Conflict Resolution - Diversity, Safer Space, and Individuals trying to volunteer
Thank you for coming, this workshop is meant to explore the idea that as we grow and diversify, our understanding of our agreements such as a safer space, or mission statement, also diversify. How do we navigate this change? How do we ensure that we're all on the same page, that we're all here for the same cause, and understand how to try to hold a safer space.
I also want to examine the question, who might we be excluding with our definition of safer space.
My name is Momoko, I volunteer at a collective called Bike Farm in portland Oregon. I use she and her pronouns. There's a lot of people here, so I'm not going to ask you all to say your name, but I will ask for volunteers in a moment, if you speak, please say your name and where you come from. If you feel comfortable telling us your pronouns, please do.
How many of your collectives have been around 10 years or longer, 5? 2? less than 2? A very mixed group, a little from every time line, about 25 attendees.
How many have a mission statement? about 80% had one
How many have a safer space agreement? about 40%
What’s a Safer Space? A safer space is the idea that we can create a place where traditionally marginalized groups are safe from the prosecutions they experience in the world. T he agreement is a statement of the ideals we hold collectively, and how we intend to hold that space. Bike Farm's safer Space reads: "Bike Farm is a cooperative space that is accepting and inclusive of every race, economic class, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, etc." And you saw an example of a safer space from the introduction meeting for BikeBike!
Please think of a conflict that has happened at your shop. If you have a safer space, did it help resolve the conflict? If you don't have one, would a safer space had helped?
Are there any volunteers who would like to speak?
Erika - she’s hoping to develop a safer space agreement, they have been working on it for years, but they haven’t been able to nail anything down. Paul - he’s collective has a safer space, but over the years, it’s harder and harder to uphold. It seems like an issue of people not remembering, or not being engaged. Kyle - You can put it more in their face by putting it on the wall, he finds this works with some of the more basic agreements like, don’t be drunk, and don’t say racist things. He has also experienced the difficultly of upholding their safer space agreement. Asha - // I can’t remember what she said, I’m sorry Jeremy - he talked about adding a clause on the computer sign in to initial that you agree to uphold the safer space agreement. He also wonder if having a w&t night is effective. Lauren - she talked about a lot of good stuff,
Let’s divide into two groups: There seems to be two groups, there’s step one, creating a safer space agreement, and step two, keeping on the same page about it. Step one is really important, because it’s like setting a rock down in an immense ocean, once we can agree that we want to have a safer space, and we can collectively agree on what words describe that space. And step two is inevitable, because once we set that rock down in the ocean, we all start to look at it from different angles, and what one person sees as the safer space agreement, someone else might see from a completely different point of view.
Group 1: Building a Safer Space Agreement safer space agreements are super important!
Does it have to be documented or written down? No, not necessarily, but it helps. We often start collectives with a loose social agreement that is understood among friends. People who not only speak the same language, but also, the same social language. While it’s easy when we’re a small group who know each other to say, “don’t be an asshole” and we all understand what that means. As we grow and diversify, we loose that social language. If we have it written down, it’s easier to point to.
But it’s more than just writing it down, you have to teach what the words mean too.
Is it better to write something together from scratch or just borrow someone else’s?
It’s my (Momoko’s) belief that it’s easier to start with someone else's safer space agreement. Or start with something super basic and true. Then as you discuss it more, people ask questions, or you see that something isn’t very clear, so you can modify it. Having a blank page is daunting.
We went around and read the bikebike safer space agreement, and picked out our favorite lines, and said why.
I like how it’s positive, there’s nothing saying you’re bad for not doing this. I like how is says we’re all responsible, it makes me feel less stressed like I don’t have to uphold this all by my self, I like how it’s simple and positive. I like how it talks about inclusive learning spaces. Sometimes I think the language of these agreements are elitist and classist. That’s very true, when crafting your safer space agreement you have to be very aware of the language you use. It should be simple and easy to read and understand. Write it in multiple languages! Draw it in pictures! When teaching it, act out examples.
How do you get people to be on board with the idea of a safer space agreement? Generally, if you can start with something very positive and fairly universally agreed on, it helps.
In Espanol, when we try to create language that is inclusive, people say that it’s changing tradition. We get a lot of push back about not having sexist language. We get a lot of push back generally about seeing something as sexist. How do we convince them that we need to change?
Try to get allies, people who agree with you and want to see the changes you are hoping for. Speak from your experiences. Have them come to BikeBike and attend a workshop about safer spaces! Act out skits and tell stories.
Sometimes it’s so hard, you feel like you’re constantly fighting. How do you keep trying?
That sucks, I’m sorry. It is hard. You are trying to change a society. It’s a difficult thing to do. But you can make friends, come to bikebike and talk with people who don’t think you’re crazy. You can just try to find allies.
Do you guys have a list of resources for creating safer spaces and safer space agreements?
Let’s work on this!!!
Second Group: Changing Definitions of Safer Space
Mostly people posed quandaries from their experience (many of which are shared) and commiserated over their seeming intractability. Collectives with conflicts caused by ways that folks from historically marginalized communities can contribute to each others' oppression.
Example(s): Gender non-conforming shop employee reacting aggressively(/oppressively?) toward poor shop users of color who don't have a vocabulary or analysis (/ can be insensitive and cruel depending on your perspective). 13-year old boy tugging a woman organizer's pit hair and asking why she doesn't shave. she asked if he shaves his pit hair. he says he doesn’t have any.
Solution? "shop's closed" approach ~ sometimes when you come to the shop the door is locked & the lights are off. If you aren't WTF, that's the case "broken record" approach - did you know that this shop is just for___? -if yes and I am___, then welcome -if yes but I am not ___, then here's a flyer with our hours if no, then explain & maybe welcome or here's flyer if "huh?" then here's flyer
Group 3: Challenges with upholding Safer Space policies (Added by Lauren W.)
- The need to employ a bottom-up approach to developing safer spaces policies and practices, rather than a top-down approach. In practice, this might look like consulting with marginalized communities to ask what things your collective can do – both tangibly and conceptually – to facilitate your space in a way that is safe for them - Maintaining a safer space isn’t just about writing and posting a safer spaces policy – it requires the continuous practice and cultivation of communication skills, as well as ongoing revisions and adjustments. One useful way to incorporate communication skills into a safer spaces policy would be to include a section on how to deal with conflict when is arises. Examples might include taking a person aside when they’ve said something oppressive and explaining that it was oppressive and why, explaining the policy, and outlining behavioural expectations. You might also consider including check-ins with folks who have been the target of oppressive actions, and asking them what they need/what they’d like to happen after a conflict. - Safer spaces policies embody principles that are essential to operating our spaces in anti-oppressive ways. However, some participants noted that it’s valuable to let our policies have “soft edges,” and to be adaptable to changing circumstances in practice.
A useful example was provided by a participant who told a story wherein a non-English speaking and Muslim refugee family (father, mother, and children) came to their shop’s women’s, trans, and femme (WTF) night. WTF nights exist to make bicycle maintenance and repair available to women in a way that is safe, respectful, and empowering. In this situation, however, the woman was additionally marginalized by language ability, citizenship status, ethnicity, and religion. In a situation like this, would you ask the husband to leave the shop, or permit him to stay and participate in order to honour the particular social position of this woman? Participants in the workshop responded with various strategies: have the husband wait outside so the woman could consult with him as necessary, or permit the husband to stay and work with his wife.
This example points to the need for an appreciation of intersectionality in our shops. That is, the way that various oppressions intersect to create certain identities and highly contextual circumstances. The woman in question is never simply a woman, she is also a Muslim, refugee, mother, and wife, and all of these elements of her identity inform her particular experience of womanhood. As a result, this means that our safer spaces policies need to honour the ways that identities and oppressions overlap in our spaces in complex ways. In practice, this means that we need to be able to negotiate complex scenarios in ways that help everyone feel safe, and that requires empathy, humility, a willingness to listen, communication skills, and knowledge of anti-oppressive politics. - It is important to make our safer spaces policies known to the people to whom they apply. This may mean posting safer spaces policies visibly in our spaces, our making knowledge of them a requirement of volunteer orientation, for example. - It was noted that safer spaces policies become more complex if your shop is run as a for-profit business rather than an informal community space. Businesses are accountable to laws that do not honour the idea of safer spaces, so kicking someone out of your for-profit shop could earn you a human rights complaint. - There is a lot of emotional labour tied into navigating safer spaces. Training and rest is essential. - In order to resolve a conflict, there has to be a shared willingness to do so. If one person refuses to engage in conflict resolution, they may simply need to leave the shop, either on a trial basis or permanently. We don’t control other people’s capacities or actions, and while it’s hard to accept, sometimes we just need to let folks go. We are not social workers, and there are some things we can control and some things we can’t. - A question was raised regarding how we negotiate accountability for actions outside of the shop. For example, what if someone who is a known misogynist or rapist frequents your shop, but has never behaved inappropriately while at your shop? How do our safer spaces policies account for that?