The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence With Activist Communities

What happens when violence is enacted in deemed safe spaces? When the same partner that might hit you or not take no for an answer, is the one staffing the anti-police brutality group?  When your community’s distrust in the criminal justice and legal system means either submitting to the very same system you are working against or taking justice into your hands?

What was first created as a zine, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities is now a personal anthology, a collection of stories and experiences on love, deep sorrow, abuse, community activism and above all, a look at what has and has not worked in confronting that abuse. From poems that express the experiences of being part of the cycle of abuse, to step-by-step guides for creating accountability, the book looks at actual solutions to creating responsibility to one another, and to one’s self.

Edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, the book explores that even with the best intentions, the best actions and behind the most radical and progressive of politics, the systems that activists work so hard to dismantle are often buried inside of all of us.  The book focuses on multiple forms of abuse, with diverse voices that stretch beyond the gamut of atypical representations of what abuse victims look like. What has always been referred to as the “open secret,” the book breaks down the taboos surrounding abuse in romantic, personal and activist relationships that not only gives results, but also does so in a way that aims not to isolate the abused and the abuser. Last week, I wrote about my own experience of being in an abusive relationship with an activist partner, an experience that defined much of my early life, as well as my early activism and my eventual isolation from it. At the time, my partner worked in anti-racism groups, helped run a gay-straight alliance and worked in a multi-faith political group, all while mentally, and eventually physically, abusing me. If this book had been published ten years ago, I would have perhaps not felt so isolated, or have felt that just because someone could dedicate themselves to the bettering of society, that they were not capable of turning their internalized anger onto me. I would have not felt so alone.

How can people seek out justice and accountability without relying on the traditional forms of the systems that have failed them already, that spawn more distrust than solace? Whether it’s through the stories of violence enacted, the multiple oppressions that exists within communities (and how easy it can be to override one oppression for another), or that individuals can act on the same cycles of violence and abuse that are aimed at any community, The Revolution At Home seeks to break down the steps that communities can take to protect their own without having to choose between failing systems and nothing.  It looks at violence within LGBTQI communities, and how little support there is, especially when many of the perpetrators of abuse come from abusive backgrounds themselves. It also begs the question of where people can go when they are targeted by the legal system , often the same one that does more harm than good. And while it’s easy to target the large systems that often harm communities, it is harder to target the individuals that make up our communities committing similar acts of abuse.

There is “It Takes Ass To Whip Ass: Understanding and Confronting Violence Against Sex Workers,” a roundtable discussion with Miss Major, Jessica Yee and Mariko Passion, talking about the multiple, inherent dangers of being a stigmatized and criminalized working person, one who just happens to be a sex worker.  A sex worker’s profession often renders them not only invisible, legally scrutinized and oppressed by the judicial system, but also fetishized by the groups that are often out there to supposedly help them.  N. and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha both contribute small, but powerful pieces that move between watching your partner fall into violence cycles and what happens when you do try to use the legal system to protect yourself. Rachel Herzing and Isaac Ontiveros talking about making stories matter,by giving people a platform to speak their truth, through their organization STOP (Storytelling & Organizing Project), a group that responds to interpersonal violence.  “The telling and retelling of the stories of our interventions in situations of violence establishes, in our collective memory, the idea that these kinds of actions are possible. The act of telling and listening to people’s stories, and of translating those stories into organizing tools, help create meaning, pass on traditions and explain how common practices come to be.”

One of the most interesting essays is “Femora & Fury: On IPV and Disability,” by Peggy Munson. Munson documents her struggle with outside ableist assumptions on what abuse looks like and how those who are disabled are often violated in quiet ways which go unmentioned. The most awful of violations can come at the hands of someone who has simultaneously sustained you, a predicament that those who take their able bodies for granted, might always grapple with.

To understand how disability functions in Intimate Partner Violence, one has the shelve the denial about how deeply inaccessible U.S. culture can be to people with some disabilities”¦ some disabilities cross a line, becoming-by cultural standards-too unwieldy to accommodate, resulting in a warped and deadly triage of the “reasonably” disabled who get some human rights, and the “unreasonably” disabled, who don’t.

Ana-Maurine Lara offers “A Survivor’s Rights and Responsibilities,” ranging from the right to name abuse in all its forms, to feel anger and hurt in a safe space.  She also lists the responsibility of those who have suffered abuse and to the responsibility for future choices and decisions. The list is followed by an explanation of someone trying to create a language for defining her own experience and truths, a lesson that piggybacks on the evidence that people can create justice for themselves, as evidenced in the resistance histories of people of color, gender queers and those in poverty.

The book is dense. It offers no quick fixes, no band-aids, and no solid promises that the solutions that have worked in one community will work in another, though it emphasizes the urgent need to fix the present day to build for the future. I have read in twice in hopes that I would be able to take away as much as possible from each story, each experience, using these activists words as a way to understand what needs to be done to catapult the long, hard road to radical social transformation in a way that leaves no one behind. But the book functions less as a read all in one sitting, and more as a guidebook, something to turn to over and over again, each story offering a new look at an old problem. While we have to address the need for those who are victims at the hands of their abusers, it also confronts the issue of confronting the cyclical behavior of abusers and how we have to change that if we want to change the spectrum of violence.  It offers alternatives to a system that does not regard certain people as worth saving or helping. It offers answers, and above all, offers lived experience as proof that we can overcome violence.

America has the highest number of incarcerated persons in the world, often themselves victims of abuse, personally, domestically and systematically. The Department of Corrections of California reports that 80% of female prisoners report abuse in childhood and adult relationships, primarily by spouses or partners. Women are often incarcerated longer for measures of self-defense against their abusers, than men convicted of domestic or sexual abuse. The Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report stated that 63 percent of males incarcerated between the ages of 12-20 were there for assaulting or killing their mother’s abuser. 78% of transgender persons reported having been verbally harassed and 48% reported having been victims of assault, including assault by an authority figure, with a weapon, sexual assault and rape. If incarcerated, transgender and queer persons are often grouped with their “biological” identification, denied hormones or medication, are more than likely to experience sexual assault and gender based violence. Men are twice as likely to be re-incarcerated after being in prison once, and four times more likely to commit acts of violence against partners if incarcerated. People of color are targeted by legal systems and are more than likely to be punished differently.   Our system punishes sex workers no matter what they do, and often turns a very blind eye to the potential violence enacted against them at all angles, as well as their deaths. The legal system is failing us. The Revolution Starts At Home gives us hope that we can make our own justice and end the cycle of abuse and violence, and truly build something with everyone involved.


The book is available at South End Press.

2 replies on “The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence With Activist Communities”

This book is SO GOOD. We sell it at the bookstore where I work, and I’ve had time to read it. I also recently gave it as a birthday present to the kind of awesome person who would want it as a birthday present. :D

So get it! Your mind, it will be expanded.

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