by Lauren Montanaro, Community Engagement Specialist, and Molly Pistrang, Youth Education Specialist
You would think that two Preventionists, two educators who talk to people about abusive and healthy relationships for their jobs, would be completely comfortable talking to their legislators. You’d be wrong.
This year was the first time either of us attended Jane Doe Inc.‘s annual Day of Action (a statewide day of legislative advocacy around domestic and sexual violence). During the Day of Action, programs who are part of the Jane Doe Inc. coalition, as well as volunteers, board members, and general community members, come together to share their voices with their legislators.
Walking into the State House, both of us felt the pervasiveness of our nerves. Chatting afterwards, we couldn’t help but laugh at the universal form our fears took. We asked ourselves questions like, “who is going to listen to me?” “What contribution could I possibly make?” “Would anyone notice if I just left for some coffee for a bit…?” But when we walked into the Great Hall, the shift in the atmosphere was palpable. This atrium, filled with flags of the Commonwealth, was saturated with shades of teal and purple, the colors of sexual assault and domestic violence awareness. The impact of the coalition overtook us; we were a part of something so much larger than ourselves.
Before we went to speak with our legislators, there was a rally. Speakers who were expert on the legislative priorities helped us understand how to talk about these important issues. A sea of nods surrounded statements like “Justice is defined in many different ways” and “no more!” But the most inspiring moment for us was seeing our own colleague take the stand. Her words would inspire us throughout the day. A simple question: “whose house is this?” was followed by a brief silence, then hesitant whispers of “our house?” Then stronger, louder: “whose house is this!?” “OUR HOUSE!” For the first time, the reason why we were here truly struck us. This place, this Great Hall, wasn’t the legislators’ hall. This was our hall. And these people we were going to meet with, who we were going to share our stories with- they work for us.
These words stuck with us as we walked into our first meeting. This is our house. Our house. Both of us, now filled with passion and nerves alike, decided to take a step back and let our more experienced colleagues take the lead. These meetings took on the form of learning and teaching. With each conversation, someone from our group would explain that we were part of the Jane Doe Coalition, here for the Day of Action. We briefly outlined the budget increase request of $3.5 million and described the legislative priorities, An Act Relative to Sexual Violence on Higher Education Campuses and Safe Communities.
Pretty quickly, we saw that these meetings were not as intimidating as we expected. Legislators and their aides alike not only welcomed us into their offices, but were actively engaged and excited to talk with us. These were people who wanted to hear from us. We were reminded that although we may not know the exact wording on a bill, we know the fundamentals of why this legislation is so important. Huh, we thought. This isn’t that scary. This gave us the confidence to step in. The legislators and their aides were eager to hear us explain our work with community engagement and prevention education. We’re making a difference! We’re being heard! This felt really good.
We continued to learn from each other throughout the day. As we quickly noticed, we don’t know a ton about the state budget, so colleagues with more financial proficiency helped educate us. The legislators and aides shared perspectives that maybe we would not have considered. Interns, board members, volunteers, and colleagues contributed perspectives and experiences that helped create a richer picture of the fundamentals for everyone.
When this happened, we felt the power of coalition. We saw how Jane Doe Inc. and the Day of Action helped us identify our own strengths and also the strengths of others. We experienced how collaborative work can energize a movement and lead to change. We realized that the next time we ask ourselves “will one phone call make a difference?” “Am I enough?” “Is this issue enough?,” we won’t hold back from writing a letter or making a call.
Because our voice matters, and we have the right to share it. When we do this, we should make sure to keep survivor’s voices centered and continue amplifying one another’s voices. It can be amazing to hear from those around us, especially when we are working together in our house.
It’s your house too! To speak your mind on these issues, find your legislator at …..