Category Archives: Community Organizing

Dealing with Domestic Abuse with Databases and Risk Assessment

Little Rock       I don’t like to think about domestic abuse.  It makes me sad.  It makes me mad.  I can watch the blood-and-gore on police procedurals on TV or Netflix or whatever, and pretend it’s make believe, but harming women and children is a head turner and channel switcher for me.

Nonetheless, I read about the book No Visible Bruises:  What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Could Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder.  A number of publications rated it as one of the ten best books of the year and top five nonfiction.  A little over a year ago, I worked with an intern at ACORN from Albania who spent a month with us in New Orleans, and when I visited her in Tirana, Albania, among the many things I did was visit a women’s abuse shelter where she volunteered, in the limited area where men were allowed in this nondescript, anonymous space.  I knew it was time for me to man-up and learn more about this, so I read the book.

The book is invaluable, tragic, and a call for action.  Much of it is platformed around a tragedy where a husband killed his wife and children, and them himself, after trying to set fire to the house in Billings, Montana.  I felt like I knew the family and the neighborhood, though it could have been anywhere in any city in the United States or the world for that matter.

Much of Snyder’s reporting is about the gulf in information and understanding about what constitutes abuse in the intersection of families with police, courts, social services, and health centers.  Almost all of them earn failing grades.  Many do so not for lack of effort, but limited understanding.  Good hearts failed by poor brains.

Social workers have developed a Danger Assessment tool which is excellent in predicting the likelihood of abuse, and fortunately has been widely adapted in many areas of the country.  In looking at risks, the tool highlights:

…. substance abuse, gun ownership, extreme jealousy. Others were more specific: threats to kill, strangulation, and forced sex. Isolation from friends and family, a child from a different biological parent in the home, an abuser’s threat of suicide or violence during pregnancy, and stalking all added lethality. Access to a gun, drug or alcohol abuse, and controlling daily activities are among the risk factors, as are threats to children, destruction of property, and a victim’s attempt to leave anytime within the prior year. The sole economic factor … identified was chronic unemployment.

There’s been progress, but it’s not enough, and not synchronized with services, even when risks are identified, nor have laws and law enforcement sufficiently caught up with recognition of the warning signals.

Spending a lot of time with a database whiz, as he and I construct the Voter Purge Project, I was particularly struck by an observation of Synder’s that, “we still seem unable to create a database that speaks across state lines and across civil and criminal courts when it comes to violent people and their histories.”  In looking at one tragedy involving Arizona and Utah, as I recall, it turned out that the abuser – and killer – had a history of similar activity in a previous marriage in Texas.  When dealing with complaints against him, the police and the courts were clueless, so in a too common occurrence, they let him go.  Montana now keeps a history of DUIs even after they have expired.  Part of what advocates argue is that in addition to a national shared database, there needs to be a retained history of restraining orders.

Domestic abuse is so difficult, because its too personal, and the witnesses who are spouses and children are often silent for their own security and in hopes of stability.  Nonetheless, there’s no reason, any of us, including our government, should make abuse even easier and less transparent.

I’ve got a guy, and, believe me now, I’m going to be talking to him and others about why we can’t make this happen and do our small part.


Five Thousand Blogs and What do You Get

New Orleans       When you do something every day, rain or shine, here or abroad, every once in a while, you need to take stock, and evaluate whether a disciplined practice is a trivial habit, an obsession, or a deep rut with no escape route.  I say this because when doing my daily “Chief Organizer Report” or Blog or whatever you or I might call it, I number it.  Today, as I write before dawn on December 5th, 2019 the number is 5000.  That’s not a small number!  Running at least 500 words a posting, that’s more than 2.5 million words, and that’s a lot of words as well.  It’s fair for any of you – and me — to ask whether I’m just talking to myself and a rat in my pocket, another voice in the wilderness, or if there’s a method behind all of this madness.

We organize people, lots of people, so that they have a voice.  In a small way, this is also my voice, so it matters to me, and others who read or hear it.  Some parts of the question are easy to answer now that the last 1000 or more of these postings are also podcasts that are broadcasted on a regular, daily schedule on our radio stations and partners in Little Rock, New Orleans, Greenville, Nairobi, Flagstaff, Columbus, Dallas, and more. Then there’s more outlets where people can stumble on them besides just our organizational websites.  There’s Facebook for sure and even the terrible Twitter.  At the same time, it’s personal for me, something like a daily log of where I’ve been and a journal of what might be on my mind worth sharing, my blog has become part of the “architecture of my day.”

We’re yelling in a big wilderness though.  Asking Google, they took me to an even bigger number, saying…

There are over 600 million blogs in the world today, out of over 1.7 billion websites. In the United States, there are over 31 million active bloggers posting at least once per month. And according to data from Ahrefs, people search Google for “How to start a blog” 121,000 times per month worldwide.  (

If there were only one tongue wagging in that forest, could anyone hear it?  Good question, but clearly, we are not alone!

Looking back, my first blog was written in Havana, Cuba on March 14th, 2004, fifteen years ago, giving my impressions and reports on meetings there.  My 2000th in 2011 was from Missoula, Montana, where I was reading about the fight over the debt ceiling and at a neighboring table, the couple said the big news was caterpillars.  The 3000th was from Bristol, England where I was bemoaning the obstacles to making the Affordable Care Act work in June 2014.  My 4000th saw me sharing a discussion of digital organizing tools for building mass movements on a cold January day in New Orleans in 2017.  You get the picture.  There’s always something, and it’s not boring.

In the beginning, it wasn’t every day, but gradually over the years became so, everything being equal.  It ended up as 5000 blogs over 5540 days besting 90% of the time even after a slow start.

Does it really matter?  Being able to note the work of great organizations, campaigns, organizers, and leaders, their comings, their goings, and even their passing is worth the work. When I see that one of my pieces is on the first page of a Google search on somebody or something, that seems to count.  It doesn’t equal change, but it’s another log on the fire, another light in the dark.  Calls, letters, and threats from some of the subjects of these pieces along with comments and reflections from friends and colleagues and others gives it value.

Working around the world over the last fifteen years, one thing I’ve learned is that not everyone is allowed to have a voice.  The opportunity is taken away and silenced.  Having a voice only matters if it is used, so bear with me until we truly are able to “take it from here to there.”  In the meantime, I’ll keep at it, so stick with me until we get there.