Why Advocates Need To Get Mad!

Getting angry about the state of our field is critical if we ever hope to change it. We know we deserve better. It’s time we start demanding it.

“All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad! [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis! But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

-Howard Beale (Network)

Rage has gotten a bad reputation and truth be told it has had a detrimental and obscenely insidious effect on our ability to take action against injustice. This is also a very gendered topic since male rage and anger are oft accepted or at least overlooked even when coupled with violence. For women and those who identify as such that is NOT the norm. Women are vilified for their rage. Seen as unreasonable, unladylike (whatever the hell that means), hysterical, and out of control. So when we think of our lives as advocates and the frequency at which we endure workplace toxicity and abuse, it reminds us how life in an abusive environment can render us anger-challenged….sometimes loathe to or unable to get mad at things that we really should be mad as hell about.

Anger is such an important topic that three incredibly talented and smart women recently wrote entire books about it. Brittney Cooper wrote Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Super Power; Rebecca Traister wrote Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger; and Soraya Chomaly wrote Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. I read them all like one drinks iced water on a hot day. It spoke to my soul. I recommended these books and I spoke of anger in the support group I facilitated. Still, people looked at me like I was a bit off. They seemed afraid of my love for anger and my newfound joy at being justified in my anger. The connection between action and anger was so obvious I don’t know why I never made it before except that I had fallen victim to the age-old narrative that anger was not a good look on me because I was female.

This “don’t rock the boat” mentality came to work with me. I thought that anger had not served me well so I decided to find ways to not rock the boat……to blend in with the scenery. As an advocate, I had gotten very good at meeting people where they are including toxic supervisors and colleagues. Sometimes, if I listened closely I could hear myself justifying certain behaviors in my head and if I am honest, at times those justifications manifested themselves into words that came out of my mouth. I got sick…..literally. High blood pressure, arrhythmia, you name it. I had gone where many advocates have gone……radio silent. Afraid to rock the boat, so used to our abuser and the way we are treated that we cannot see our way out. Trapped by ridiculously low wages and virulently toxic workspaces. Low or no health coverage and lack of things like PTO and trauma-informed policies. Vicarious trauma and hazardous work conditions during the pandemic with no appropriate compensation. The list goes on.

The bottom line is that we are working in the field of anti-violence yet our workspaces are largely NOT anti-violent. No, we aren’t getting beat up at work but the rest of that power and control wheel is functioning quite well. Gaslighting, isolation, threats against our livelihood if we speak out, and outright retaliation. We suffer from vicarious trauma yet cannot afford to counsel. Those who live in rural areas struggle as much with access to counseling as the people they serve. Bias and discrimination are also an issue in many advocacy spaces. I can hear some of you getting defensive right now and I would like to ask you not to be. If you are feeling defensive you may be part of the problem. These issues are certainly not the case everywhere BUT it is a common theme in our industry of anti-violence work and to say anything otherwise is just not honest.

So when are we going to go all Howard Beale on this shit? What if I said that self-care, the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty kind of self-care, included getting mad as hell? Those of us who have survived abusive relationships, isn’t that what did it? When was the moment you got mad as hell and decided you weren’t going to take it anymore? Well, we are there. Now is the time to be mad as hell. We are getting sick, we are having pregnancy complications, we are unable to pay our bills, and we endure occupational health hazards without compensation. Bottom line: we cannot do the work of anti-violence if the spaces in which we operate are not anti-violent. There, I said it. Sorry, not sorry. It is time to stick our collective heads out the window and scream “WE ARE MAD AS HELL AND WE ARENT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

Properly channeled and trauma-informed, our anger is the only thing that will propel our movement forward to a healthy space of operation. Continuing as is will not change things. We must wake up. We must act up. We must disrupt the status quo. The anti-violence movement is OUR movement. We decide which way it goes. We can choose to be sad and passive and let this situation continue to consume us and our movement or we can go on the offensive and take our movement back. It begins with leadership. DV and SA coalitions nationwide should be, if they aren’t already, focused on creating trauma-informed systems of technical assistance and training that are inclusive of all voices not just those at the top. Non-violent workspaces are not only possible, but they are also necessary for our movement to continue the work. To continue as things are is to participate in our demise.

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