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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Celebrating Two Anniversaries

I knew her for only a very short time, nearly 40 years ago. And yet I remember her name, her face, the dark circles around her eyes, her frightened and nervous demeanor, her shaky hands.

I was the news editor of my college paper and Susan was one of my writers. She had come to see me, not about her assignment, but about a personal story, about how she had been beaten up by her boyfriend.

It was the first time I had come face to face with violence against women. Hell, it was the first time I remember even hearing about it. It was the 70s after all, and that which happened behind closed doors did not see the light of day.

In this issue we celebrate two anniversaries: the 35th year of the nonprofit Men Stopping Violence (MSV), and the 30th year of the Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore. These are two very different organizations that share two significant attributes— initial resistance from mainstream society and the importance of community.

I have no recollection of what I said to Susan that day. I only recall the emotion of the moment, the absolute shock that anyone could do what her boyfriend did; obviously, there was something seriously wrong with this individual to commit such a horrific deed.

If only. My naiveté around the idea of an aberrant individual is shattered when confronted with the fact that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetimes. As MSV says, the problem isn’t individual men, it’s society as a whole; it’s our concept of maleness; it’s how we raise boys. Now imagine taking this message to the police, the courts, our law-making bodies, religious institutions, et al.—all of which are controlled and dominated by men—in 1970s America. No one wanted to discuss the issue much less acknowledge its existence.

Now, take the same culture in the 1980’s, but substitute violence against women with metaphysics and non-Christian spirituality. Not only were we living in Reagan’s America, but also the Bible Belt. I won’t steal our story’s thunder; read for yourself, on page 24, about the early days of Phoenix & Dragon.

For these pioneering organizations that swam—and continue to swim—against the current, community is key. But again, the relevant communities are very different.

For MSV, since the problem of violence against women is rooted in mainstream society, its work is centered on going into existing communities to educate and organize. For Candace Apple, founder and owner of Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore, hosting an ever-expanding roster of speakers, workshops and meetings helped create a new community of learners and seekers.

Although women’s rights, metaphysics and non-Christian spirituality have enjoyed increasing awareness and support over the last 30-plus years, the truth is they still fight for legitimacy. When the US president brags about forcibly touching women and young Atlantans are told by their parents that Buddhism is witchcraft, we know there is still a way to go. But these are months of celebration—MSV held theirs in late September and Phoenix & Dragon will hold its October 14—and we at Natural Awakenings take every opportunity to celebrate. Life is for living, and progress has been made.

So we close by celebrating the past and recognizing the third common attribute of these organizations—freedom—though again, one is about the freedom from while the other is about the freedom to. May the day soon come when we no longer need MSV to free half of all humans from fear, oppression and violence, and we all of us can turn to Phoenix & Dragon and similar sources to help us gain ultimate freedom.

Paul Chen

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