Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Meet the Partners: The North Dakota Women's Network (NDWN)

North Dakota Women’s Network

The North Dakota Women’s Network (NDWN) is the state’s only multi-issue women’s advocacy organization.  Headquartered in Bismarck and serving the whole state, NDWN has been fighting for equality in North Dakota for over 10 years. From education to economics, from reproductive health to leadership development, NDWN is a change maker working to improve the lives of women and families in North Dakota.
What do we do at NDWN?  Lots!  We have several signature programs including WE Rise: Women Empowered, which aims to demystify the legislative process in North Dakota and get folks more involved in legislation becoming law, and Ready to Run which is gives women the skills needed to run a successful political campaign.  One of our most popular offerings is Feminist First Fridays, which occur the first Friday of each month at 8 different locations across the state: Bismarck, Devil’s Lake, Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot, and Valley City.   Attendees gather for these casual meetups to network and chat about the events of the day.  Each month we see 100+ people attend these gatherings and we’re growing every month!
NDWN is also committed to LGBT equality in North Dakota.  We have worked with the Human Rights Campaign to bring important advocacy trainings to North Dakota, and our goal is to lift up and increase the capacity of LGBTQ-focused organizations in North Dakota.  We have been an integral part in the fight to pass anti-discrimination legislation in North Dakota, and we played a key role in passing a non-discrimination resolution in Bismarck in October of 2016.  NDWN also coordinates an Advisory Committee for the ND Department of Health to ensure LGBTQ individuals are getting appropriate services at domestic violence and sexual assault service centers. 

The North Dakota Women’s Network is only strong because our Network of people is strong.  We want you to be a part of it!  Learn more about NDWN and how you can join the cause by going to www.ndwomen.org.   

Friday, April 7, 2017

From "Brain Pickings": Rebecca Solnit on Breaking Silence as Our Mightiest Weapon Against Oppression

“We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison.”

Rebecca Solnit on Breaking Silence as Our Mightiest Weapon Against Oppression
“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her 1914 anthem against silence — an incantation which fomented biologist and writer Rachel Carson’s courage to speak inconvenient truth to power as she catalyzed the environmental movement“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde admonished on the cusp of another cultural revolution in her influential 1984 treatise on transforming silence into redemptive action“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech shortly after Lorde’s landmark essay was published.
No silence is larger, both in age and in scope, nor more demanding of breaking, than the silencing of women’s voices — a millennia-old assault on the integrity of more than half of humankind.
Let me make one thing clear here: We — all of us, of any gender — may have different answers to the questions feminism raises. But if we refuse to engage with the questions themselves, we are culpable not only of cowardice but of complicity in humanity’s oldest cultural crime.
How to dismantle that complicity and transmute it into courage is what Rebecca Solnit explores in an extraordinary essay titled “Silence Is Broken,” found in The Mother of All Questions (public library) — a sweeping collection of essays Solnit describes as “a tour through carnage, a celebration of liberation and solidarity, insight and empathy, and an investigation of the terms and tools with which we might explore all these things.”
Rebecca Solnit (Photograph: Sallie Dean Shatz)
Rebecca Solnit (Photograph: Sallie Dean Shatz)
Solnit begins by mapping the terra cognita of silence:
Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard. It surrounds the scattered islands made up of those allowed to speak and of what can be said and who listens. Silence occurs in many ways for many reasons; each of us has his or her own sea of unspoken words.
Silence, of course, is crucially different from quietude, the latter being the absence of noise and the former the absence of voice. Silence is to quietude what isolation, that weapon of oppression, is to solitude, that wellspring of creative fertility. Defining silence as “what is imposed” and quietude as “what is sought,” Solnit contrasts the two:
The tranquility of a quiet place, of quieting one’s own mind, of a retreat from words and bustle, is acoustically the same as the silence of intimidation or repression but psychically and politically something entirely different. What is unsaid because serenity and introspection are sought is as different from what is not said because the threats are high or the barriers are great as swimming is from drowning. Quiet is to noise as silence is to communication. The quiet of the listener makes room for the speech of others, like the quiet of the reader taking in words on the page, like the white of the paper taking ink.
Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity.
Echoing Ursula K. Le Guin’s memorable assertion that “words are events, they do things, change things,” Solnit celebrates our mightiest, perhaps our only, mechanism for breaking our silences:
Words bring us together, and silence separates us, leaves us bereft of the help or solidarity or just communion that speech can solicit or elicit.
We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison; we make stories to save ourselves or to trap ourselves or others, stories that lift us up or smash us against the stone wall of our own limits and fears. Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.
Cartography: Molly Roy; subway route symbols © Metropolitan Transit Authority
The New York City subway map reimagined with every stop named after a notable woman, from Nonstop Metropolis by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly Shapiro
Noting that “the history of silence is central to women’s history,” Solnit writes:
Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate.
Sometimes just being able to speak, to be heard, to be believed are crucial parts of membership in a family, a community, a society. Sometimes our voices break those things apart; sometimes those things are prisons. And then when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by a society sometimes becomes intolerable.
Even those who have been audible have often earned the privilege through strategic silences or the inability to hear certain voices, including their own. The struggle of liberation has been in part to create the conditions for the formerly silenced to speak and be heard.
Half a century after James Baldwin asserted that “we made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over” in his abiding inquiry into freedom and how we imprison ourselves, Solnit considers how the redemptive reclaiming of systemically muted voices is reconfiguring our world:
If the right to speak, if having credibility, if being heard is a kind of wealth, that wealth is now being redistributed. There has long been an elite with audibility and credibility, an underclass of the voiceless. As the wealth is redistributed, the stunned incomprehension of the elites erupts over and over again, a fury and disbelief that this woman or child dared to speak up, that people deigned to believe her, that her voice counts for something, that her truth may end a powerful man’s reign. These voices, heard, upend power relations.
Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. Those who embody it, often at the cost of extraordinary silences with themselves, move to the center; those who embody what is not heard or what violates those who rise on silence are cast out. By redefining whose voice is valued, we redefine our society and its values.
Art by Jabari Asim from Preaching to the Chickens by E.B. Lewis, a children’s book about how the great civil rights leader John Lewis found his voice as a boy
In a sentiment that calls to mind Hannah Arendt’s incisive treatise on how tyrants use isolation as a weapon of oppression, Solnit argues that “silence is the universal condition of oppression” and considers the complex cultural matrix on which various sets of oppressive silences intersect:
The category women is a long boulevard that intersects with many other avenues, including class, race, poverty and wealth. Traveling this boulevard means crossing others, and it never means that the city of silence has only one street or one route through it that matters. It is now useful to question the categories of male and female, but it’s also useful to remember that misogyny is based on a devout belief in the reality of those categories (or is an attempt to reinforce them by demonstrating the proper role of each gender)… It was in opposition to slavery that American feminism arose, born at the intersection. Elizabeth Cady Stanton went to the World’s Antislavery Convention in London in 1840, one of many women abolitionists who traveled to participate, only to find that they could not be seated and could not speak. Even people who considered themselves champions of the oppressed could not see what was oppressive about an order so old it was perceived as natural. A controversy arose. Stanton wrote in her autobiography of the remarkable women gathered there, who were “all compelled to listen in silence to the masculine platitudes on women’s sphere.” She went home furious, and that fury at being silenced and shut out, and the insight that resulted, gave rise to the first women’s rights movement.
Indeed, the history of breaking silence is the history of insurgent solidarity with the silenced on behalf of those who have voice. Without the silence-shattering letter of solidarity which sixteen of the twentieth century’s most prominent white poets wrote after Amiri Baraka was brutalized by racial violence, he might have perished as another black man swallowed by the systemic injustice of the prison system instead of becoming one of the world’s most influential poets.
Solnit considers this essential human task of those who have voice in relation to those who are silenced:
Empathy is a narrative we tell ourselves to make other people real to us, to feel for and with them, and thereby to extend and enlarge and open ourselves. To be without empathy is to have shut down or killed off some part of yourself and your humanity, to have protected yourself from some kind of vulnerability. Silencing, or refusing to hear, breaks this social contract of recognizing another’s humanity and our connectedness.
Our humanity is made out of stories or, in the absence of words and narratives, out of imagination: that which I did not literally feel, because it happened to you and not to me, I can imagine as though it were me, or care about it though it was not me. Thus we are connected, thus we are not separate. Those stories can be killed into silence, and the voices that might breed empathy silenced, discredited, censored, rendered unspeakable, unhearable. Discrimination is training in not identifying or empathizing with someone because they are different in some way, in believing the differences mean everything and common humanity nothing.
A supreme failure of empathy, Solnit suggests, is the refusal to speak up for those who are shamed or suppressed from speaking for themselves:
Individuals and societies serve power and the powerful by refusing to speak and bear witness.
Echoing Susan Sontag’s insistence that “courage is as contagious as fear,” Solnit adds:
Silence and shame are contagious; so are courage and speech. Even now, when women begin to speak of their experience, others step forward to bolster the earlier speaker and to share their own experience. A brick is knocked loose, another one; a dam breaks, the waters rush forth.
With her parallel willingness to name our human follies with robust lucidity and to welcome our highest potential with unsentimental optimism, Solnit considers our most fertile frontier of persistence and resistance to the silencing of our own voices and those around us:
Every day each of us invents the world and the self who meets that world, opens up or closes down space for others within that. Silence is forever being broken, and then like waves lapping over the footprints, the sandcastles and washed-up shells and seaweed, silence rises again.
Exactly half a century after the repentant poet Laura (Riding) Jackson wrote that “the task of truth is divided among us, to the number of us,” and that “we must grasp [it] with the tongs of our individual littleness [and] take the measure of it with what we are,” Solnit adds:
The task of calling things by their true names, of telling the truth to the best of our abilities, of knowing how we got here, of listening particularly to those who have been silenced in the past, of seeing how the myriad stories fit together and break apart, of using any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope is each of our tasks. It’s how we make the world.
The Mother of All Questions is a sobering and mobilizing read in its slim, potent entirety. Complement it with Shankar Vedantam on the unconscious biases that bedevil even the best-intentioned of us, then revisit Solnit on living with intelligent hope in dispiriting timeshow maps can oppress and liberate, and walking as an act of rebellion.

From CFED: Fair Housing: Act Now to Protect Fair Housing

Act Now to Protect Fair Housing

April is Financial Capability Month, a time to reflect on the tools and resources that empower low- and moderate-income families to build stronger financial futures. A stable, affordable place to live is a linchpin of that future, so it’s appropriate that April is also Fair Housing Month. This month marks the 49th anniversary of the enactment of the Fair Housing Act, giving us a chance to celebrate the progress we have made to fight housing discrimination over the past five decades and consider how we can create more equal opportunity in every community.

One of the most important things we have to do now, however, is to make sure that that progress isn’t reversed. Unfortunately, two bills in Congress would do just that.

The Local Zoning Decision Protection Act of 2017—Rep. Gosar’s H.R. 482 and Sen. Lee’s identical S. 103—would repeal the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, stripping away tools for communities to reverse housing segregation. The AFFH rule, finalized in 2015, gives communities guidance on how to fulfill their obligations to “affirmatively further fair housing,” meaning that jurisdictions that receive HUD funding must not only prohibit housing discrimination but must also actively work to dismantle patterns of housing segregation in their communities.

The requirement to affirmatively further fair housing has been an explicit part of fair housing law for half a century, but until the AFFH rule was adopted, communities often lacked the tools and data needed to identify and counteract this segregation. Under the new rule, HUD has made available a database of geospatial information on racial disparities in access to affordable housing, and HUD grantees will use the database to analyze the housing landscape in their communities and set actionable fair housing goals.

There is still much work to be done to ensure that people of color have truly equal housing opportunity. Today, people of color are still less likely to own homes than Whites, homes in communities of color appreciate more slowly than those in similar White communities and Black families are far more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than White families. Also, disparities in homeownership are a major driver of the racial wealth divide.

The Local Zoning Decision Protection Act would deal a huge blow to fair housing protections. This bill would gut the AFFH rule, prohibit any similar rule from being promulgated in the future and forbid the use of federal funds for the geospatial database. There is also a concern that the language of the bill might get added as an amendment to an appropriations bill. We need your help to prevent this harmful effort from becoming law.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Tell your Representative and Senators to oppose the Local Zoning Decision Protection Act. Here's how:
  • Call 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative's or Senators’ offices. If you don't know who your Representative is, find out here. If you don’t know who your Senators are, find out here.
  • Once you're connected, here's what to say:
    My name is [your name] from [your city and state], and I’m calling to request that you oppose [H.R. 482, if calling your Representative, or S. 103, if calling your Senator], the Local Zoning Decision Protection Act. This bill would prevent communities from having access to the tools they need to end housing segregation, which would make it harder for households of color to access neighborhoods of opportunity. I also urge you to oppose including language from the Local Zoning Decision Protection Act to any appropriations bill. Please show your commitment to fair housing by opposing this harmful bill.
    1. Ask three friends or colleagues to call their Representatives and Senators, too.
    2. Share this action alert on social media throughout the month of April. Share on Twitter and Facebook.
    Want to learn more about what you can do make homeownership more affordable for more Americans? Connect with Affordable Homeownership @ CFED!