It started as a zine, but then it turned into something more. The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, a new anthology released by South End Press, is currently drawing attention for climbing up to the top of Amazon’s Top 20 Feminist Theory bestsellers in mid-June. Edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this book builds on a 111-page zine released in 2008 in print and online [PDF], shaping it into a 291-page compilation of strategies, stories, and questions for social justice advocates to consider when dealing with abuse and assault in our own communities.
Too often, social justice-affiliated groups assume that all members promote the same principles in their personal lives that they do in their political lives: human dignity, solidarity and peace. Yet given the staggering statistics on the global prevalence of sexual assault, domestic violence and workplace harassment, it would be naïve to assume that activists are immune to such problems. And for many marginalized communities–including undocumented immigrants, sex workers, and LGBT groups, among others–the police and criminal courts are not always viewed as a safe course for finding justice. The Revolution Starts at Home offers alternative ways for communities to prioritize survivors and address rape, assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Many of the strongest pieces are collaborative, written by several activists on behalf of one organization. Miss Major, Jessica Yee, and performance artist Mariko Passion present an insightful roundtable discussion in “It Takes Ass to Whip Ass: Understanding and Confronting Violence Against Sex Workers.” Later, the Chrysalis Collective writes about the “beautiful, difficult, powerful” process of building a Transformative Justice collective in response to a community member’s experience of acquaintance rape.
But it isn’t just the collaborative pieces that resonate; individual voices provide intimate testimonies. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poem “when your parents made you” shares the complexity of loving and protecting a partner who is both a survivor and perpetrator of violence. And in one of the book’s most powerful pieces, “Freedom & Strategy * Trauma & Resistance,” Timothy Colm notes how he was left to negotiate his own safe spaces in communities that ostracized him for telling the truth after ending an abusive friendship:
Mostly, the fear boiled down to this: he was someone who had this huge power in my life, who had hurt me so deeply and fucked me up so profoundly, who had coerced and manipulated me into staying quiet about the things he was doing, who cleverly and persistently took away so much of my power, my voice, my ability to negotiate circumstances for myself … I want to be part of the transformation of our communities into places that support survivors in speaking the truth and taking up space, because we shouldn’t be the ones who always have to leave.
In the essay “Seeking Asylum: On Intimate Partner Violence & Disability,” Peggy Munson writes about how disability functions in intimate partner violence:
Abusive partners have been the same people who often saved my life and gave me caregiving for much of the last ten years, while simultaneously brutalizing me.
The book also offers excellent resources for survivors and supporters, including selections from a 2004 report by the national activist organization INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. And unlike other past South End Press titles, I really appreciated the increased text size of printed essays in The Revolution Starts at Home. After all, it’s hard to absorb all of the great information when the text strains a reader’s eyes.
The book’s title pays homage to the closing lines of Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s introduction to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color:
Finally tenemos la esperanza que This Bridge Called My Back will find its way back into our families’ lives. The revolution begins at home.
Like Moraga and Anzaldúa, the editors of The Revolution Starts at Home have provided a landmark resource: an anthology by and for survivors of sexual assault lead by editors of color, all three of whom are revolutionary leaders seeking to deconstruct the structures that uphold violence in activist communities. For anyone who believes that the personal is deeply political in social justice circles, The Revolution Starts at Home is a must-read.