Vanessa is was our very first volunteer. She has been with MAR since the first month. For our 1st birthday, she reflects on those early days and her experience helping to shape, and being part of, the MAR community.
Working with MAR has given me so much in every facet of my life. One of the biggest pieces it has given me is the confidence to keep talking about racism. It has given me a space where I feel like I can tangibly make a difference, and that I have a framework and the support to do the work
In 2015 I was discharged from the military with a chronic illness that has severely impacted my memory and irrevocably changed my life. I was left trying to sort out this new life of mine, and how to exist in it. I had to figure out what my new needs were, and how to love myself for who I am, instead of resenting myself for who I no longer was.
As I was moving through all of this, my eyes were opened to the standards of “average” in our society. It became apparent to me that I was no longer that, and that this somehow, made me worth less than I was before. I started to ask myself about this invisible set of standards and the worth attached. Where did I learn these unspoken “truths”, and who were they serving? The answers left me wrestling with an uncomfortable truth. The world as I had been experiencing it, was inequitable by design, and that the depth of that inequity was far beyond anything I had ever experienced.
I realized there was so much that I did not know about other people. About those whose experiences were so different from mine, that walking down the same street would give us drastically different outcomes. So, I started listening. I found open communities where voices like mine weren’t the center, where my place was not to speak but just to be. I sought out facebook groups led by people outside of the design. I looked for communities of shared interest led by Black and Indigenous and Trans and Disabled and Neurodivergent people. I went through all those lessons you learn early on in anti-racism. I had my feelings hurt, felt offended, and attacked. Panicked thoughts of “I guess I can’t appreciate anything anymore” “But I *cant* be a racist… people I love are Asian”, to that deep belly churning realization that I am benefitting from systems that are actively causing harm. So, I sat and watched, and I opened myself up to truly listen.
In mid-2019, I was reading something...I can't remember exactly what it was, but my realization was visceral. I will never forget looking at my two sons and thinking how much I love them. Thinking about the framework of compassionate communication and deep sense of universal worth I wanted to impart to them…
I realized in that heart-shattering moment that it did not matter how much I loved them or taught them to love others, they were going to be used as weapons against the most marginalized, vulnerable people. That through a larger system designed to benefit them, they would be a part of continuing discrimination and perpetuating trauma. And I realized that the only way to stop that is to teach them how to identify that system and dismantle it. Because the next best case scenario is a “loving” bystander, whose tacit silence is the approval that upholds the system.
It was just after this that I learned about the Wet’suwet’en land defenders and the ongoing atrocities being committed by the RCMP against the Wet’suwet’en Nation. I asked myself ‘if I am going to model change to my children, what is it going to look like?" So, I started going to put my words into action. At one of the first rallies I attended, we had a safety briefing beforehand, to talk over the potential for violence by the local fascist organization that was planning to come to the rally to disrupt things. We talked over de-escaltion, and legal rights, and situations to avoid, because this group has a history of baiting violence. That was the first time I had ever been presented with the fact that fascism and white nationalism are not things of the past or of somewhere else. This is not something that is someone else’s or another time’s problem, this is a right here and now problem, and it is a big, and dangerous problem. A few months later we all watched George Floyd get murdered by police.
This is when Kerry was inspired to start Moms Against Racism (MAR). At first, I joined with the expectation of this being another space, more for my ears, than my voice. I did not have a lot of intention of being vocal. But when I saw questions being asked and things being said by fellow Moms that echoed so many of my own along the years, I thought “OMG, I have learned this, I have benefited and grown from the investment of others in my un-learing, maybe I could help this time”. And I found my voice, I found how I could model Anti-Racism to my kids, and my community.
There were about 400 people in the group when I was asked if I would be willing to make my investment in the community “official” and come on as a volunteer. I said yes and never looked back! As a team we started talking about how we wanted this group to operate. I was in a lot of different groups and saw a lot of frustration and hurt in these other groups. And we wanted to approach this group differently. We talked about the best ways to not just provide criticism and “homework”, we wanted to provide a framework for the work. With accessible core principles and baseline knowledge.
We decided that MAR would be a space for people to be brave. To do this work we have to be brave. Brave to face all the uncomfortable truths that we are coming up against what we know, brave about confronting these issues, and brave enough to understand that we may be actively causing harm despite our best intentions. We decided that in order for the bravery we expected in this community to be able to happen, it also had to be a safe space. It was our responsibility to keep the space as safe as we could. We took the position that everyone in the group is here to learn with the best of intentions. We decided to take the “morality” out of learning meaning, you are not bad for not knowing. Once you know, you can grow.
We decided that we would deal with the shut down, and hurt feelings of this journey by creating a space for people to acknowledge those feelings: the hurt, anger, and challenges around taking responsibility. Around realizing how much we take for granted. We would help break down what it is about a situation or interaction that was causing harm so we could give tools to take responsibility for the space between our intention and our impact.
Personally, I know I still make a lot of mistakes. I am still racist. I still hold biases I haven’t untangled, I am not done doing the work. I do not know if I will ever be done. What is powerful about acknowledging this, is the freedom from perfection. We have the opportunity to do the repair work as we learn, and emulate what repair looks like after making those mistakes. MAR has given me a space to practice and see other people practice not being a bystander and this has given me the confidence to step into places where I know things are not OK.
Working with MAR has given me so much in every facet of my life. One of the biggest pieces it has given me is the confidence to keep talking about racism. It has given me a space where I feel like I can tangibly make a difference, and that I have a framework and the support to do the work. I know if I see something that is not OK happening and I don’t know the best way to engage with it, I can go to the members in MAR and get support and ideas on how to approach it. I feel less isolated and hopeless because I know that there are other people who are working on this too. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of racism and how it touches every facet of daily life.
MAR has also given me the ability to speak to my kids about racism, and I see this work showing up in my life and in my family. One day my then four-year-old and I were walking past some police who appeared to be responding to a “wellness check”. My son said to me “Oh mom, the police are here. I sure hope that this time they are choosing to be the good guys. Do you think someone should stay and watch?”.
This is the impact of MAR. I do not want to raise my children to be used as weapons. Now, with MAR, I am hopeful they won’t. I am surrounded by a whole community who is also refusing to let their children carry this legacy forward. Rewriting the communication that goes on in our homes is so important. Because racism starts at home.