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Advocacy Learning Community: Takeaways from Year Two

Building on last year’s takeaways in the Advocacy Learning Community (ALC), we focused on taking care of advocates who support survivors in their communities. ALC members connected with others doing this work across the state and explored practical strategies to move through secondary trauma, reflected on what healing means for them and sustaining ourselves in the work. There was also discussion around healing-centered approaches to conflict rooted in restorative and transformative justice.

We met over four sessions together with self-study sessions in between and welcomed WSCADV faculty Deadria Boyland and Heather Wehr, as well as guest faculty Katelyn Song and Briana Herman-Brand.

A clear message that came through all ALC sessions this year was one introduced in the first session that comes directly from somatics: safety, dignity and belonging. We all have a right to feel and experience safety, dignity and belonging in all spaces that we navigate. The oppressive world we live in makes this complicated for many folks with marginalized identities, as well as trauma survivors. Throughout the sessions, we kept coming back to how to find safety, dignity and belonging for ourselves and survivors in anti-violence work.

Hearing from other advocates’ experiences and presenters is always very motivational.

ALC member

Healing secondary trauma and trauma from oppression

This year in the ALC we wanted to address healing directly for advocates themselves both personally and professionally. We invited two somatic-focused practitioners to do this. Those facilitators took advocates through solo and paired activities and debriefs to understand more about their own coping skills and challenges to their nervous systems that come up when they are activated. Healing secondary trauma from work necessarily brought up personal trauma histories, making the ALC an intimate and vulnerable space for advocates to share about their struggles to find balance in their lives overall.

There was also conversation about healing-centered approaches to conflict. Advocates were walked through exercises to break down the binaries of right/wrong and good people/bad people and to think more deeply about what accountability looks like.  Through self-reflection, advocates were able to get in touch with why they react the way they do in conflict and how trauma and their own survival strategies can directly impact how we show up in conflict.

Reflections on crisis work

Based on the conversations started last year, we came back to talk more about domestic violence work as crisis work and created more space to explore what this means for advocates and how we do our work. One key question was: what does “crisis” mean to advocates vs. what does “crisis” mean to survivors? The group was not in complete agreement- some advocates felt very clear that domestic-violence advocacy work is crisis work and that the distinction was helpful, though what is most important is how we approach and handle the crisis. Other advocates felt that overuse of the word “crisis” created more activation in the workplace and made it harder to do grounded, creative advocacy when everything seemed urgent. Regardless of whether the word “crisis” felt like it fit with how they thought about doing advocacy, advocates agreed that finding ways to tend to their own healing and grounding was the most important to show up in these moments for survivors, their co-workers and themselves. There was a strong desire for more conversation about crisis work.

Sustaining ourselves

Another theme that arose throughout all the sessions was how we are sustaining ourselves in anti-violence field and our lives as a whole. Focusing on healing and tending to our own needs as advocates is key to this. Important elements of how to sustain ourselves included connection with other advocates doing this work so that we do not feel alone, as well as slowing down to take in the rewards of our work. This might include noticing “wins” or positives throughout the week or noticing how a survivor you have been working with over a long period of time has made changes- no matter how small. We often plant seeds in our work, and we are not always there once they bloom since we often are only a small part of survivors’ journeys. It was also very clear that in order to be able to continue showing up in a truly survivor-centered way, we need to focus on how to take care of ourselves so that we can continue providing non-judgmental support.