My team crossed the finish line last weekend and my head and heart are reeling with lessons learned and stories to share. In so many ways, PTP has stretched my understanding of compassion and advocacy for the better. In an effort to remember my favorite lessons, today I’m writing down this one, from a gathering on our rest day in Santa Barbara.
On Saturday morning, my team was given the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable with members of the Junior League of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara District Attorney, Joyce Dudley, and Victim-Witness Assistance Program Director, Megan Rheinschild. They shared stories about their efforts to combat human trafficking in their county, and opened up the floor for questions from our group. Their time with us and interest in our mission was meaningful.
At one point, Joyce told a story about meeting a child who she’d be defending. While the meeting could have been held traditionally in an office setting, the DA opted for something different. Because she’d heard that the girl enjoyed picnicking with pizza and a particular blue blanket, Joyce organized a time to join her for just that.
I love that picture: a powerful DA sitting beside her client on a picnic blanket with slices of pizza in their hands. It seems like such a human moment, an honoring of favorite things simply because of a choice to see the humanity of the person in front of her, rather than only the logistics and details of their exploitation. While there is most definitely a time and place to sort those things out in order to seek justice for a survivor, there is also a need to acknowledge their humanity.
Since hearing this story, I’ve been wondering: what might happen if we extended a similar kind of personalized patience and care towards one another more often? Especially in cases involving survivors of trafficking or interpersonal violence?
I think more people would feel seen, heard, and honored. Showing up to listen rather than interrogate creates the opportunity to learn and, ultimately, better advocate for survivors.
Lilla Watson, a women’s rights activist, once said “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I learned of this quote a few summers ago and I understand it as a reminder of our shared humanity and responsibility to seek justice in partnership with others. It is a message that has stuck in my mind as I navigate being a friend, a sister, and an advocate; more recently, it has informed how I approach the anti-trafficking movement, as a listener rather than a voice box.
Joyce’s story seems to fit in with Watson’s understanding of advocacy. Fighting for a world where no one is for sale requires working together from a posture of listening to one another, and maybe even making time for a picnic on a blue blanket. I believe that recognizing both the humanity of survivors and the ways this movement should include all of us has the opportunity to create a more compassionate and sustainable fight against trafficking. That is something I want to be a part of and while my time pedaling the Pacific has ended, I am committed to continuing this mission.