As some of you may know, I’ve recently started working at the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is an amazing organization that is open 24/7 and provides support for victims, as well as family and friends, of domestic violence. We do everything from connect callers to local resources to just providing a space to listen. I also really enjoy the work. It is nice to be in an empowering space that is committed to worker wellness. Advocacy work is very satisfying for me and it allows me to deepen my analysis around social justice and liberation. I’m learning so much here and I know that I also have a lot to give.
One thing that I’ve gotten some more nuanced understanding is around the topic of space. I’ve written several essays here, and in other places, about the necessity of space in order to thrive in any situation. We need living space, work space, social space, emotional space etc.
In cases of domestic violence, the survivor is often robbed of most, if not all, space. All of the tactics that the abuser uses to maintain power and control in a relationship center around stealing space. Whether is it keeping someone isolated from friends in family or not allowing them to get a job or sexually assaulting them, they are all a robbing of space and of agency. The survivor is not allowed the space to have meaningful, loving and supportive friendships. They are not allowed the space to work and be economically independent. They are not given the space to make their own, unconstrained sexual choices.
And I got to thinking about this. What if the root of all marginalization, of all violence, was the theft of space? I began to think about colonialism and the displacement of indigenous people. Was that not the theft of space, the robbing of land? Colonist comes in and steal the space that once belonged to others and with that theft also stole their agency. I thought about slavery and how that is probably the greatest theft of space. And of course, domestic violence is a theft of space.
Even the most recent shooting in Connecticut is about the theft of space. The lack of funding for mental health programs create a situation where there is no space for someone who has a mental disorder to get the help they need. The abundance of gun access creates a situation where people who are violent for any reason can restrict and control the space of others. And all of this is 400 hundred years in the making. The latest iteration of violence created by a system that controls and steals the space of certain kinds of people. The theft of space, and violence itself, is more than just individual acts. It is a systemic inevitability. The way our society is structured makes it so that violence cannot help but happen. The system is rigged for it.
One of the things that we learn here as advocates is that we aren’t here to fix the caller’s problem. We are not here to save them or rescue them. Rather, we are there to empower the caller to solve their own problems. Because in the end, saving them does nothing to address the root cause of the problem. We connect them to the resources near them so that they can decide what the best course of action is for themselves. We use active listening and empathy to facilitate the creation of space. And if the root of violence is the theft of space, than facilitating the creation of space is counteracting that violence. The space that is created allows for movement. And with movement, comes change. The creation of space allows for empowerment and the beginning of unconstrained choices.
The key to fighting violence is the creation of space. If we are going to bring justice to this world, then we need to facilitate the creation of space for ourselves. We need to carve out our space. We need to engage in deeply listening to one another and become stewards of one another’s trauma. This also means that we need to take care of ourselves. This also means listening to ourselves, to our bodies. It means that we trust ourselves and build community with those around us.
In the end, we cannot save the world. But we can try to open up space so that it can save itself. We can open up space so that each individual can save themselves.