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Fight the Fear Campaign bolsters community defense, spirit
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Fight the Fear Campaign bolsters community defense, spirit

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

You are worth defending. Each one of us is worth defending.

That was the mantra of over 100 LGBTQ community members that participated in Fight the Fear Campaign, a two-hour violence prevention and self-defense workshop on January 10 at the Century Ballroom in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Born of the aftermath of one woman's tragic death and another's courageous survival, Fight the Fear Campaign is an effort to turn a senseless, violent act into a positive agent of growth and change.

"On July 19, 2009, two women were assaulted in their home in Seattle's South Park neighborhood. One was murdered. This tragic event inspired a group of people to come together to help a community foster confidence," campaign officials said in a statement posted on the organization's website. "Fight the Fear Campaign, an initiative that arose from this, provides self-defense and violence-prevention classes to women at community centers, homeless shelters, and other gathering places. Fight the Fear Campaign is supported by the survivor to honor the memory of her partner, Teresa Butz."

The campaign is led by an affiliation of highly experienced women martial artists and self-defense trainers who offer free classes and violence-prevention education for women in underserved and at-risk populations. The organization's leadership believes that self-defense training should be easily accessible to everyone, "because the skills and confidence that it builds are a proven deterrent to violence."

The classes, taught by instructors from Seattle Kajukenbo and Seven Star Women's Kung Fu, provide training in basic self-defense skills, including awareness, de-escalation, boundary setting, and fighting techniques. Participants also have access to resources for survivors of abuse.

The January 10 workshop served as the kickoff event for Fight the Fear Campaign. The organization extended an invitation to the LGBTQ community, of which Teresa Butz was a member, for the initial self-defense class at Century Ballroom. The community responded with an immense turnout. The ballroom's dance floor became a training ground for empowerment and situational awareness for over 100 LGBTQ members - mostly women aged anywhere from 18 to senior citizens - and their allies.

To show solidarity for the campaign and to donate money to the organization, participants bought black T-shirts that had the logo and campaign namesake printed on them. What began as a sea of differently colored blouses turned into a sea of black as nearly everyone donned the Campaign's T-shirts.

"A key part of self-defense is building confidence," Melinda Johnson, head instructor of Seattle Kajukenbo & Kung Fu Kids, told the workshop's participants. Johnson holds the rank of fifth-degree black belt in Kajukenbo, a black belt in Aikido, and has over 30 years' experience in martial arts. "If you don't believe you are worth defending, you won't defend yourself."

Johnson and her co-instructor Michelle McVadon, a fifth-degree black belt in Kajukenbo, Sandan in Aikido and Shodan in Seido Jujitsu, walked the participants through a series of self-defense exercises and scenarios. The students were put into small groups and paired with an assistant instructor who helped facilitate each exercise or scenario. Johnson said that it is beneficial for a person to "own your space, but not be aggressive until you need to be."

Johnson also talked about the need to trust your intuition. She asked each group to talk amongst themselves and relay stories about a time when they had a bad feeling about something, and how and why they listened to that feeling. "Intuition is real," she said. "It could save your life."

The workshop was not based on panic or anxiety. Instead, Johnson and McVadon enlightened people on how to handle situations such as being verbally harassed; what do if you are being followed and you are alone; how to react when you are harassed on the street by someone who is asking menial questions in order to size you up as a potential target; how you should handle a coworker that is invading your space and making you feel threatened; and how to thwart a potential attack in a parking garage.

In a particularly poignant moment, Johnson advised the LGBTQ participants on ways to verbally and physically handle would-be Gay bashers. "It is your right to protect yourself," she said. "A 'No!' means no. Nobody has the right to go past someone's 'No!'" After the workshop, participants were invited to socialize and snack on healthy foods catered by The Tin Table.

COMMUNITY RESPONDS WITH COURAGE
Hallie Kuperman, Century Ballroom's owner, donated the space for the event. "I believe that to live fully in this world is to live without fear, and Fight the Fear is about empowering women in an effort to prevent violence," Kuperman said. "For the past 13 years, we at Century Ballroom have made it a goal to create safe spaces for women and we do not tolerate any form of harassment. We are proud to help foster awareness in our community through this event."

The management and staff of Wildrose, a popular women's bar on the Hill, participated in the workshop. "It's nice to see the community support this vision," Cara Schwartz, a Wildrose employee, told SGN. "I came here today to honor Teresa [Butz]. This is a great turnout, but I figured it would be, because Teresa was an amazing part of our community."

Interim Chief of Police for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) John Diaz attended the event, along with SPD Assistant Chief Dick Reed. Fight the Fear Campaign is funded, in part, by the Seattle Police Foundation and community outreach is conducted in partnership with SPD. "I am energized to see something positive come out of the tragic loss of Teresa Butz," Reed told SGN. "When people feel unsafe, that's not good. Fight the Fear Campaign is working to give people the confidence and knowledge to feel safe. It's a great thing and we support it."

In a moment of triumph and courage, Jen (whose last name is redacted to protect her privacy) spoke to the audience about Butz and how the Fight the Fear Campaign is helping her heal. Jen was able to escape her attacker because Butz bravely fought him off, giving Jen time to flee. Butz paid the ultimate price in an attack that shook the LGBT community and the city of Seattle to its core.

"This campaign is not just about kicking and screaming," Jen said, "it's about creating awareness. Awareness is so important, and it leads to confidence that you may one day need to save your life. Being involved with this campaign is helping me heal."

Fighting back tears, Jen said that she and Butz never had the chance to exchange nuptials, but she wears a ring in her honor. She explained that it is her hope that this campaign encourages women to know that they have the right to protect themselves. "In her last moments on earth, Teresa's brave actions said to me, 'You are worth defending. We are worth defending.'" she said.

After the workshop, speeches, and a question-and-answer session with the campaign's officials, local musician Brandi Carlile and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls performed an acoustic show to celebrate the campaign's kickoff. At one point, Jen joined Carlile onstage to sing harmony. Some funding for Fight the Fear Campaign comes from Carlile's Looking Out Foundation and the Indigo Girls.

Fight the Fear Campaign officials announced they will host four confirmed workshops this year, open to all women, regardless of sexual orientation. If you are interested in attending one of the workshops, e-mail the campaign at info@fightthefearcampaign.org.

"Our goal in 2010 is to provide 35 classes at Seattle-area women's shelters, senior centers, community centers, homeless centers and other gathering places," Fight the Fear Campaign posted on their website, www.fightthefearcampaign.com.

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