By Jewelles Smith / 05.23.2012

“It’s time we start talking. Sooner or later, the stress of the work gets absorbed into our hearts, minds, bodies, and into the movement as a whole. Without the time and space to reflect and recover, it stays there. Eventually it takes the form as breakdowns, strokes, heart disease, cancer, suicide.” –Jane Barry

Today we continued the discussion of International Human Rights Treaties and how they function. Last night for homework we were to read a series of articles on self-care, yoga and meditation. In the afternoon we watched the documentary film: “The Vienna Tribunal”. I decided to share a poem I wrote in 2007 on the action of “bearing witness” to another person’s trauma. Up front, this poem is deeply personal and potentially triggering. I have attached it at the end of this post.

The readings last night actually triggered me. I have had an aversion to yoga and meditation for a long time, stemming from therapy sessions in which meditation, that is, meditation where one clears the mind, caused me to flash back. Yoga, I have attempted, but I believe the instructor at the time did not take care in her instruction, and as my joints hyper-extend and I tend to be the type of person to “over-do it”, I ended up injured and in pain. I did not attend the first yoga session, but I am going to attempt to attend the next one and observe.

Of the reading package for last night, I particularly was moved by two of the articles. The first was Jane Barry’s: “What’s the Point of the Revolution if we Can’t Dance”  and “An Exploration of Self-Care: Excerpt from ‘Self-Care and Self-Defense Manual for Activists”—by CREA New Delhi.

The film, although incredibly difficult to watch due to the raw content of the lived experience of the women speaking about the violence they have experienced, was powerful. These women, all came together in 1993 to draw attention to the violence that women all over the world endure. Too many do not survive to tell their stories. Their slogans: “Violence against women is a human rights violation” and “Women’s rights are human rights” became the rallying call. From this amazing Tribunal came the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  (

A popular tribunal is called to draw attention to or bring awareness to a violation  issue. It took two years for the women to gather all the stories and put together the Vienna Tribunal. There were so many statements that resonated in me. One being: “terrorism against women” a term used to describe the systematic and worldwide violence and discrimination against women. The film ended with the following quotation: “There is still much work ahead…”

The poem at the end of this post was inspired by the act of professionals who bear witness daily in their work. As I listened to Alda talk today about her experience the day of the Tribunal. So many people sat for the full hours as story after story was told about the violations they and/or their sisters had done to them. Alda stated that her body actually hurt for days from holding all the pain of the women. It is imperative that we as a movement take the time to care for our selves, our health, our bodies.

Two final thoughts from Alda regarding the current state of the movement: “we live in societies that do not know their histories” and “how do we sustain the feminist movement?” These are thoughts that I have pondered often in the past year. We need to record the histories of our movement, we need to teach the upcoming generation where we have been, where our sisters who lived before us have been and what our thoughts on the future of women’s rights.

“We have to change the culture of activism and heal ourselves, so that we can begin to heal others. When this cultural shift take hold, our movement will become truly unstoppable.” Jane Barry

Bearing Witness: Jewelles Smith, May 31st, 2007:

For every second of this assault I think I can run… and I can

I chose to sit here for you
To bear this pain with you
For this moment
I will bare my body to be there for you
As you did for me
This memory purge
Brace and bare
I listen and share
A choice I make each time

Hurt—ears rings—eyes blur—jaws tight
Bear witness
Sit here
Hold myself
Hold myself
Hold it in
Clench my hands together
The assault of your words

I choose to share your story with you
[we] this moment of pain it is my choice to
Remain in this room
I will to listen
I will listen
I listen
I stay
Hold on
I can smell the past
Smell semen
Taste blood
Inside my mouth dripping
From my nose

I can hear you
Voice moving on …moving through
[hold on] lean forward. Lean into the telling
Ears pop

I will witness this for you. We witness
You did survive this
You survived. You lived. Pieces of you floated through
I sit. Feet firm on the floor
I cringe. Close my eyes
In my head, the burn
Sting thump
Of a plastic, wooden, electric cord spoon whip
Lined up directed swooped in
So much too much
I sit. I cannot sit
I will to sit
For you [I will hear this for you]
I sit for you
I witness this happened
For you. For me. For us.
Hear you. Believe you. [With both ears].
Hold on. Hold my hands together. Firm.
I have borne this telling with you
Witnessed this telling with you
Witnessed with you
Like me
You too have survived
Yes we have survived
And here in this room we have
Witnessed the surviving

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