Every week Liz Trice from PelotonLabs interviews a coworking member. This month she caught up with Clara Porter, the founder and director of Prevention.Action.Change, which trains people to prevent, interrupt, and respond to violence.
How does your work prevent violence?
We work to give people the skills to become more aware of harassment, abuse, and assault, and how it impacts them and their community. This includes how to intervene early, how to respond in the moment, and how to heal from violence. We teach verbal skills, assertive boundary setting, de-escalation, bystander intervention, physical defense skills, adrenaline management, and generally how to feel safer and stronger in their lives.
What’s your background? How did you get started?
My background is in community social work. I worked with tenants’ associations, homeless service providers, and community development organizations, but I was never comfortable with the power dynamic. And then I learned about empowerment self-defense. I love how grounded it is and how it builds on what people already know to make their own lives safer, and to make their communities and workplaces more welcoming and responsive.
You train people to recognize and respond to situations in workplaces, in their personal spaces, and in public – be it on the street or in a restaurant, right?
Women in general are socialized to think more about what another person wants, needs, and feels than what they themselves want need or feel. Our trainings might help a woman communicate better what works for her with a partner, negotiate with a boss, or respond to a person who catcalls them or invades their space while asking for money. Boundary setting can work in any of those situations.
People who have taken our trainings end up feeling that they can occupy more space in the world. And while we hope people will not have to use physical self-defense skills, people feel more confident.
Do you train men, too?
Yes. In our Active Bystander Training and Workplace Safety Classes. In Empowerment Self-Defense and Healing Through Empowerment we are more focused on women and LGBTQ and gender-expansive people because they are the most likely targeted for violence.
When you say the term self-defense, people usually think martial arts, but your work is much broader.
Yes. It’s awareness, verbal, physical, and healing. There’s a perception that self-defense is victim blaming – we say that the person who acts violently is the sole person responsible, but there’s also things we can do to reduce our risk and be safer.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been working on this since 1994, moved here from New York in 1999 for my spouses’ medical school training, and I’ve been full-time for the last three years. We do a lot of workplace safety trainings and sexual harassment prevention trainings. A few times a year we run a course called “Healing Through Empowerment” for women who have experienced trauma. We have one full-time staff and six trainers from all walks of life – teachers, healers, activists, all ages and gender identities.
We’ve trained over 1,200 people in the last two years in bystander intervention and many more in Empowerment Self-Defense. We did trainings for all the women going from Maine to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in 2017. And following the election we provided trainings to ACLU members throughout the state.
How has PelotonLabs been helpful for you?
It’s been a great space for our team to meet – it’s accessible and affordable. We haven’t needed a training center as we go to where people are – so it’s been great to have a central office.
There is a new Healing Through Empowerment course starting Wednesday, January 9th through May 13th, and an Active Bystander Training on the afternoon of January 13th, both in Portland. You can learn more about these and other trainings at www.pacmaine.com.
PelotonLabs is a coworking space in Bramhall Square in the West End of Portland, with a mission to connect and encourage people to improve their lives and contribute to the world around them.