Changemakers Alliance (CALL), the action-oriented spinoff of Minnesota Women’s Press, began a statewide Values & Vision series of discussions in 2023. This new series brings rural, suburban, and urban people together in virtual conversations. With financial support, we hope to have in-person discussions around the state.
During each discussion, a moderator leads participants to explore questions prompted by book excerpts, video clips, news items, and other thought-provoking content. As the network grows, conversations will focus on how to create a more inclusive, connected, and safe Minnesota.
In essence, Values & Vision is a kind of salon — a hybrid of book discussion, related to current events and issues — that takes the extra step of leading to solutions, solidarity, and action.
January 5: “The Bonobo Sisterhood”
Our first Values & Vision conversation was around the book “The Bonobo Sisterhood: Revolution Through Female Alliance,” by Diane Rosenfeld, a legal expert who created the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School. In her book, Rosenfeld uses the term “patriarchal violence” to identify the male coercion that is used in order to perpetuate a male-dominated social order. We rely on a largely male-led legal system that has proven inadequate around protecting women and children from aggressors. We also talked to Rosenfeld about the concepts she is developing with Bonobo Sisterhood Alliance partner Cindy Kahn to revolutionize the ways we respond to gender-based violence.
February 23: We largely discussed priorities for our March 25 in-person event. Where is the momentum for discussions that members would like to be part of? Several ideas emerged. Learn more here.
Leah Robshaw Robinson, who works with Alternatives to Violence Project facilitators as director of Friends for a NonViolent World: “Prison is not a good space for undoing toxic masculinity. It’s like a breeding ground for white supremacy and misogyny. There is this tension of needing to hold people accountable when they cause harm and also — thinking about people not being just defined by the things we’ve done or experienced in the past. We want people who were once locked into patterns of committing violence to become advocates for survivors and people in marginalized communities.”
Robshaw Robinson says some of the male facilitators in the AVP program indicate how toxic masculinity harms them too, “and prevents them from having love and connection and comfort and emotions. So maybe we create this sisterhood for women, and maybe men also have spaces where they can be reinventing what kind of life they want to have in the world.”
Jessica Gidagaakoons Smith, who works with MN350, said she has found that fewer than ten percent of victims felt safe involving the legal system. As a legal advocate, “I can go to court proceedings with people and make them feel safer and help them through the process, because the process itself is very re-traumatizing. That’s something that really needs to be addressed broadly statewide. I’ve had so many different cases in different counties all across the state, and it’s the same thing. People just don’t trust the system. There has to be better things in place.”
Survivors also face backlash in their communities for calling out behavior, or trying to hold somebody accountable, Smith says. “People can easily push things underneath the rug. Families and survivors are left reeling, not knowing what to do or where to go. It starts with building that network of support, because that support is crucial.”
Evon Spangler, founder of the Domestic Abuse Legal Advocacy Center, says a first step is for everyone — including women — to believe women’s stories. Yes, there can sometimes be false allegations, she said, “But that is not common. What is common is gender-based violence. Without that, I don’t really see things changing.”
Katy Nelson of Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, spent 15 years in South Dakota where there is a state statute that protects people if they call law enforcement while “in distress.” Even if there is a warrant out for their arrest, they cannot be taken into custody — which helps victims feel safer contacting police for protection. “This is something that happens a lot in the African American community because they don’t trust the cops. What do you do as an adult? You are out of school. There is no principal. Who else do you call when when this is happening to you? Nobody? It’s terrifying.”
“The Right To Sex” excerpts, by Amia Srinivasan
Changemakers Alliance (CALL) will host an online conversation based on a few passages from The Right to Sex, by Amia Srinivasan. Participants will be asked to first read examples from the book, summarized here.
CALL was founded on the concept that statewide connections and solutions are required to reshape systems and behaviors. In this Values & Vision conversation we will get acquainted: What resonates with you most strongly from the examples in Srinivasan’s book? Why do you think these behaviors and mindsets continue to thrive? How have we succeeded at adjusting values around us?
A date and time will be chosen that works for a majority of participants who have signed up.
Trigger warning: Extreme racism and misogyny in these excerpted examples from The Right to Sex.
In 1859, a judge in Mississippi overturned the conviction of an enslaved adult man who had raped an enslaved girl. The defense argued that the “crime of rape does not exist in this State between African slaves [because] their intercourse is promiscuous.” The girl was less than ten at the time.
In 1918, the Florida Supreme Court said that rape accusations of white women should be presumed true, but that this presumption should not be applied “to another race that is largely immoral.”
In 2008, [musician] R. Kelly was tried on child pornography charges for making a sex tape of himself with a 14-year-old girl. In the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, one of the trial jurors explained the jury’s decision to acquit: “I just didn’t believe them, the women … The way they dress, the way they act. I disregarded all of what they had to say.”
On May 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger made the term “incel” more widely known; short for “involuntary celibate,” it generally refers to a man “who is convinced he is owed sex, and is enraged by women who deprive him of it.” After killing 6 people, and wounding 15 others, Rodger committed suicide. He had written a memoir manifesto in which he fantasized about a political order in which “all women must be quarantined like the plague they are” — although his manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him. Soon after, people on a now-closed online incels Reddit group said that women and feminism were responsible for what had happened, and that: “No starving man should have to go to prison for stealing food, and no sexually starved man should have to go to prison for raping a woman.” The book details many young men who have killed people since, in honor of Elliot Rodger.
In 2016, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced 20-year-old Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in county jail (he served three) for three felony counts of sexual assault. In a letter to the judge prior to sentencing, Turner’s father wrote: “Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile … That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
These are the roots of patriarchal violence, from Minnesota’s own archives:
Union Gen. John Pope to 1st MN Gov. Henry Sibley, September 28, 1862: “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.”
Other possible discussions in the Values & Vision series
- What can we learn about crisis response alternatives, restorative justice, and supportive housing?
- What can we do to reduce gun violence?
- What can we do to reduce Minnesota rates of overdose and suicide?
- How can we address ‘not in my backyard’ shutdowns?
- “The 1619 Project” excerpts, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Our January and February discussions were free to the public; after that, a membership fee is required so that community-based moderators can be paid and post-event stories and video clips can be generated. (No video clips of the conversations are used without permission of the people featured.)
Sign up here: tinyurl.com/CALLValuesVision