Pregnant. Battered. Afraid. A woman fires a warning shot as she faces a threat from him. She is at home. The shot is fired at the ceiling. It goes through a wall. It's a warning shot. It hits no one, hurts no one.
That was August 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida and the woman was Marissa Alexander. Just nine days earlier, she’d given birth to a baby that was fighting for her life in the hospital. Marissa Alexander fired a gun in response to a threat from a husband who had battered her while she was pregnant, against whom she had an injunction, who threatened her in her home. That shot landed her in court, charged with aggravated assault with a weapon. Her 'Stand Your Ground' defense? Rejected by the state prosecutor. In May 2012, she was sentenced to 20 years—the mandatory minimum sentence for that charge in Florida.
Right now, Alexander sits in a Florida jail. On September 26th, a new trial was ordered, due to a failure to properly instruct the jury, No date has been set for the trial and the judge has revoked Alexander's right to invoke a ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense. Anderson’s case made national headlines as comparisons were made with the George Zimmerman trial (his defense mentioned 'Stand Your Ground' during closing arguments.) That new trial means fresh urgency to this case—and a new fight for freedom for this Black woman.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness (DVA) month. Today, Emotional Justice Unplugged, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women, Free Marissa Now launch a month long multi-media letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. Throughout the month, we are urging men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, share stories of violence experienced by women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic violence movement. Participants are also encouraged to invite, inspire, challenge and engage 5 other men to join the campaign. We are asking a nation of men—of all creeds and colors—to stand up and engage in the pursuit of freedom of a Black woman.
Will you answer the call?
Today is Day 1. Men are already saying yes. Scholars, activists, bishops, writers have already come to the table. Organizations like Brothers Writing to Live and A Call to Men have joined this campaign. For this month, emotional justice meets social justice to craft a campaign and transform the domestic violence movement.
This unprecedented multi-media campaign has online, snail-mail and social media components. All the letters appear daily on theSWAGspot tumblr, an established 'emotional justice' community of conversations with men for men launched earlier this year, in June. For, the snail mail component: hard copies of letters are sent weekly to Marissa Alexander. And for the social media component; we've partnered with EBONY.com to host Twitter chats throughout this month on the content of the letters, hear from men about what they said, why they shared, how they're encouraging, inspiring and inviting other men to do the same.
This campaign is an intimate public conversation on domestic violence. It works to elevate men’s' emotional consciousness on domestic violence and engage them as active allies in a decades long movement led by women, and with much of the work conducted by women. Play the numbers game for a second. According to a 2007 poll commissioned by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Verizon Wireless:
• 56% of men—and 60 % of those age 18 to 34—have reason to believe a member of their immediate or extended family, a close friend or acquaintance has been in a domestic violence or sexual assault situation.
• More than half (57%) think they can personally make at least some difference in preventing violence and 73% think they can make at least some difference in promoting healthy, respectful, non-violent relationships.
• Two-thirds of men1 (67%) say domestic violence and sexual assault are very or fairly common in the United States.
• Seven in ten men are willing to talk to children about healthy relationships (up from 55% in a poll conducted in 2000). Two-thirds say they would sign a pledge; an equal number would sign a petition or contact lawmakers about the issue.
A study by the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT), found similar results.
This campaign takes those numbers and transforms them into action. Mariame Kaba Co-Founder of Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women says: "Male violence against women and girls is an issue that cannot be solved primarily by women. Given this reality, this project seeks to engage men as allies who can speak to other men about this issue. Research shows men are willing to get involved in efforts to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault because they see themselves as implicated in the issue."
I created Emotional Justice Unplugged (EJunplugged), the multi-media conversation series to work with both men and women. Activist scholar and writer Dr. Brittney Cooper has said: "There can be no emotional justice without the equal division of emotional labor." In order to divide the labor, we must all first do the emotional work. EJunplugged crafts campaigns, creates structures and a process to do exactly that. In our society, we have a complicated relationship with violence.
Society holds women emotionally responsible for the behavior and violence committed by men, and it has then been women who created and primarily worked within movements to stem the tide of that violence that impacts and cripples us all. Why didn't you just leave him? Don't make him so mad! Why do you have to keep doing that thing that makes him mad? Blame and deflection is how we deal. With this campaign, we're calling on men to navigate their own emotional process, to engage, to emote, to speak up, to challenge each other as men— to do the work, to ask themselves and each other hard questions from safe spaces. Silence is cancer for movements. The evidence says that men care, this issue matters, they want to be engaged. Today is Day 1 of #31forMARISSA. This campaign invites men to show up, participate and actively contribute.
So, you down?
CHECK OUT THE MEN'S LETTERS: theSWAGspot tumblr
SEND LETTERS: firstname.lastname@example.org
DONATE TO MARISSA ALEXANDER'S LEGAL FEES FOR HER NEW TRIAL: http://justice4marissa.com/