In September, I threw out the ceremonial “first pitch” at a Red Sox, Orioles game in Fenway Park as one of the New England Domestic Violence Coalition directors invited by Verizon and the Sox. I watched the eager crowd as that game wore into extra innings — committed not just to the Sox, but, “win or lose,” to the whole glorious enterprise of baseball.
In October, that image came back to mind as I watched our federal government shut down — so committed to “team Republican” or “team Democrat” that the “win or lose” commitment to the grand enterprise of a democracy and the government’s responsibility to care for citizens got lost.
This was not just an idle thought on my part. Eighty percent of all funds that support services for victims of domestic violence come from the feds and had just stopped cold. Additional funding for law enforcement, criminal justice, as well as some economic benefits for victims had also stopped. There were no compensatory, short-term solutions being offered by our state.
So domestic violence resource center directors sat together, working to keep programs open through October that had already been weakened by multiple cuts, including the sequester. Not a great start to Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
One director said our common thought out loud: “Well, you know, I’m just not closing the shelter — money or no money.” People calmly agreed and went back to work. The government might have abandoned us, but we would never abandon each other and the victims we serve.
This commitment to each other rolls out from the center like ripples in the water — or maybe the Fenway “wave” is a better metaphor here. It doesn’t matter whether you stand at the center, as these advocates do, or feel the roll of change and connection further out as role models, mentors or bystanders in a growing community committed to peace in Maine homes.
There has been a change in awareness of domestic violence, a tipping point in what is socially acceptable in our world. People from different backgrounds, political parties, are all fed up with the abusive and violent few who take so much away from our communities.
We know the costs are too high, whether we measure them in the human pain of lost lives and lonely children or the enormous economic and health impacts. We know that we are all in this together with workplace costs estimated annually at $727.8 million, 21 percent of employees identifying as a victim, and direct health care services showing a $4.1 billion annual cost.
We see an impact so severe multi-generationally that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it one of the leading determinants of the health and social well-being of our nation.
I ended October feeling grateful — to the committed advocates who refuse to close life-saving services when a government won’t meet its obligations and to the growing community of Mainers committed to safety and respect.
I also ended October worried. While programs could keep shelters open short-term on volunteer effort, in reality that could not continue indefinitely — mortgages, insurance and upkeep all have to be paid. Prevention and education activities, criminal justice accountability for batterers, services for victims that create safety and build sustainable, independent lives are all part of the work, and they all cost money. There is only so much that advocates and community members can do by themselves to seize this tipping point of awareness and move into real change.
We need and depend on our government to continue to fulfill its valid role providing reasonable funding for worthwhile social ventures that are proven to be working. Then, perhaps, in 10 years, another executive director can just enjoy the baseball during October instead of rewriting this OpEd.
Julia Colpitts is executive director of the Maine Coalition To End Domestic Violence. This is the final OpEd in a series about domestic violence.