Zachary (Pullin) DeWolf, Vice President of the Capitol Hill Community Council, contributes to CHS about community civics and politics on a monthly basis.
Each week, my partner and I have my sister over for dinner. Before she leaves for the drive home, I remind her to be safe, walk with awareness, and text me immediately when she’s home. She’s a smart woman and I have faith she’d fight against violence. So, I was shocked at my becoming numb that foggy, winter morning when someone stole my power.
I did not plan to tell anyone about the sexual assault he inflicted on me three months ago. I self-prescribed a daily treatment of denial and suppression nurtured by a tenacious abundance of sadness, shame, and frustration. Violence and oppression separate us from our self, our bodies, and our communities.
I became a refugee from my own body.
Just three weeks after the assault, a mentor asked me if I sought power, if people like me should want power. I shuddered because, to me, power had become a swear word. “Power” – much like the words “God,” “Love,” and “Progressive” — needs a reset to eliminate disparate, often conflicting, definitions that arise from deeply held beliefs about their meanings.
The Capitol Hill Community Council’s own history provides examples of power being used to actively lobby against a gay community center in the 1970s to prevent “perverts” and people of that “lifestyle” from ruining the neighborhood, or earlier neighborhood group iterations as active proponents of redlining. Negative illustrations and exercises of power in government, business, and social settings certainly repel me as it does so many progressive Seattleites.
“What would it take to create one of these in our city?”
But when we repel all power we often miss out on opportunity. Power has the potential to be used for the good of community and the marginalized, in service of others. Personal healing and community healing comes in many forms, but healing cannot occur in a silo because isolation is critical to abuse and loss of power.
The community of support I received after what I endured renewed my trust in the power of community and connectedness. Because I asked for help, I connected with The Northwest Network and immediately felt connected to community, authentic power, support, and hope. It reconstructed a trust in community and helped me transform pain into strength; when this happens on a larger scale, community brings people together to affect change for the betterment of everyone.
It came as no surprise, then, when my friend Ben shared photos of his trip to Europe. One photo in particular showed a wide brick road in Copenhagen, and is, in fact, a “pedestrianized decurbed street.” I asked him, “What would it take to create one of these in our city?” Ben answered back almost immediately, “Demanding it with enough people behind it.”
And it finally made sense. Many contemporary movements don’t have centralized power. If I was going to heal from my experience, I needed to center my power in my community. Often, people consider these movements leaderless or faceless, but they are not faceless. These movements reflect back at us our own face, our own story and struggles. We can see ourselves in these movements.
Imagine that we’re not cynical. Imagine that we retain hope in the face of growing inequity. Imagine that instead of an aversion to power — the type of power inflicted on the marginalized, vulnerable people — that we passionately pursue power. The power borne of people coming together and creating shared community.
In Seattle, the Women of Color for Systemic Change address critiques that the #BlackLivesMatter movement isn’t organized and has no clear leadership. The peaceful protests, unifying actions, and dialogues they’re organizing asserts their capacity, that leadership is clearly within each of us. Another organization, Got Green?, organized around priority hire for construction jobs in the city; and the Coalition for Inclusive Healthcare organized to win healthcare and insurance inclusive of trans* individuals.
If we continue building community, if we further seek a connection to our land, our history, and our neighbors then we can shape the change happening to us. If we continue building connectedness, we will avoid becoming refugees from our own community.
This month, the Capitol Hill Community Council [agenda] hosts an interactive community conversation about piloting temporary pedestrian streets on Pike/Pine. When enough people demand it and get behind these types of ideas, we can shape change. Join us Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM at the 12th Ave Arts (Pike/Pine room) to engage with neighbors, hear more about this idea, and get involved!
If you need support or someone to speak with about sexual assault or physical violence, contact NW Network at 206-568-7777. Special thanks to the support of my mentors and friends, Sara McCaslin and Jessica Trupin for helping with my column.