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Passage of Inclusive VAWA: How Social Activism Pays Off

February 28, 2013

Today the House finally passed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act. The inclusive version of VAWA is now on route to the president for his signature. It’s a moment for grassroots activists everywhere to take a break and appreciate the work they’ve done. And it’s a moment to pause and reflect on why everyone, to at least some degree, should be socially active in their communities.

There are multitudes of reasons people do not take action towards important causes: time constraints, tight money, feeling helpless, not understanding the issue completely and thus not feeling qualified…The list could go on. Just try to complete this sentence for yourself: “I would volunteer more but __________” and you will understand why social activism isn’t a top priority in so many people’s lives. It is all too easy to fill in that blank.

What’s worse, the excuses for not being involved are completely relatable. Social activism, volunteering, and the like aren’t paying gigs. Our society at large doesn’t value these activities for that reason (and more). And if you’re just trying to get by, make things work, it makes sense to put volunteering on the back burner.

Recently having moved from my cozy home state of Texas to the completely unknown Chicago I have been struggling to get involved. I know hardly anyone here and getting involved in activist communities like I was in Texas seems daunting and not a huge priority as I am still unemployed and need to find an income fast. Not knowing much about local issues and politics I also am not the best informed on things that need action.

I feel (in some words): disconnected, unknowledgeable, stressed, and worried.

I don’t know where to start (and don’t know if I should while still job-hunting with fervor). In a very real example of how this can manifest itself, for a long while I didn’t discuss the Violence Against Women Act issue with friends. Mostly because I was confused and felt too uninformed to talk about it. And it sort of was confusing. In the beginning I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for our government to just reauthorize something that sounded great that had expired a frightening 500+ days ago.

Once I did a little poking around I realized what was going on. The Senate version was great and inclusive of LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and native populations. The House version was decidedly not inclusive and backtracked even from the original version.

A quick rundown of the differences in the versions of VAWA offered for voting from safetyandjustice.org

A quick rundown of the differences in the versions of VAWA offered for voting from safetyandjustice.org

Via Huffington Post

Via Huffington Post

So I finally understood the back and forth, back and forth, and why protestors were working to get #realVAWA (the Senate version) passed. Understanding the population differential in those impacted by sexual violence in some way (visible on the image on the right), it makes sense why it was imperative to support a more inclusive version of VAWA.

But before doing some digging I was surprisingly silent about the issue considering how generally active I am as a feminist because I wasn’t surrounded by my normal (Texas) activist crowd I had grown for myself. And that, it turns out is the primary argument for social activism: community.

People often do not get involved because they lack community. And people who do get involved helping their community are rewarded with a vibrant community of their own. In the sort-of activist bible Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times, author Paul Loeb describes the aspect of community in great detail and how it factors into activism in a variety of ways. Most notably he writes:

When we work shoulder to shoulder with others for a greater common good, we gain a powerful sense of human solidarity… social involvement converts us from detached spectators into active participants. We develop new competencies and strengths. We form strong bonds with coworkers of courage and vision.

To get involved, to take that first step knowing you don’t know anyone or much anything about your cause except that you care is the scariest part. It takes bravery to step out of your comfort zone like that. But once you do, not only will you be working towards something you care greatly about, you will be rewarded with a community you may not have known possible. And whether you’re a new transplant (like myself) or someone who’s been chewing on the idea of involvement for a while now, community is something that is definitely worth my time, job or no job, money or no money.

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