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Useful Outrage

December 20, 2008

I am one of those people who is so skeptical of state sponsored institutions (like the police) that stories of horrific violence like that which has been perpetrated recently against a twelve year old girl in Galveston doesn’t invoke in me surprise or a need for explanation. And though as a white, cissexual, middle class woman without visible disabilities, most of my knowledge of state sponsored violence does not come from my own personal experience, stories like these feel very familiar to me, primarily because of my experience as an advocate for sexual assault survivors.

I’m feeling really jaded and cynical. More sadness than rage.

I miss the outrage. I want it back. Saying this to my sweetie tonight, they responded, “It’s hard to hold onto useful rage.”

I miss the outrage because I know it’s important. Anger motivates us to act. I argued this to myself, my colleagues, and my supervisors many times during my tenure as a full time paid advocate. I found myself in a position, time and again, having to defend my anger against insinuations of “lack of professionalism.” Ann Russo, professor and activist at DePaul University in Chicago, as well as contributors to INCITE’s anthology The Revolution Will Not be Funded have spoken eloquently on how this double-edged sword of fear of anger/privileging of professionalism is used to marginalize the voices of survivors within the funded anti-violence movement.

The funded anti-violence movement didn’t take care of my anger. It didn’t protect it and grow and shape it as the useful tool it is. Watching the way that anti-violence service positions (particularly advocate positions which see the highest volume of acute crisis) are revolving doors in which it’s unusual to see someone stay for more than a year and a half tells me that other’s tools weren’t cared for either.

One Comment leave one →
  1. appleseed permalink
    December 22, 2008 8:19 am

    Lee, I wonder if your emotional response–sadness, a sense of defeat; inability to feel rage at an outrageous situation–comes in part as a result of secondary trauma. This is just a way of agreeing with your sweetie–not only is it hard to “hold onto useful rage,” but actually I think (and you would know more about this) that our bodies are designed to protect us from prolonged acute emotional responses. When you are faced with an intimate experience of violence on a constant basis, maybe you have to become numb in order to survive it?

    I don’t know that we should necessarily aspire to “hold on” to rage. Rage burns like fire, and holding it, sustaining it, is exhausting. Yes, your experience of rage should be protected, not demonized. But, as we grow and shape rage, I might hope that we also transform it, so that it can be more like a spark–a potent, fierce, beginning, and less like a fire that consumes us and leads to burnout.

    This piece also reminds me of our conversations about the politics of direct action vs that of movement building. Direct action may be a valuable tool as it comes from, incites, and sustains rage. It reminds me that anger can feel really good, like a righteous, f**k you high. However, we have to remember not to be so immersed in our rage as to be blinded by it. When we are enraged, are we able to make good decisions? I am interested in an ongoing discussion about how “protect and grow and shape” and transform rage into something we as activists can sustain. Thank you for your thoughtful, articulate writing.

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