Inspiration // Rock, Rage & Self Defense

On April 26th, during Space/ID Bologna gathering, QueerArtLAB had the pleasure to present the European première of Rock, Rage & Self Defense: An Oral History of Seattle’s Home Alive– a documentary film by Leah Michaels and Rozz Therrien. The film follows the origin story of Seattle’s grass-roots, self defense collective Home Alive. Prompted by the rape and murder of The Gits’ lead singer Mia Zapata, as well as other deaths in the Arts and Music community. Scared and infuriated, her friends and community members came together to share their fears and discuss how to be safe in that environment. The result was a low-cost self defense program. Understanding the connection between self defense and self-expression, nine women politicized the Seattle scene.

Rock, Rage & Self Defense: An Oral History of Seattle’s Home Alive is an inspiring and powerful example on how art, feminism and grass-root action can lead to personal and community empowerment. It also reflects the need and commitment of authors in to making sure that the strength and the stories that gathered in Home Alive can keep inspiring action and challenge unsafe spaces as well as the violence that passes through them.

In the interview of Leah Michaels and Rozz Therrien by Laina Dawes for Bitch Magazine, 2013, the authors states:

When the founders originally got together for meetings and eventually decided what they were going to do with self-defense classes, Storm and Jessica Lawless (both who elaborate on this in the film) asked the question: what does self-defense mean? And not only what does self-defense mean but what do we want it to mean? One of the things they noticed and something is that most courses are geared towards stranger violence and also on a victim-blaming framework.  And they thought that it didn’t make much sense when they knew that most of the violence that happens—as it happened to many of the founders—is from people that they knew.  And they were like, “Telling me not to walk home in the certain neighborhood is ridiculous because I live in that neighborhood.” It’s kind of this weird idea that violence is only going to happen to a woman when she’s walking down a street, alone late at night, and then its her fault because she decided that she was going to walk down the street late at night by herself.

Part of their curriculum had to do with physical self-defense but it was also about reimagining self-defense as a whole thing, such as verbal boundary setting, which is like saying “no” when you feel uncomfortable about a situation. Or like finding escape route techniques, or really believing in yourself and your intuition, like, “I don’t feel safe in this situation; I’m just going to leave. I don’t need to explain or to rationalize why I’m feeling uncomfortable.”

One other thing that they wanted to emphasize in the film, and one of the founders, Zoe Bermet, elaborates on this in the film is that anything you can do to feel good about yourself and feel strong about yourself is going to make you feel safer. Some of the examples she gives are like writing in your journal, or going to a therapist, or talking to friends or taking a bath or exercising—anything you do to feel strong and to feel like you are taking care of yourself, is going to make you safer.

Those themes were also part of the debate that followed the screening at Space/ID.

While neither had any formal training in film, Leah and Rozz boldly and beautifully stuck to their DIY ethos and released the film in 2012:

As undergraduates at the University of Washington we started making a documentary on Seattle’s grassroots self defense organization Home Alive. We have since graduated and completed the project. 

Our goal with the film has always been to get it shown in as many places and spaces as we can to continue conversations around self defense, community safety, sexual violence, and art a resource for creating change.

Leah Michaels and Rozz Therrien are interested and available for European tour in the Spring of 2015. They are also working on a fundraising campaign: any donations in assisting the sharing of this story and this film is highly appreciated. If you are interested in screening Rock, Rage & Self Defense: An Oral History of Seattle’s Home Alive and having Leah Michaels and Rozz Therrien speak with your community please contact them: homealivedocumentary@gmail.com

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