimate ways that people are being harmed, their unique vulnerabilities, and how the system is not set up to protect them, heal them, or offer them justice. And, on top of it all, we don’t always have the power to change any of that.

In preparation for this workshop, I googled ‘what to do when you feel powerless.’

Seriously. I did. Google is my favorite consultant.

And guess what I found?

If the goal that is important to people is control, then in situations in which people do not have power, they should seek situations that give them more choices. In situations in which people have limited choices, they should seek power.

Initially, I had suggested that they create a parking lot in their office for gaps in services that they identify to help them decided where to shift their programs or their funding asks in the future. Sometimes a response plan can help us keep moving. Choices.

What we did next was the real game changer because it helped the team focus on where they did have power.

I facilitated an activity where we discussed all of the things they could control. It was beautiful. Maybe someday they’ll share it with you. I encouraged them to hang it up somewhere visible in a nice frame.

It included things like;

  • having control over the messages they share and boosting the signal of voices that are made invisible by ableism and white supremacy
  • not replicating the harm of systems of oppression in their work
  • pushing back on funding restrictions that are not in the best interest of their clients.

In the end, we all stood back, took a deep breath, and smiled. I told them,

Look at how you do this work. There are things you don’t have control over but never forget this list. Hang it up somewhere so that you can remember that you are powerful. Not everyone is doing the work like this and I think that’s so special.

Power. Let’s not shy away from using it for good where we have it. Power can manifest as a boot on someone’s neck or the hand that throws it off.

A group of 6 people that are intergenerational and racially diverse. There are 4 people in the back of the group. From left to right, a black woman smiles and is wearing a black sweater and grey patterned shirt, one white women wearing glasses and her dark brown hair in a bun smiles, another white woman smiles with her brown hair up in a bun, and a white older man in a button down shirt and jeans. In the front is an older woman with white hair and glasses. She's wearing a turquoise shirt and glasses. A brown skinned woman wears a flowered sun dress, jean jacket and gold jewelry with curly hair smiles.

Maybe your office could benefit from this exercise. How good would it feel to focus on what you do have control over and why the way you work is so powerful? Or maybe this could be a conversation about the way you want to be doing this work. Maybe you need to spend time together thinking about your values and the way they are or are not showing up in your organizational moves.

Call me, maybe.

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PS – While I have you here, check out the Disability Visibility Project here and while you’re there, get your Ableism is Trash coffee mug, tote or t-shirt. Winter is coming so I opted for the mug but you do you.

TW: I see you.

To all of the survivors who are not safe enough to speak up, I see you. I know that you are raising your children in a body that you constantly have to remind to relax. I know you are loving others and going to work every day with a secret like a pin caught in the back of your throat. I believe you.

To the survivors who have decided to be outspoken and are feeling the burn of the constant media cycle and social media chatter, I see you. I am you. I am so grateful to be in the trenches with you. Please remember to eat, drink water, rest, and exercise. You deserve the same love and care that you give to so many. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are suffering layers and layers of abuse, I see you. I know that sometimes the sexual assaults are not trumped by the fists flying at your face or the way your partner keeps threatening your kids, your dog, and your family. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are incarcerated or institutionalized, I know that sometimes what you are condemned for is rooted in days and days, histories and histories of trauma. Some of which started before you were born. I see you. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who have spoken and were not believed, I believe you. To all of the survivors who have spoken, and told, and shared, and reported, and went to court, and called the police, and told a coworker, and called Human Resources, and told a teacher, and told a pastor, and whispered it to a friend, and tried to tell your parents and still were not believed – I believe you.

To all of the survivors who were hurt by a doctor, a police officer, a coach, a therapist, a caretaker, or anyone meant to protect, teach, or care for you, I see you. I know you exist and I believe you.

To all of the trans survivors who have tried to report only to be beaten back by a crushing wave of transphobia, I am so sorry and I believe you. You deserve safety, protection, and justice.

To all of the people of color who have to report their stories to white people who judge your language, your accent, your style of dress, your education, and whether you belong here as a priority over protecting you from the person who hurt you, you deserve better and I believe you. You belong among us and when I fight, I am fighting for you too.

To all of the survivors who have a disability and have had that disability used against you, I am outraged with you. Your body deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. No one has the right to take your ability to consent away from you. I believe you.

To all of the native women and trans women who have disappeared or who have been murdered, I think of you often. I say your names, I light candles, and I pray for you. I see you. To you who are surviving, I believe you.

To all of the Deaf survivors who struggle to find a safe, accessible, and confidential space to come forward with your stories, I see you. I have learned about the isolation you face and I will continue to learn and grow my organization in a way that centers your needs because it’s the right way to be in this movement. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are men and young boys, you are not alone. I know that there is an expectation of silence and you bear it heavily. I will listen to you because your story is important to me. I believe you.

To all survivors who are refugees and immigrants in this country threatening to deport you or place you in detention, I see you. I know that this country has placed you firmly between the choice of being a victim of a sexual perpetrator and being the victim of unjust immigration policies. This is no choice. I am sorry and I see you. I believe you.

To all of the children incarcerated with adults being violently sexually assaulted as a common occurrence, I know you exist. You are not forgotten. Your government may not be concerned for you but many others are. I wish I could offer more. I believe you.

To all of the survivors whose stories will never be covered by the media or see their day in court, your pain is valid. You are not disposable. You are not less important for being less honored. I believe you.

To every survivor, regardless of the details, I think of you during this time. You are who I refer to when I say ALL survivors. I know that the work we will never end sexual violence if we are not placing your name at the center of our calls for justice, healing, and accountability. When I fight, I am thinking of you. I try to influence my community to see you too. I am attentive to laws, policies, events, and spaces where you are not included and I call it out because I know you are there and I see you. I believe you.

And to the many, many children and teens witnessing adults go out of their way to cover up for famous and powerful perpetrators, I want you to listen to me.

I will believe you. This is important. Even if every person you know would choose your perpetrator over you, I will choose you. There are so many people in the world like me. I know it doesn’t seem that way from where you’re sitting but it’s true. I am friends with so many of them. They are real and they are so ready to help.

If you are a teen that wants to reach out for help but doesn’t quite know how you can call The Firecracker Foundation at 517-742-7224. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. If you want an advocate to support you, you can call 517-242-5467 and one of our volunteers will come to help.

If you cannot ask for help right now but you need to talk, we have a new statewide sexual assault hotline where compassionate people can support you. Call 1-855-VOICES4.

 

Teen-Led Program Training with GGE

I had the pleasure of visiting Girls for Gender Equity and facilitating a training on Teen-led Programming.

Girls for Gender Equity is in Brooklyn and as soon as I hit the door, the energy of the place lifted me. I was traveling soon after the death of a beloved family member and feeling a little frayed at all ends. I also fell on the sidewalk before I got there.

It was a 4-minute walk. Life happens to all of us, folx.

But as soon as I got there the team bandaged me up and the views from inside the office and outside the windows inspired me to rally. As you can see, they intentionally lift of women of color and it felt good to be in a space with powerful elder activists on the wall.

Their Executive Director Joann is everything. As important as this training was to their goals, she pulled me aside and assured me that everything could happen at the pace that I needed. They were ready to skip it all to make room for my grief. You don’t find that kind of community everywhere, people.

We moved into the training space listening to Janelle Monae and eating fresh fruit and quiche.

As I started to facilitate the training, it became very clear that Girls for Gender Equity is fully equipped with what they need to make the shifts in programming that they want to. Each staff member shared concerns from a space of first wanting to do no harm. They also shared openly times in the past where they felt ill-equipped to deal with a situation but managed to rise to the occasion.

This training was a skill share and the beginning of a collaborative relationship between The Firecracker Foundation and GGE.

One of the things they wanted me to bring to the table is a conversation about the kind of #militantselfcare required to sustain working with teen survivors of sexual violence. Not only are the team at GGE practicing lots of healthy self-care personally but they practice collectively.

Important: They have a DAILY DANCE PARTY.  If you want to dance with them, it happens at 3:45 p.m. every day. Synchronize your watches.

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I left the GGE team sending them best wishes as they step into their power and their well-honed insights as empathetic humans bringing their best to the movement.

Follow them on Instagram @ggenyc!

Bless,

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PS – Did you know that The Firecracker Foundation is hiring? We totally are! Click here for details and please share it with your family and friends.

PPS – Did you know that we are hosting a Healthy Sex(uality) Workshop on September, 29th?! Well. Now you do. Click here for more info.

Open handed and hearted.

Control.

This is all I want. I just want to know that the people I hire are going to be the right choice. I just want to know that the space we move into will be like the most perfect, snug, crab shell that we’ll cast off for another, even more, perfect fit. I just want to know that the yoga instructors will bring their yoga healing magic to the children. I want our therapists to help people heal their own hearts with surgical precision.

I just want an all-will-be-well-promise of Biblical proportions.

I want my children to be safe and ethical and warriors and brave and kind and safe. I want my husband to be able to fulfill his dreams and live a fulfilled life with me and our little (big) babies.

I want my collaborations, projects, ideas, pitches, and workshops to be needed, on time and enjoyed. I want our families to always feel connected, heard and supported.

I want so much for all to be well.

Survivors of sexual trauma control nothing. We cannot stop the attack(s) on our body. We cannot always control our physical, mental, spiritual responses to that trauma. We cannot always control our symptoms. We live with the knowledge that at any time and in any place, everything – from our bodies to our dreams – can be ripped away with one violent and unwelcome hand.

This is the story that often frames my life.

I don’t spin plates. I cling to them. I hug them to my chest. The joints in my fingers ache and the strain is exhausting. Even when I offer a plate to someone else (delegate) I am keeping one eye out for that plate’s well-being. I’m ready to snatch it out of this air should it be dropped. Like Spiderman. Obviously.

Control. It’s a wicked mythical beast. I am a person who seeks it out even though I know I’m looking for the loch ness monster or a werewolf. I see footprints and I follow them into the woods but I always leave unsatisfied.

My life’s work is to constantly be ungrasping the plates. I am committed to sharing my work. I am committed to finding those who can embody the work to the people we serve.

Nothing is ever all well. It’s not meant to be. All is meant to be mired in mistakes, imperfections, confusion…possibilities for growth and blossoming.

I can’t have any of that real, nitty-gritty, trenches kind of work with fists clenched.

This is work for the open-handed and open-hearted.

Ever opening,

Tashmica

It’s not about Thanksgiving or safety pins.

It has been a wild time of confusion and bewilderment as we wrestle with what a Trump presidency means for this country. We are all grappling with conflicting ideas about slacktivism, patriotism, peaceful protest and inclusion. We watch as appointment after appointment seeks to dismantle the progress we thought we made.

I’m starting to feel less awful but I’ve been struggling. That struggle has been compounded by many conversations online that are filled with microaggressions. Where loads of white, cisgender people have discussed how they’re coping with sharing Thanksgiving with family members who may be Trump supporters.

It bothered me and so I posted this because I thought maybe it’s our unwillingness to have these conversations that have gotten us to this place. It’s at least a part of the problem.

Seventy comments later and I’m still bothered so I thought I’d clarify a few things.

My post was not about flipping tables. It’s not about alienation or division. It’s not about allyship for the sake of marginalized people. It’s not about the white guilt you may instantly feel when you see posts like mine. It’s not about sending fragile people into dangerous spaces. Ever. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never advocate for that.

For years I’ve called the unwillingness to disrupt the dinner table a problem for child survivors of sexual trauma. It’s this bizarre behavior that keeps offending adults seated at the table without accountability or justice. And here I am addressing another kind of silence at the same table.

Because it’s not about Thanksgiving or safety pins. For me, it’s about how some people *cough* (privilege) have options and other people *cough* (oppression) do not.

I’ll admit it. I’m jealous. I’m sorrowful. I’m grieving. I feel betrayed by allies and white feminism. I wish for an invisibility cloak so that I don’t have to feel so fearful and vulnerable in my brown skin. I feel heartened by safety pins while I’m equally distrustful of them because I don’t know that it means anything.

In a perfect world, I’d wish for a few things from white, cisgender people and here they are:

Death to allyship. I don’t want an ally. I came to this realization as I was listening to Roxanne Gay as a guest on the podcast Politically Reactive. To paraphrase; racism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, and classism should be intolerable to all of us. It shouldn’t annoy you or hurt your feelings for someone else. My wish would be that you take it personally because it’s wrong and it doesn’t matter if it’s not directed at someone physically in the room.

Which brings me to my next point.

Just be real. One of the difficult things to hold emotionally has been the explicit proof that while I have insulated myself into a circle that includes liberal, progressive, feminist friends, the reality is that although they are active and vocal publicly, how they react privately, in the absence of a person marginalized or oppressed is underwhelming. So, maybe you can understand why I’m ready to host a wake for allyship. If you’re not for equality and civil rights in all spaces then maybe you’re not that into it at all.

Think critically. I’ve noticed that the initial response to these challenging concepts is defensiveness. I know that some of you have tried. I’m not unclear about how this is difficult or how it will likely cause rifts in relationships.

I have a dear friend who has spent time reading evangelical Christian progressive blogs in preparation of having difficult conversations with their family. I have friends opting out of family dinner because that is what will bring home the point. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

The most important thing to remember here is that as a white, cisgender person, you have more privilege and more power amongst your own family than I or any other marginalized person ever will. We all have a responsibility to use our privilege to defeat oppression around us whenever we are able.

Do the actual work. Do the real, deep, interpersonal work that it takes to inspire hearts to change. Many have disconnected from the people they know with dangerous ideologies. Today I wrestle with the fact that we didn’t make as much progress as we thought. We just had more power.

This one doesn’t just apply to white cisgender people. This applies to anyone who has given up on someone. Maybe we should reevaluate when and where we’ve decided that people are lost causes. I couldn’t continue to do the work that I do if I didn’t believe that people can change.

Click here for tips from the Southern Poverty Law Center on responding to everyday bigotry.

People who are visible in their oppression will NEVER be able to opt out. Not ever. Not once. They will always have brown skin. They will always rock that wheelchair. They will always have that accent. They will always be in love with someone of the same gender.

They will always go to the store, the hospital, the ballpark, the bank, their place of worship in their body.

This is the frustration. It is the absolute inability to opt out while others can take their safety pins off that hurts – especially when we know that you do take them off the moment shit gets real.

I’m asking you, as a friend. Wear whatever visible symbol of safety you want. Hang it on your door or in your office. Make it your profile pic and shout it from the fucking rooftop. Shout it from all the rooftops if you must. Get a safety pin, fuck Trump, stand with Standing Rock, tattoo on your chest.

But here’s the thing;

Integrity is who you are when nobody’s looking. – C.S. Lewis.

I’d like to thank every person who has been willing to have this conversation with me as I felt through all of my feelings and thoughts on this one. I have been unapologetically angry and inconsolably sorrowful lately. Which, you know, hasn’t been a walk in the park for anyone.

Bullseye

It has been some time since I last used my blog space. Frankly, I’ve been exhausted. 

When I am not taking calls all day, I am going to meetings all day. When I am not going to meetings all day, I am responding to messages, texts, and emails all day. When I am not doing all of that, I am attempting to be a good mother, wife, daughter, friend – person. 

When I am not doing all of that, I am wondering how I am going to stay healthy, creative, informed, connected in my soul on this schedule. 

I am not a unicorn. That is to say, my problems are not that unique. I don’t feel like my struggles are special on their own. But I have to consider the position I have placed myself in. Within all of those interactions, one truth continues to rise to the top. I am here as an outspoken survivor of child sexual abuse.

My job has become a constant reminder of that fact. With every phone call, every meeting, every message, and every text – I am reminded of how I became this person. With every grant I write and every appeal I mail off, I am asking people to heal children that have sexual violence in common with me. Sometimes people say no or they say hurtful things without realizing it.

I do not regret where I am today. I do not regret the choices I have made to fight child sexual abuse and to heal what I can. But I do have to admit that when the going gets tough this shit is fucking hard.

Being the out survivor in the room often means that people will condescend to you about your obviously emotionally driven, hysterical response to the world. It means that they will decide that your opinion cannot be valid because you have emotions.

It sometimes means that I am triggered, emotional and hysterical. Which also means that sometimes I have to have conversations with my husband, my best friends, my therapist, my family and those I admire to talk myself out of being triggered so that I can respond with my full self. That full self-includes emotional righteous indignation, practical self-evaluation and even (barf) objectivity.

It is true that sometimes fellow survivors, those within the movement to end sexual violence or allies/bystanders will elevate my voice. They will boost my signal. They will use me and my story to make the point they have been trying to express in many different ways.

There is beauty in that. However, the crown jewel often resembles a bullseye placed right over your heart. The same broken, healing, injured heart you seem to be placing in full view of humanity is now a target. That heart is discussed, analyzed, criticized and dissected without your permission and regardless of whether you happen to be in the room. And if you are me, you are often in the room asking a wise counsel to help you discern which way to go. Still. It is painful.

Even when the response is positive or validating, you are still vulnerable. Even when you get what you’ve asked others for, you are still vulnerable. You are still standing in a crowded room naked with all of your scars in full view. There are people who will talk to you about your story at the grocery store, in the playground, at your office, and in the parking garage because they will know your face. They are kind and loving. They are supportive and they want you to know that you’ve moved them, helped them, shown them something about themselves.

And I am so, so grateful.

But I am now the person who often lies when I am on vacation when people ask me about what I do. I need people not to know me. I need them to think that I am a writer or a stay-at-home mom or that I work at a nonprofit that helps kids in the most nondescript way. I need to be able to breathe as something other than an adult survivor of child sexual abuse.

I don’t know what I am saying to you because this is not a request for you to not see me. It is not a request that you don’t tell me the things you’d like to say. It’s not even a post about how I don’t like those things. I want you to boost my signal if it will help us all end sexual violence or bring someone to a space of healing.

I think I’m just saying that I am tired. I’m saying that this is a lonely place. I’m saying that even with all of the privileges and militant self-care I practice, this is still the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. There are not enough bubble baths, long walks, good plates of food to deny that I am still in a constant position of vulnerability. I have to be so gentle with myself while recognizing that I have work to do.

And I want you to know that I am an amazing gardener. I can fill a place with growing things. I can nurture a sunflower taller than me. I love spiders and their webs. LOVE THEM. I dry things and make magic in teacups. I tell bumblebees that they are safe with me.

I sing. Not often enough but I have a pretty good voice. I love the water but I don’t love to swim. I just want to be near it. I want to hear it and dip my toe in it when I get too hot. I love the things that come from the water. Waves, sea glass, bulbous seaweed and the smell of wind that spends its time dancing across lakes to find me at the shore. It tells me that I am near enough.

I am the silliest mother with the lamest jokes. I am responsible for the laughter, whimsy and downright irresponsible behavior in our home. I encourage bravery, responsibility, and accountability. My family thinks I can make you love your most hated food in my kitchen. 

This is a strange post filled with whiny words about the life I chose. I choose this. I will always choose this but damn. You guys, I am super tired.

And yes. I will accept cheese to accompany my whine. Thank you for the offering.

Honestly,

Tashmica

You Know What You’re Doing.

You may not know this about me but, I have a regular offering. I set aside one hour a month for anyone who wants my advice on building a nonprofit from scratch, community building and heart work.

I’ve been so well loved and supported in my vision. This is my best way of paying it forward.

I offer up my best advice while harnessing the kind of knowledge that comes from talking with individuals on fire for serving their community.

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Over hot cups of coffee I’ve heard nonprofit dreamers utter the same phrase;

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

It bothers me. Not because it’s insincere. I understand. I’ve said those words myself. I’ve said them under my breath, in meetings and I’m certain, I’ve gone on record as the woman who had no idea what she was doing but chose to move forward anyway.

I was wrong. I should never say that. If you have a vision and you believe you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re wrong too.

Let’s reframe that statement.

Here’s a real time example. I need to create an employee handbook because, guess what? We’re hiring!

My inclination is to say, I have no idea what I’m doing. I could use my self-deprecating humor or I could tell you the vulnerable truth.

I know what kind of culture I want to create. I want policies that are led by my organization’s mission, compassion and justice. I know how I want my employees to feel when they step inside my office – safe, respected and accountable to the expectations of the community invested in the healing of children.

I need help aligning my goals with the laws of the land and managing the risk involved with hiring employees.

Do you see the shift? You can hold fast to your vision while recognizing the help you need to succeed. Here’s how:

1. Get clear on what you want to build or create.
2. Define what you’re not qualified to accomplish.
3. Ask for help.

You don’t need to know everything. The cure to your fear of failure is vulnerability. Ask for help.

Hear me. You know what you’re doing. You can’t do it alone. Spoiler alert: No one accomplishes anything alone.

Give yourself credit for your vision. At worst, you gave thoughtful consideration to how you could make the lives of others better. That’s amazing!

Sincerely,

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Tashmica

PS – If you’re interested in meeting up, email me at Tashmica Torok at gmail .com or hit me up with a DM on Twitter @TashmicaTorok.