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A week in Chicago with 1,200 of our friends…

screen grab image from YouTube video of 1,200 participants at NSAC 2012

An idea of how big a room it takes to fit 1,200 people!

As I write this, the 2012 NSAC (National Sexual Assault Conference) is just wrapping up in Chicago, IL. Over 1,200 participants packed the 5th floor ballroom of the Sheraton on Water Street to participate in three days of plenaries, workshops, and valuable networking and face-to-face contact with survivors, violence prevention educators, advocates, counselors, and community activists from across the country.

This year’s theme, “Revive, Rethink, Reclaim” became the road map for the each of the three days in succession. In Wednesday’s opening ceremony, after Illinois’s Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon serenaded us by banjo (I kid you not), Cassandra Thomas raised the roof calling upon all of us to get angry once again, as we had been when this movement began. She called us out on some of our issues too – dual agencies that shortchange sexual assault work; getting clear about our “isms” – biases that stand in the way of us serving all clients regardless of identity; and our funding issues, and the danger of letting funding alone drive the work. Revived indeed!

At lunch, Attorney Susan Burke challenged the crowd to pressure Congress to change the way sexual assault is handled in the military, citing several cases of clients she has worked with personally as examples of the failure of the current system to provide justice and fairness to victims. This was especially poignant, as this year’s conference had record attendance of military personal from several branches (but an obvious majority from the Air Force; the large patches of blue dotted the ballroom seating).

Thursday’s “Rethink” agenda included an appearance by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schankowsky, and a rousing, honest, inspiring plenary by political strategist and television commentator Donna Brazile.

Friday, the conference concluded with a rotating series of presentations highlighting creative awareness raising and intervention work, hosted by PAVE (Promoting Awareness/Victim Empowerment) founder Angela Rose (who, although an Illinois native, spent her formative activist years as a student at UW-Madison). The programs highlighted included: Heather Jarvis representing Slutwalk Toronto; Tina Frundt discussing the brutally honest reality of her past as a trafficking victim, her work with Courtney’s House in Washington, D.C., and the hypocrisy of prosecuting victims of trafficking for prostitution; author Jaclyn Friedman discussing sex-positive education and the need for authentic sexual liberation; the founders of A Long Walk Home, a program that uses art therapy to help survivors heal and raise awareness; an inspiring spoken word performance by the Empowered Fe Fes, a peer support and performance group for women with disabilities; and finally an overview of the work of The Angel Band project.

In addition to all of that, there were six break-out sessions where participants could choose among 83 workshops! WCASA folk spread ourselves out as much as we could to try and take in collectively as much as possible. We will be discussing the conference and sharing what we can in the coming months.

If you couldn’t make it this time around, mark your calendars: NSAC 2013 is scheduled for Aug. next year in Los Angeles, CA!

[If you are on Twitter, you can “replay” a bunch of the dialogue and get access to links by searching for the #nsac2012 hashtag!]

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