Cat J. Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, Mediator, Child Advocate, Coach for Parents co-parenting their children after divorce and Author of the upcoming book, “Parenting with Your Ex: Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.” She is also a sought after trainer in empathic communication, having trained hundreds of Collaborative Attorneys, Coaches, Therapists, Mediators, spiritual practitioners and parents. In 2009, she was awarded a Peace Builder Award for her business.
Prior to her work at the NSP and as a Collaborative Attorney, Cat began her social change activism work volunteering after college for the ACLU in Boston, MA. At the ACLU, Cat was a legislative assistant helping to pass civil rights legislation and stop efforts to undermine civil rights. She then attended Northeastern University School of Law where she defended prison inmates accused of crimes within the prisons, represented families in divorce who could not afford private attorneys, worked for the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, civil rights attorneys on a variety of matters and as a public defender. After graduating law school, she went to South Africa to work with organizations challenging apartheid and the dismantling of apartheid laws. She arrived there 6 months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and had the privilege both of meeting him and working with amazing activists and legal organizations challenging government policies that perpetuated apartheid policies, helping local communities utilize their alternative systems of resolving disputes, working with the women’s arm of the African National Congress, and working in remote areas challenging government efforts to destroy communities subsistence lifestyles in the interest of development on the Indian Ocean.
Upon returning from Africa, Cat worked as a public defender in Seattle, WA challenging illegal stops by police officers, representing protestors, and working to support her clients to see the systemic problems that contributed to some of their challenges and helping them transform their lives and challenge the system. She immediately saw, in her work as a public defender issues that are being brought to public awareness today, including issues of debtor prisons, and illegal stop and searches of African Americans. She left her job as a public defender disillusioned with her capacity to make systemic and meaningful change in that way. After taking some time to explore what to do next, Cat began working at the Northwest Women’s Law Center (now called Legal Voice). She worked on three levels, challenging unjust and discriminatory laws, writing legislation, and educating and advocating with community members to challenge and transform systemic injustice in areas as diverse as domestic violence, welfare rights, prostitution, and family law. She wrote an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, drafted significant legislation on rights of parents to relocate with their children after divorce, and policies and procedures to help domestic violence victims both receive protection and exercise their rights, among other things. During this time, Cat also was a co-founder of a domestic violence agency on Vashon Island, where she lived at the time.
Cat then re-located to Vancouver, BC and attained her M.A. in Women and Gender Studies. She then moved to Bellingham, WA and opened a Women’s Center there. Struggling with how to practice law in a way that helped repair rifts in community rather than create greater damage, Cat also received training in Nonviolent Communication, conflict resolution, collaborative law and mediation. Realizing that she could use her alternative conflict resolution skills as a collaborative attorney, mediator, coach and trainer, Cat both returned to the practice of law and worked in these other areas as well – always striving to repair broken relationships with compassion and helping people to see and to support them, in an effort to transform the systemic problems in our society that undermine the capacity of people to maintain loving families and communities.
Cat grounds her life and work in the wisdom and spiritual traditions and brings those values to her work every day. More recently she has found roots in her religion of her upbringing – Judaism. She sees the Torah as a radical liberatory theology that provides spiritual meaning and practices, as well as guidelines for how to live an ethical life. These values infuse her efforts with the NSP to build a movement of love and justice – one that actually embodies these values not only in the goals and outcomes it strives to achieve, but also in the movement itself. Cat will add a powerful voice to the discussion of how to integrate spiritual values and principles into our work as activists and in the political arena, why being visionary and idealistic is called for at this time, and how integrating spiritual values can bridge political divides and address systemic problems.