Thursday, December 3, 2015

Guerrilla Feminism

Lachrista Greco is an Italian American writer, speaker, activist, and Trauma-Informed/Adaptive yoga instructor. She is also the founder and CEO of Guerrilla Feminism, the largest pro-intersectional feminist community online. Lachrista has her Master's Degree in Women's & Gender Studies and has written for xoJane, Rebellious Magazine For Women, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen, Decolonizing Yoga, GirlDrive, Jezebel, and Ms. Magazine Blog. She has spoken at colleges, universities, and nonprofits about digital activism, learning disabilities, Italianità, domestic and sexual violence, and yoga. Lachrista has published two books: the first, an anthology called, Olive Grrrls: Italian North American Women & The Search For Identity and the second, a book of poems titled, Leftovers. Here is her story.

Could you start by sharing your story, to the extent you are comfortable and deem relevant to the work you do?
I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. I started out as a feminist at an early age--after my mom took me to my first gay pride parade. After the parade, I went back to preschool and led my peers around chanting, "2-4-6-8, how do you know your kid is straight?!" That was really my first foray into feminist activism. In third grade, I was diagnosed with two learning disabilities: dyscalculia and a language processing disability. After this diagnosis, my already fragile self-esteem plummeted. I felt different. I was different. Teachers consistently told me I was "different" and that I was "stupid". I didn't feel that I fit in anywhere. I didn't feel or know I was "smart" until college--when I finally had teachers treat me with respect and dignity.  During college, I volunteered at the local Rape Crisis Center, and developed an even stronger desire to be an advocate and an educator. I moved to Chicago in 2008 to attend DePaul University's Women's & Gender Studies Master's program. I had a research assistantship here where I worked with two professors on the oral history of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I also helped organize the annual Take Back The Night rally and march while at DePaul. I received my M.A. in 2010, and began my year with AmeriCorps directly after this. I was happy to be out of school, but I missed the conversations my classmates and I had. I missed the "flyering" of feminist images around campus. I missed the talking, the strategizing, and the activism of it all. I wanted to create a space for this. I wanted to create an activist community. 

What inspired the birth of Guerrilla Feminism? How did it come about?
Guerrilla Feminism began while I was working for a horrid boss. I liked the work I was doing, but my supervisor made it difficult for me to not show up to work (or not leave work) crying. I decided I needed to do something that was outside of my job description. I needed something to boost my soul and spirit. 
I began using printers and laminators to create feminist placards, posters, and flyers. I printed slogans like, "Rape is Rape", and images from girlVIRUS (a Toronto-based feminist activist collective). On the way to and from work, I would leave feminism on trains, buses, and newspaper stands. It became feminist performance art. My favorite part was watching people interact (or not interact) with the images. The idea was to get feminist out to the masses. I wanted to create accessibility. I wanted to educate. 
I wanted more people involved, so I decided to start a Facebook page in May 2011. I didn't think too much about it. I called it "Guerrilla Feminism" as both an homage to the feminist art group, Guerrilla Girls, and because I thought of my street activism as a "surprise attack" on patriarchy. I had no idea this page would resonate with so many people. In the beginning, I mostly posted images and asked people to start flyering in their communities. I then started curating and posting feminist articles, and people responded astoundingly well. I had created something, but I still was figuring out what it was or what it would become.

Can you tell us a little about the work that GF does?
Guerrilla Feminism--a 501(c)(3)--is a global intersectional feminist network with branches all over the world. We are committed to amplifying voices of marginalized people first and foremost. Our mission is to create and spark dialogue among various communities surrounding issues of intersecting oppressions. We believe feminism shouldn't be apologetic--it should be in your face. 
Currently, GF is working on hosting our first intersectional feminist conference to be held in August 2016. We hope this is something we can do annually. We've set up a GoFundMe to help pay for those who can't otherwise afford to attend. We are also re-releasing our website, which will bring our community more original content, and later on, membership opportunities. 

You use Trauma-Informed Yoga in helping survivors - could you talk a little bit about it and what it entails?
My first experience with sex was being raped by a man I was dating at the age of 18. Since then, I have been assaulted two other times by two different men. I started practicing yoga when I was 19 as a way to get back into my body slowly and gently after the first assault. It helped me to no longer hate myself. Then, in 2010, I completed my 200-hr Yoga Teacher Certification in Chicago, and became increasingly interested in Trauma-Informed Yoga. This type of yoga is survivor-centered, and is specifically for those who have experienced sexual violence. It's all about empowering the individual--allowing them to move in whatever way feels good in their own body. As an instructor, I do not command them to move in any specific way (as we are taught to do in a traditional yoga teacher training). I'm a guide, offering options and choices. The client gets full say in how they want to move (or if they want to move). I currently teach this style of yoga to women who live at the local domestic violence shelter, and take 1-on-1 clients. 

What have your challenges been, so far? How have you overcome them?
Since creating Guerrilla Feminism, I have faced many challenges and difficulties. I have dealt with rape threats, death threats, sexism, misogyny... One man actually created memes with my image on it saying how "sexist" I was towards men. This same man had a section on his website about me, and how awful I am, and that I should be "stopped." On the flip side of this, I've had a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) buy the domain name "guerrillafeminism.com" so that I could not purchase it. She did it because she was upset she was banned from the GF page for spewing hatred and bigotry. At GF, we are inclusive. This woman didn't like that, apparently. She continued to harass me for about two weeks--writing a blog post about me, tweeting to and about me. This person then created an almost identical in name Facebook page. 
I still get harassed off and on because of my work with GF, but I overcome by surrounding myself with people who are committed to the cause, and are fiercely loyal supporters of myself. I'm lucky in that I have many supportive people in my life, and I have a great team who works with me on GF daily. None of us get paid for our time, and we all deal with a lot of harassment, but we still do the work because we believe in this cause so deeply. 

Could you talk about the books you've written, so we can also share links to them?
I've written two books, so far. The first is, Olive Grrrls: Italian North American Women and The Search For Identity and the second is a book of poetry called Leftovers. Olive Grrrls is about Italian North American women and their search for identity. This anthology includes various women writing on culture/ethnicity, feminism, sexuality, body image, and activism. Leftovers is a book of poems - the stuff that comes out when a relationship ends; when a death happens; when you become yourself fully. These poems are my leftovers, the strength and vulnerability I never knew I had.  

In your work so far, has there been a particular milestone that you'd like to share?
For milestones, I could talk a lot about numbers: getting our first 1K likes, and now being at 68K likes. How we have GF branches in 18 different countries. I could talk about our upcoming conference that I mentioned earlier to happen in August 2016. But, what I'm immensely proud of, and what I never tire of hearing is how GF has helped so many people globally. Since I started it, I've received messages from people telling me they finally feel "understood" or that they finally have found a "safe space." Or even just getting the messages that say, "Hey, you all are awesome, and do great work!" I'm proud of creating something positive that has resonated so deeply with so many different people. It makes me feel like I've done something good with my life.
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Find Lachrista on Facebook and check out Guerrilla Feminism online!

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