What Do We See In Steubenville? Imagining Justice Outside the Courts


In Steubenville Ohio, a juvenile court judge will decide the fate of two young men who allegedly participated in the rape of a 16-year-old girl.  But it will be up to the supporters of Jane Doe — especially working-class fighters — to determine the path forward: toward true justice, toward a world free from sexual assault, toward a society ridding itself of the bastions of power that, like stagnant ponds where mosquitos multiply, support the proliferation of rape culture.  Steubenville seems to have the passion, the courage, and the determination: but do they have a plan?  And what will it be?

From an outsider’s perspective, I see three key assets enriching the Steubenville rape-culture resistance.

  1. A critical eye toward court-determined “justice”
  2. A horizontal network of bold, moral people eager to get involved
  3. An orientation toward media and education by the people, for the people

Rape culture is about power, and the Steubenville case has opened up serious questions about how people in a community can take back the power to safeguard their own well-being — free from the small-scale despotism of patriarchal cops, coaches, or classmates.

1. No Justice, “Just Us.” 

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board the train (made it this time, again thanks to dana and victor). the conductor looks at my ticket, burlington to boston with a 3+ hour layover in springfield, mass. he says, “you know, it’s up to you, but you might be better off taking the bus from springfield to boston: it’s just a few blocks from the train station, and leaves every hour. not trying to drive business away, but it sucks to have to wait around so long.”

people can be so KIND.

Why Today Was A Win

1. host-friends took me hiking in snowy wilderness preserve and helped me stay upright despite my hazardous “fake snowboots.” (DKNY, soles like sea glass, years-ago gift from california mom worried about cambridge winters.)

tottering along, i think of ani difranco:

when i look down
i just miss all the good stuff.
when i look up
i trip over things.

but i don’t mind looking down, concentrating on not falling. it’s a walking meditation, a game of balance punctuated by laughter, just as good a time as any.

2. after three days and four nights snowed in with them, host-friends are still not sick of me. he calls me “honey;” she shows me how to use a dip stick. they both teach me about art. their lovely house is full of tales; the soot of courage sticks to the walls. this couple is sharp and bright, with a base of warmth (like host-friend’s diced vidalia onions and cilantro on top of our paprika-and-pepper black bean stew).

this morning host-friend Dana lightly cursed her empty bottle of insulin (type 1 diabetic). brightly, as if on cue, Victor took the refrigerated reserve and warmed it in between his palms. “if it goes into your body cold, it hurts,” Dana tells me.

3. reading well-historicized analysis (a draft, a sapling) of revolutionary organizing methods, thoughtfully written in criticism and kindness. joyful joyful. makes me think hard; makes me grateful for people with whom to think and with whom to Do — people with whom to truly attempt. i read in my host-friends’ library nook, on a great lilypad of a chair.

4. weeks of dry, indoor-heated air have given me lips of eucalyptus bark. host-friend Dana gifted me a stick of raspberry balm from the amazing goodie basket that she keeps stocked in her guest room, but i was already so far gone that the stuff didn’t do much good. today, however, revealed a godsend tube of medicated blistex hidden between couch cushions.

5. brief moment of anonymous public crying, at a cafe. output salt of tears helps to balance input salt of delicious poutine (made vegetarian with butternut squash gravy). anonymous public crying makes me feel old and young at the same time.

Out Of Doors In Vermont

IMG_4363At 2am, after driving 11 hours straight on a cold and thankfully snowless night, I arrived in Vermont to a sharp and loving sign on the door of my friend Dana’s house.  Before going to bed with the front door unlocked, Dana had convinced her partner Victor to turn up the heat so that I “wouldn’t become a Katie popsicle.”   Logistical kindnesses, plus the magic of Dana’s grandmother’s down quilt (go to bed chilly; wake up toasty) … I am indeed a lucky one.

Hard to believe it’s my final semester of grad school at Goddard, in Plainfield, VT.  Some of you might even remember when I started, three years ago.

On campus, between preparing for my portfolio / thesis semester and keeping up with work for Turning Wheel, it’s been heavy on indoor and computer time.  Grateful that the blog pushes me to get outside, even with my cold-wimp self.

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Stinson with Sierra and a Story from Retreat


Let me tell you a story from the meditation retreat last week.

One bright afternoon, lunch had ended and I was in the zone. Aware of each step, feeling the weight of the swinging doors and the giddy lightness in my legs after sitting on the floor so long, I glided out of the dining hall and turned to where the sky meets the hills.

I decided I wanted to sit at one of the old wooden picnic tables and watch the breeze ripple the sunnygolden grasses. This would put me even further in the zone. Deeper and deeper (that’s the root of the word “profound”: toward the fundus — bottom, or foundation).

To unlock the mysteries of my fundus, not just any old grass-gazing spot would do. Even in noble silence, I needed some extra solitude. A yogi VIP position. So I passed by the picnic tables occupied by one or two meditators, and chose the very last one in the row: empty, simple, and inviting.

Except for one slight problem.


If I were to sit on the bench of this lovely old rustic picnic table, the best, most poetic view of the hills would be slightly obscured by a leafy bush.

Undeterred, I came up with a solution. Instead of sitting on the bench, I would sit on the table top itself. Perfect! Ingenious! Mildly rebellious! At the very thought, I could feel my fundus draw nearer.


Eyes locked on that poetic spot in the hills, I felt my way around to the head of the table.

And as I gave a graceful hop up and back, pushing myself into the perfect perch, I noticed a sudden, unexpected sensation.


The Pacific Ocean is extremely cold in these parts.

Not stuck directly into the back of my legs, fortunately, but dozens of splinters, of various sizes, poking through my long skirt and sticking my skin.

And so, rather than grass-gazing meditation, the next forty-five minutes became a splinter-removing meditation.

Which, honestly, gave me as good and frank a look at my fundus as would anything.


Now, Sierra and I, our spontaneous trip to Stinson Beach went the same, in a way. After a string of gray mornings, we awoke on a Saturday to a brilliant blue North Oakland sky. We had to get to some kind of water, we determined. So we packed a picnic and set out, across the Richmond bridge to Marin. Delicious drive. Not a whisper of a cloud anywhere.

Until the coast came into view.

Each of us felt the other’s heart sink as we saw it. A layer of fog thick as buttercream, like some cosmic cake decorator had piped icing right along the shore.

But that’s what’s amazing about traveling with a dhamma buddy. You are learning how to laugh at your own expectations. You remember the teachings: most of the time, we humans live our lives only through the angle of Gratification. We seek pleasure: the perfect view, sunshine at the beach. We remain oblivious to the second angle of reality — Danger (splinters, fog) — until it smacks us directly upside the head. Even then, we forget the next time, and the next. We always keep a fresh supply of disappointment.


But the third angle of reality — Freedom — releases us from the disappointment. We learn how to loosen our grip on our own expectations.


After debating turning around, Sierra and I decided to stay, eat our lunch, and see what happened next.

Liberated from the craving for immediate sunshine, we were free to notice other things. And we found that despite the fog, the sand was warm. And the chill was fading. And eventually, the clouds rolled out to sea completely.