At HELP of Door County, we have had pause to reflect on the violence that was perpetrated recently by predominantly male, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives and were injured in this senseless violence. The images of white supremacists shouting angry words, pumping their fists and raising weapons into the air looked far too familiar. In our work to end domestic violence we know that intimidation and violence are tools used by those who feel entitled to have power over others—especially when that entitlement feels threatened.
We recognize people of color and other targeted groups have experienced violence, hatred, and discrimination for centuries. All forms of oppression, including racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, play a role in the pervasive existence of gender-based violence, and unless we challenge and dismantle systems of oppression, violence will continue. Those systems of oppression are dependent upon white supremacy and privilege.
The lessons we have learned working in the domestic violence field is that gender-based violence is rooted in oppression—and inseparable in both cause and effect from other forms of identity-based violence, most especially racism. Domestic violence survivors have taught us that hateful language can sometimes leave deeper scars than physical violence. Perpetrators have taught us that it is not the behavior of their target that leads them to violence, but rather their own deeply held beliefs in their right to use violence to get what they want.
Most of all we have learned that real power does not come from social status, from access to resources, from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling. Truth telling about the history of our country. Truth telling about the origins and the impact of privilege, hate and violence. Real power comes with equity. Equity is valuing all beings and all living things – letting go of our hierarchical notions that place some at the top while others bear all of weight at the bottom. Equity is leveling the playing field for everyone – and celebrating all who choose to play. Equity is seeing current injustice and making the changes it demands.
Real power comes from our love for humanity. Our love for humanity calls on us to work together to build communities where children and adults can be curious, resilient, joyful, loving human beings able to respect and care for each other. Now more than ever, we must focus our efforts on changing the attitudes and behaviors that allow racism, intimidation, and fear to exist and thrive.
We ask that people take action and speak out against white supremacy and privilege. By remaining silent, we are giving permission for these hate groups to exist. We need people to hold others accountable for both their words and deeds. More importantly, we need to hold ourselves accountable.
Talk with your family, talk with your colleagues, talk with your friends, have those difficult conversations. The creation of a just and equitable society depends upon our work each and every day.
We ask that everyone in Door County and the entire nation take the steps necessary to create communities in which kindness and compassion are the foundations for all relationships. With a strong and clear commitment to this work, it is our hope that future generations will never experience such a moment in our collective history which is shaking our country to its core.
Steve Vickman, Executive Director, HELP of Door County
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.