May 12, 2010

Student activism breaks the silence around violence

Filed under: Violence — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 7:13 pm

Yesterday, a group of my WS 30 students put on the Clothesline Project as part of their final class project and the turn out was outstanding. What a success!

Guest post by Clothesline Project co-organizer, Marley, on the experience:

Women’s Studies 30 has undoubtedly changed my life this semester.  Melanie Klein is an inspiring feminist mentor who has encouraged us to take our knowledge, growing awareness and media literacy skills out of the classroom and use them to promote social change.  Perhaps the greatest gift I was given was the ability to become an activist and to use my voice as a tool for promoting a better and more just world.  For our final projects, my group unanimously agreed that putting on the Clothesline Project at Santa Monica College was of utmost importance to break the silence that surrounds violence against women—and after a semester raising our consciousness, developing tools of activism and honing our media literacy skills, there was no better or more worthwhile cause for us.

The Clothesline Project was started in 1990 by a group of women that wanted to educate, bear witness to and break the silence that surrounds violence against women.  The catalyst for the event was the staggering statistic that 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam and during that same time 51,000 women were killed by men who claimed to “love them.” Hanging clothes on a clothesline is considered to be symbolic of “traditional” women’s work. Decorating t-shirts with one’s experiences and reactions to violence is healing process for survivors and witnesses of domestic violence.

Since 1990, the Clothesline Project has been done in over 41 states and 5 countries and is an ever growing grassroots organization that is dedicated to empowering women and allowing them a vehicle to utilize their voice.  Pretty incredible, right?

While coordinating the event,  I learned that sexual violence is still quite a taboo subject in today’s society and though I didn’t come across anybody that openly condones abuse, I was confronted with some resistance along the way. I was told (more than once) that the Clothesline Project’s intense subject matter was “too heavy” or too much of a “visually graphic display” and in some cases the lack of words said it all.

However, the overwhelming success of our event was proof that there are countless men and women who are willing to share their stories and ready to help create change. We started out the day with 50 t-shirts on the clothesline and by 6pm, we had over *100*. I was humbled by the overwhelming support we received from men and women who were touched by the space we created and the public dialogue we sparked. I am moved by the countless conversations I had and the new friends I made. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and  I am eager and excited for my next event. 

Violence is about control and domination and by becoming aware of it’s unfortunate prevalence and making our voices heard, we are able to break the silence.  So, the lesson here is to SPEAK UP because you will be surprised by the amount of people that are just waiting for a chance to do the same.  No one of us has the power to solve all the world’s problems, but each of us has the power to change the world one person at a time, even if the only person we succeed in changing is our self.

For more photos from the day, visit the new young feminist blog started by another group of my students for their final project. Finally, I want to congratulate Carolyn, Rachel, Allison, Stephanie and Marley for their hard work and dedication.