Sunday, March 19, 2006

walk the line

One of the most wonderful yet challenging things about being an activist is the opportunity we have to forge new friendships. That comes along pretty rarely once you're an adult. Think about it...when did you meet the people you consider your closest, dearest friends? College? Grad school? For most of us, it was when we were in our twenties and as yet unencumbered by family, spousal, and work obligations. Those we're closest to know us intimately and know our behavior, as we know theirs. The boundaries and rules of these relationships were set long ago.

Upon becoming activists, we began interacting with a whole passel of exciting, new, provocative folks. Let's face it, progressive politics attract some colorful characters. Those rusty people skills had to get sharpened up in a hurry. All of a sudden, there were new egos to be finessed, negotiations to be made, "no" when we're used to "yes", and hidden meanings to be inferred (or not) from passing comments. We encountered all kinds of unfamiliar personalities, running the gamut from passive-aggressive to...uhh...just plain aggressive.

And that's just within our own genders. Throw sex into the mix and suddenly you've got countless opportunities for misunderstandings, bruised feelings, and trespassed boundaries. Yes, you can make some wonderful new friends of the opposite sex who open up for you an entirely new way of looking at the world, but you can also inadvertently step on a Venus/Mars miscommunication landmine, with disastrous results.

As progressives, and regardless of our private views on the complex issue of abortion, we surely are all aghast and disgusted by the draconian law passed by the South Dakota state legislature forcing a woman who becomes pregnant by rape to bear the child. It feels like there's an element of punishment to it, an unspoken mumur of "she asked for it."

We all know someone who has endured the horror of a physical sexual assault. It stamps its victim with an indelible trauma...the worst part of which is the nagging self-blame, the sense that somehow, you brought this on yourself. This is especially true in cases of date rape and acquaintance rape, where the victim knows the attacker and wonders if he or she gave some cue, some remark or behavior, to provoke the attack.

Without trivializing the horrors these souls have undergone, I would like to propose that there are other forms of sexual assault that we, as progressives, need to be aware of. They may not be as traumatic to experience, but they are hurtful and demoralizing nonetheless. Inappropriate remarks, touching, or behavior are unacceptable in any situation, but even more so within our various organizations. We are all working so hard to manifest our ideals, to take our country back from the bullies who oppress and abuse minorities, women, gays, the poor, the uninsured, and the veterans. We must walk the talk among ourselves and treat each other with the respect we demand from those who serve us. We created these organizations so their memberships could feel empowered; if one member walks away from an activity feeling belittled or objectified, and that somehow it was his or her own fault, then we have negated our purpose.

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