Review: The Revolution Starts at Home

South End Press, 2011

by Triana Kazaleh Sirdenis

From the first page, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Partner Violence Within Activist Communities denies having the answers. Instead, the anthology reveals continuously that there is tremendous power in questions. It’s through these questions that we begin to peel away to a deeper understanding of violence. The Revolution Starts at Home is a pivotal text for examining the complexities of how and why violence enters our homes and what we are learning from it. Edited by Chin-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, TRSH gathers some of the most brilliant writers, activists, and survivors all in one place, worthy of being placed next to enduring radical anthologies like Color of Violence and This Bridge Called My Back.

TRSH asks the reader to determine what home is; is it a physical space, your community, your body, or something entirely different? From poetry to interviews to reflections to resource lists, this collection derives its strength from a wide variety of perspectives. It boldly includes pieces that challenge each other’s philosophies regarding violence and our strategies to combat it–which is exactly the type of dialectical thinking we need.

It gives stories of organizational resilience: a very honest look into the challenges and growth of San Fransisco’s Community United Against Violence (CUAV) as it was built, unravelled, and continued to evolve. It holds space for survivorship: of taking responsibility for complex choices in Shannon Perez-Derby’s piece, “The Secret Joy of Accountability”. It shares with us turning imagined strategies into realities with the Challenging Male Supremacy Project’s piece, “What Does it Feel Like When Change Finally Comes?” Finally, it gives the reader an extensive list of resources, many redefinitions, challenged expectations, and a more rooted analysis of what tears relationships and communities apart. It asks questions like, “Are we seeking to construct new or better masculinities or move beyond masculinity altogether?” “How can we build solidarity with each other across lines that divide us?” “What are ways you have found to deal with violence after it has happened?” “What is the relationship between institutional oppression and interpersonal violence?” And probably the most important of all, “Why do people hurt one another?”

TRSH never posits that any strategy is the answer, but offers multiple paths to future realities. If you are looking for a dose of theory, ideology, and strategy, TRSH offers that as well. Many of the pieces are woven into the work of transformative justice, or an approach to addressing and preventing violence by changing or transforming the conditions by which the violence occurred.

It questions the reader’s comfortableness in re-imagining words we use frequently, but ones that are often left undefined: community, capacity, support, self-determination, shame, and even violence itself. It walks you through what an accountability circle is and is not and another piece gives perspectives in organizing within the sex work movement. TRSH also asks you to move beyond merely calling the prison industrial complex fucked up, examine domestic violence mantras, and envision how we can actually create liberatory responses to violence (and what that even means). Other pieces ask you just to listen.

TRSH is intended for activist communities as it offers specific organizing strategies and a politicized language, however the perspectives and lessons it amplifies carry universal importance for all people. There are moments in the book where you will recognize familiar situations or hear an author’s words reflected in your own history. This book is an offering to every community and to all the moments we wished we could have said or done more. It continues to shed light on the less visible ways interpersonal violence and institutional violence are inseparably connected and how any attempts to combat one must also address the other. Most importantly, TRSH leaves the reader with a desire to self-examine our own behaviors, limitations, and strengths.

Yes, this book feels heavy from the outside. Surprisingly balanced, woven into it are stories of hope and resilience, change and reclamation. TRSH is also filled with moments of finding out that tools and love exist with in our communities, of searching or creating new communities, and of knowing that the strength people carry individually can hold a lot more collectively. TRSH knows these writings are not final and that future texts will and should be created to address the needs of a changing world. As Morgan Bassichis asks in the most valuable question of all, “How do you tell a story that is still unfolding?” The Revolution Starts at Home will hold true as an honest and empowering glimpse into one of our most complex struggles.

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