What is Resistance?

small plant growing through hole in cement

This post was edited and re-posted on January 20th, 2015 with some important links that were missed the first time around… Enjoy!

We recently had a chance to speak with one of our crisis counselors, Catherine Day, about her work and we were left so inspired and proud to be a part of VSAC. We shared Catherine’s thoughts on resistance in our December mail campaign and wanted to share them more broadly through this blog post. Here’s what Catherine had to say:

Engaging with Stories of Resistance

There are so much excellent writing on the topic of resistance, including: Cathy Richardson, Allan Wade, Linda Coates, and others at The Centre for Response-Based Practice; and Vikki Reynolds. I’d like to share some thoughts on what the idea means to me.

I believe (and have read) that whenever people are badly treated they will always resist. As individuals, we invariably respond to violence, abuse and oppression in ways that seek to maintain our dignity in the face of attempted humiliation and degradation. Some may argue, “actually, I know someone who didn’t fight back, so where’s the resistance?” Remember that it may not always be safe for an individual to resist a perpetrator’s abuse openly; often, the only safe way a victim has of resisting abuse is in their thoughts, or through small acts that may not even be noticed by others. Just because a person’s resistance did not succeed in stopping the violence does not mean it was not there.

Feelings are often evidence of resistance: for example, someone who is angered or saddened by a perpetrator’s actions is, in fact, resisting those actions, because feelings often reflect our values about how we believe people should (or shouldn’t) treat each other. Feelings are sometimes the only safe way a person may have of distancing themselves from abuse. Hope and anger are feelings that I witness a lot in this work– and I recognize them as resistance: it means that the person sitting in front of me feels the world can be a better place, and that we should be able to live in a world where people are accountable for their actions, and capable of change. Hope is very inspiring to witness, because it means (to me) that the perpetrator was not able to take that away (the survivor resisted giving that up).

In this work, I am repeatedly amazed by how people (clients and colleagues alike) commit to resisting violence, abuse and oppression in this world. Sometimes, we have the option of resisting collectively (it can be safer); other times, acts of resistance are individual and unique to us, and our particular situation. The truth of resistance is more in the details than in the generalities – how we felt, what we thought, and how we lived with the risks involved when we resisted in some way (risks to ourselves, the people we care for, the risk of being misunderstood, misdiagnosed and so on). When people say “your work must be so hard,” I often respond by saying that, actually, it is a true privilege to bear witness to, and engage with, clients’ stories of resistance. ~ Catherine Day

Catherine’s words inspire us to acknowledge that people respond to and resist violence in a multitude of ways.

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