RACHEL / ACTIVIST AT NOMORE.ORG / CHICAGO IL
Rachel is one of the most incredible people I have been privileged to meet because one conversation with her is enough to feel that you are in the presence of more. Her professional career has been devoted to giving voices to the many women and men who have been affected by sexual assault and violence and despite all of the hurt that she has witnessed, she is unwavering in her belief that we are on the right path to inspiring a positive and lasting change. When we get together, I am comforted by her natural authenticity, motivated by her intellect and smiley (yes that is a real adjective) because, oh my goodness, she’s hilarious. So meet Rachel, she’s in full freakin’ Bloom.
HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN 2016?
Up until this point, my path has been somewhat non-traditional so although currently my future pursuits are more undetermined, I can say that I'm embracing the uncertainty and excited to pursue new challenges ahead. In a professional sense, I will start to better integrate my passions into what I do. For the last three years, I have been working for the No More Campaign to end domestic violence and sexual assault and have been given significant agency in my role. I look forward to seeking out the people who inspire me, in order to explore new opportunities in the social justice space.
“...women’s progression is not only about women, but also about challenging culturally learned power imbalances or oppression through intersectionality–the ways in which sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism and other systems of oppression are connected. ”
WHAT DOES A PROJECT IN THE SOCIAL JUSTICE SPACE LOOK LIKE?
My interest in conversations surrounding equality and justice developed early on through my participation in my Jewish Reconstructionist community, Adat Shalom, where I was introduced to larger themes outside of the realm of my immediate childhood. I learned about the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and extermination during the Holocaust, which took the lives of 6 million Jews and millions of others including Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled and Roma. These lessons instilled a desire in me to serve and empower those that are disenfranchised, especially as someone in a position of enormous privilege.
This passion inspired me to later pursue a major in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Wash U and where I learned that women’s progression is not only about women, but also about challenging culturally learned power imbalances or oppression through intersectionality–the ways in which sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism and other systems of oppression are connected.
My major and mentor, Professor Susan Stiritz, gave me the vocabulary to understand my own experience and others. An incredibly powerful moment that altered my perspective was when I read The Invisible Knapsack, which discusses white privilege. I consider myself an empathetic, caring and intellectually curious person and while I understood that historically marginalized populations experienced additional disadvantages, I had never seriously interrogated my own privilege. This discovery was invigorating and opened up a new way of seeing the world. It is what ultimately guided my studies, instilled a commitment to questioning the status quo and drove me to create collective awareness and action.
DICTION CAN BE DIFFICULT WHEN DISCUSSING SEXUAL ASSAULT AND VIOLENCE, HOW CAN WE BEGIN TO BETTER DEVELOP THIS VOCABULARY?
It’s challenging to create dialogue around sexual assault and domestic violence because empathy can be difficult. A simple example is that not everyone knows what it’s like to be scared to walk home alone, while this is something so fundamentally part of the lived experience of the female and other minorities. Further, women live knowing that if someone were to attack, they may not be able to defend themselves because of physical limitations. While this example does not begin to touch upon some of the larger hurdles unique to the female experience, I imagine it must be difficult to understand if you have not experienced that fear.
Part of the solution is about empathizing. Increasing awareness and starting more conversations will educate people to understand how words can affect others and how certain words can trigger survivors. We can create this dialogue through both a bottom up and top down effect. Bottom up through reaching people directly, for example, through social media and teaching the appropriate language. The top down can be done through high profile public service announcements and campaigns that spark dialogue. With regards to inspiring permanent change, as most things do, it takes time. Social change takes time.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THIS LEVEL OF SOCIAL CHANGE CAN COME ABOUT?
Absolutely! We’ve already seen social media be a major catalyst for change. The fact that we no longer have to go through costly traditional media to reach a large audience is progress because this used to be a major barrier for smaller, more marginalized movements to get their voices into public consciousness and mobilize to create change.
TELL ME ABOUT THE HAPPIEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE?
The happiest moment has been when my day-to-day has been positive for long periods of time. Looking back on the past year, while there have been some ups and downs, I am grateful for my friendships and incredible family. I am also learning constantly and contributing to something bigger than myself, which allows me to wake up in the morning with energy and passion.