Monday, August 31, 2020

Safely and Ethically Filming Threatening Behavior

Video documentation has become important in exposing racist behavior by the police and others, but it is not automatic that filming will help every situation.  In "How to Safely and Ethically Film Police Misconduct," WITNESS, a human rights organization, offers recommendations on how to ethically and safely film violent and discriminatory policing.  Read the article for detailed information; see below for some highlights.
1. Focus on your safety and the safety of the target
2. Know your rights--in the U.S. you have first amendment rights to record police in public settings as long as you don't interfere. 
3. Be prepared--for example, use a 6 digit pass-code for your phone and set your phone to automatic backup. 
4. Film with an eye to the larger context--how many police, how many others, what is happening.
5. Film evidence that shows what you are filming is real--film something to determine the location, the day and time, do continuous filming.
6. Make a decision about whether or not to narrate--if you narrate, stick to descriptions.
7. Think through a strategy before you share or consider getting the ACLU app "Mobile Justice."
In "Why Filming Police Violence Has Done Nothing to Stop It," Ethan Zuckerman reminds us that without dismantling systemic racism, filming violence will not be enough to stop it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

We Call It Self-Defense

We call it "self-defense" because an empowering experience where you find your voice, increase your awareness, discover the power of your body, and build a strong community of women is too many words.

Nine years ago, Cathy Bazzon, IMPACT grad, wrote about the power of an IMPACT Chicago workshop at a community center. Grant funding like what we have received from the Latin School Student Philanthropic Initiative for 2020-2021 helps us bring self-defense to everyone. Excerpts from Cathy's original post "Why We Call It Self-Defense" are below. 
It was a wish to reach women of diverse backgrounds that prompted Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago instructor and IMPACT Director at the time, to start applying for grants. “While IMPACT is primarily a volunteer-led organization, our operating costs are substantial,” she explains.  “Because of the full contact during workshops, we have to have insurance that would pretty much cover a football team.  Then we have to run a not-for-profit, pay our instructors, maintain our equipment, do ongoing professional development—it adds up really quickly.”  “Depending on the course, fees can reach several hundred dollars,” notes Thompson, “and a lot of women simply don’t have that kind of money.”
Upon analyzing participant demographics, Thompson realized that the organization was serving mostly white women, ages 25 to 40, with middle incomes or higher.  “And that meant we were not meeting our mission,” she says.  “If we want to reach women, we have to go where women are,” she says.  “Not only do we want to train a variety of women, but we want to work with a bigger vision of anti-violence work.”Expanding that vision means building relationships with other organizations already committed to empowering women. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Adriana Li: Expanding Empowerment and Safety

Adriana Li, Coach Instructor, IMPACT Boston
Adriana Li, IMPACT Boston

Below Adriana Li, IMPACT Boston Coach, and an IMPACT Boston Suit demonstrate a scenario of two co-workers who get along as friends at work and who have lots of healthy dialogue about social-political issues. The coach character is non-binary. The suit character is cis-gendered. 

SUIT: Hey how’s it going? Hey did you see that article that went viral, about the new trans-rights law? What did you think about that? 

COACH: Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something on that note. I meant to bring it up earlier. 

SUIT: Oh yeah, what’s up? 

COACH: I’ve given it some thought lately, and I love talking to you about politics, but I’m realizing when it comes to these kinds of things, especially around trans rights, I would prefer not to talk about it anymore. 

SUIT: Oh no, wait why is there something wrong? I thought you loved talking about it? Plus, I figured I’d ask you, you just know so much about it. 

COACH: I did, I’m just realizing I don’t feel like answering questions anymore. It can be a lot. I’m noticing it’s starting to make me uncomfortable. I think you mean well, and it’s great you want to learn so much, but I’m sure there’s other ways you can find out about these things. I’d prefer not to talk about it anymore. 

SUIT: Oh I’m sorry, I see that, but how come you didn’t tell me before? 

COACH: You’re right, I didn’t tell you before; I own that. I think because of the work dynamic I just didn’t want to make it awkward. But in the future, can we just keep it to other topics? 

SUIT: OK I get it, yes definitely I can do that. 

COACH: Thank you, I appreciate that.

Adriana Coaching 
Adriana says:
I wrote the above scenario because it shows how important it is to set boundaries with people we know and that we can change boundaries as things come up for us. LGBTQ-advocacy and setting boundaries when having conversations, even with well-intentions, can be emotionally taxing and may mean creating new parameters, despite the healthy relationship. It’s about reinforcing limits when things come up for us, and clearly communicating that to others around us.  

 I also know how important it is to have physical tools. I got out of a situation once by using a version of an eye strike--I didn't know how to do it technically but it worked and gives me confidence in the techniques we teach.

Teaching courses for the LGBTQ community is important to me, especially for LGBTQ youth and women of color. Because of my own background as a survivor and with those I know who have experienced violence, I want to focus on marginalized kids and teens and provide support and alternatives for trauma survivors. I am committed to teaching critical thinking skills and providing a vision of alternatives. I want to help people expand their visions and choices. I love that the structure of IMPACT means eventually our students do not need us to fall back on, they only need to trust themselves. 

Adriana presenting
I am part of the LGBTQ community and have been since I can remember. My mother is from southern China and my father is Puerto Rican. I was bullied and alienated as a kid for being uncommonly biracial. I graduated from Pine Manor College in theater. Out of college I was the Science Programs Coordinator for the Children's Museum of Boston. In addition to my theater background, I had a natural knack for working with youth. I’ve been with IMPACT for three years now. I originally worked with Triangle, the disability agency that houses IMPACT Boston. I was working as a coordinator for young adults with disabilities who were developing job skills and I was attending a Kung Fu school in Chinatown when one of the instructors recommended the IMPACT Basics Course to me. He happened to have been a suited instructor with IMPACT Boston several years before and he knew I was a survivor.

When I took the Women's Basics Class, I noticed I was the only student of color in the class. I was hyperaware that I was in a mostly-white space, something I was not used to in my college and childhood experiences. I've also noticed that hyperawareness by other people of color in programs that are predominately white. I am committed to creating safe spaces and providing space for conversations that are relevant to the experiences of people of color and all gender identities; for example, directly addressing systemic inequality and authority violence. One of my approaches for creating safer space in on-line programs is asking people to personally email me and share with me why they want to take the program. Online, the unfortunate reality is anyone could pretend to be in a specific community. By asking people to email me, I'm not only screening, but I'm making a personal connection.

I've had so much support from the IMPACT Boston staff and connecting with other IMPACT chapters and ESD organizations. I consulted with Linda Leu from IMPACT Bay Area about the Women of Color course. I helped train IMPACT Safety in Ohio in IMPACT: Ability and also helped in suit training for Turtle Mountain staff. My dream, in doing this work, is to see more people of color given platforms to be represented,and empowered, in spaces everywhere.

Based on an interview of Adriana Li July 2020 by Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Lead Instructor and Admin Co-Team Leader.

Monday, August 3, 2020

IMPACT Chicago’s Culture of Empowerment: A Foundation for Anti-Racism Work

Below I offer an analysis of IMPACT Chicago using the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture developed by Tema Okun to consider the ways it is (and is not) an empowering culture. This analysis was prompted by recent organizational discussions about if and how to adopt an explicitly anti-racist mission statement. Thank you to Amy Amoroso, Ellyn Bank, Amy Harmon, and Martha Thompson for their helpful input on this analysis. I am writing from my perspective as a long-time volunteer with IMPACT Chicago, not for the organization. [Editor’s note: see below.]

Culture of Improvement (instead of Perfectionism). IMPACT Chicago is forward-focused and seeks to continually improve. In my experience, IMPACT Chicago people routinely adopt a problem-solving mindset, rather than a blaming one. We are an organization that is open to learning and to change. Mistakes as we learn are expected.

Realistic Planning & Solid Decision-Making Processes (instead of Sense of Urgency). In numerous ways, IMPACT does an effective job at planning realistically and making decisions rationally. Examples include:

- Our grant proposals do not over promise and allow the necessary time for partnering with organizations to meet their needs. All of our grant work has been centered on community groups. Their needs have been at the forefront.

- Our training timelines recognize that building the level of quality we need takes repeated experiences and time to internalize, reflect, and redo.

- Also, our shared governance structure (board, instructors, admin) is designed to push us to build consensus, although this can take more time.

In terms of areas for improvement, examples include:

- Filling classes has consistently put pressure on our decision-making and planning. The sense of urgency around filling classes falls disproportionately on the shoulders of our Registration Coordinator. We have shifted work to promote courses much earlier and this is proving helpful.

- Many people feel rushed because we are all doing this work on the margins of our lives. There is no one who has IMPACT as their primary focus.

Call-In Culture (instead of Defensiveness). IMPACT has done well creating a call-in culture through the curriculum, in the following ways:

- the focus is on front-loading principles to our students (e.g. a focus on behavior rather than appearance to communicate an anti-racist stance).

- Feedback to participants is given in a manner that is forward-focused (e.g., what they can do next, rather than what they didn’t quite get).

- The instructor and workshop leader teams regularly review feedback from participants and adapt our programming to address concerns and make improvements.

- Our training process requires those in training to receive large amounts of feedback and incorporate it into their work.

In IMPACT Chicago, behind-the-scenes organizational work is largely done by women. Given our mission this is no surprise, but this pattern holds up across the not-for-profit world. I believe we need to accurately represent who has done the work, particularly when it is routine and unglamorous work. This work should be visible and valued. Pointing this out can be mistaken for defensiveness. In fact, this is an act of calling-in and I believe forms an important part in the fight for equity.

When people propose ideas without learning about what has been done or when people assume something is not being done because they are not aware of it, I have personally experienced defensiveness and have observed it in others. It is a challenge to ask people who volunteer their labor to run the organization to continually educate others about the work that is being done, when they could be keeping up with that information independently (by participating in social media, reading IMPACT’s blog, reading the eNews - to name a few). I have found it demoralizing to hear suggestions to do something a certain way when that is how it is already being done.

IMPACT tries to make invisible work visible so that it can be appreciated. Our current culture is one of appreciation within teams, but I believe we could improve appreciation across teams.

Quality over Quantity (instead of Quantity Over Quality). IMPACT Chicago has consistently chosen quality over quantity in all our programs. Instructor and Workshop Leader Training is rigorous and effective. Conflicts are handled with respect and with an eye toward establishing a high-quality process (e.g., how to fix the process that may be fueling the conflict).

Many Ways of Knowing (instead of Worship of the Written Word). As a largely virtual organization except when courses are taking place, IMPACT Chicago uses written policy, notes, and task tracking to communicate. However, our training recognizes that “doing” is an irreplaceable part of learning and our training is centered on “doing.” Experiences are processed in conversation with feedback.

Democratic (instead of Paternalism). Our organization chart is not hierarchical because we know that each area (admin, board, instructors) has to step up to lead but always in conversation and collaboration with the other parts. We could improve in terms of balancing the workload across the teams. In the recent past, the board has served solely as a sounding board without responsibility for fund-raising, board development, financial oversight or other areas that could rightly sit with them.

Both/And Thinking (instead of Either/Or Thinking). Our problem-solving mindset helps us maintain “both/and thinking.” We seek to understand and deal with complex situations, rather than simplifying or minimizing. We step outside binary thinking in terms of gender, which is important since we primarily are serving people who identify as women and girls . The IMPACT Chicago’s “Yes And” campaign (inspired by improv theater) reflects this approach.

Power Sharing (instead of Power Hoarding). An ongoing struggle is finding people to share the power and the work.

Embracing Constructive Conflict (instead of Fear of Open Conflict). We actively worked on this in the late 1990s and have continued to build our capacity for handling low level conflict in a constructive way. Several prescriptive models (including an adaptation of Rosenberg’s concept of Non-Violent Communication) have been used and help people hold one another accountable for constructively handling conflict when it arises and for reflecting upon what happened if things did not go smoothly.

Collectivism (instead of Individualism). Our work is explicitly not about individuals, but about community. Our instruction goes beyond “personal safety.” We do not talk about sexual assault as a private problem or as something that operates at an individual level. We are focused on violence prevention and community safety. Teamwork is central to our curriculum. Cooperation is valued. We could invest more in learning to work as part of a team following the model set by the Instructor Team.

Sustainable (instead of Progress is Bigger, More). Given that the organization is mostly volunteer-run, progress has been defined as filling our existing programs rather than growing them. Until we are able to offset the costs of our Core Programs, we will not be able to achieve sustainability. To develop greater sustainability, we need to have buy-in from across the organization for programming that is not currently being fulfilled locally or nationally and which does not depend on our expensive and longer length programs. Examples of offerings other than our longer programs include, working with local high schools to deliver their self-defense units or working with organizations serving people with disabilities to regularly offer training to staff and clients.

Subjective/Contextual (instead of Objectivity). We teach tools, not rules and that context matters. Our training emphasizes that a person’s experience is their own and we should not impose our interpretation onto them. We may offer alternative views or provide options for the future while affirming their reality. We are not bothered by being uncomfortable and see it as an important part of growth.

The IMPACT Curriculum has stood up well across cultures, in part due to our structurally- and culturally-situated approach to empowerment-based self-defense. In addition, our programs have been adapted to address different lived experiences (e.g., the IMPACT: Ability curriculum), and we are actively engaged in extending this work (e.g., gender inclusivity). In addition, we collaborate with our workshop clients to ensure we are meeting their needs. The tension here is always that we have limited staff and volunteer capacity.

While we will continue to improve our course content and scrutinize it closely, I believe that our curriculum provides a solid foundation for being both explicitly anti-racist and gender inclusive.

Discomfort (instead of Right to Comfort). As noted above, we value discomfort. In our programs, we encourage participants to embrace the unknown. Our work is not just about safety, it is about freedom. In terms of our teamwork, we often take discomfort as a signal that our process might not be heading us in a direction consistent with our mission, that the task at hand might have to be rethought, or that the interpersonal dynamics need some attention. We are comfortable with the idea that discomfort may be due to a lack of familiarity and does not necessarily need to be fixed.

While IMPACT Chicago has a solid foundation of inclusive practices, there is, and always will be, more work to be done. As with all organizations, the culture needs to be sustained through care and attention to what work gets done and how that work gets done. Yes And!

-- Lisa Amoroso, July 2020

Reference: Okun, Tema, 2001, “White Supremacy Culture,” in Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, Eds: Kenneth Jones & Tema Okun,

Editor’s Note: Lisa Amoroso has been a dedicated and effective volunteer for almost thirty years. She has served in all three major leadership areas in IMPACT Chicago (staff, board, and instruction) and in these many leadership positions has been a sounding board and support for Martha Thompson, Director Emeritus and currently Admin Team Co-Leader. Some of Lisa’s many contributions:

  • Admin Team Co-Leader 2012-2020, website, database, development of standards, & so much more.
  • Board Chair and Board member
  • Fund Drive creator and coordinator, 1995-2020
  • Class Assistant and Mat Mover
  • Workshop Leader, 2018-present