This is the third in a series of interviews exploring health, care, and radical movements. The first, an interview with the Rock Dove Collective, is available on Organizing Upgrade and the second, is with the Rosehips Medic Collective.
Can you briefly discuss when, how, and the reasoning behind forming the collective?
About seven and a half years ago, there was a music festival in West Philadelphia where there were several instances of sexual abuse. Several different men sexually assaulted several different women. People were really pissed. Out of this, what was called a “women’s group” formed to support the survivors and to get together and support each other. In tandem, a group of men formed with the purpose of saying, “This not acceptable. We also want to support these women who are abused. And we don’t want this to be happening in our community.”
But even after this festival was over and a lot of these people had left West Philly, the groups realized that sexual assault was not uncommon in their communities. This was really grounded in a mostly white, straight, punk community. The “women’s group” eventually turned into Philly’s Pissed, which is a group working to advocate for and support survivors. The “men’s group” eventually turned into the Philly Stands Up collective to have hard conversations with and to deal with people who perpetrate harm.
Several months into the existence of these groups a member of Philly Stands Up was called out for sexual assault. These were all open meetings. Fifteen, twenty, thirty people would show up at a meeting until someone stated to a collective member, “you were called out for abuse.” And everyone was like, “That’s bullshit. You’re in Philly Stands Up. You’re not sexually assaulting people. That’s bullshit. That’s a total lie. We have your back, man. We believe you.” A couple of people in Philly Stands Up said, “Actually, the whole point of this group is to believe survivors and to recognize that no matter how often your politics are about this or anything else, it’s still possible to sexually assault people. We actually think it’s not going to work for us to pretend like this didn’t happen or to ignore it. We really want to deal with this.” So the meeting ends. It’s contentious. And then, the next meeting, only two people showed up out of thirty. So there was a clear split in Philly Stands Up. The remaining members said, “This is bullshit. We are going to take this seriously and be real about what we say we’re doing.” And then the group rebuilt from that.
Around that time, both groups got a little bit of a gender analysis. Philly’s Pissed became not just a women’s group and it was recognizing that people of all genders can and are sexually assaulted and that all people can support them. It’s not just men who perpetrate sexual assaults and it’s not just this gender of men who can work with and hold people who perpetrate assault accountable. It was still pretty punk and pretty white, but it began to have different genders and queer folks. A couple of years went on and Philly Stands Up became a closed collective with anywhere between six and nine people in it.
Over the course of the last three years, Philly Stands Up really started zooming out of just doing rogue service provision toward bigger political analyses around transformative justice movements, prison abolition, and gender and racial justice. Currently, we are a collective of six and we are all queer, with all different genders, in terms of like life-as-gender-ness and trans-ness. We have parents in our collective. Half of the collective is made up of folks of color. We still kind of have a foot in the punk community door, but we are involved in other communities too.
Can you describe Transformative Justice and how it differs from punitive or restorative justice? How does transformative justice inform the work of Philly Stands Up?
To start, we’ll say a word about punitive and restorative justice. Punitive justice, of course, is the type of system we live under now— that’s law and order—where actions which are breaking the law have consequences of punishment in terms of fines and incarceration, sexual offender lists, and these sorts of things. It’s about punishing for breaking the law. Restorative justice, hinging on the word “restore,” recognizes that punitive justice is insufficient and that when harm is done it affects the entire community. It affects bystanders, it affects family, it affects communities. So restorative justice’s project is to restore a relationship to the way it was before harm was done. It works hard to include community in that and to do that in a wide variety of different ways. Restorative justice, as we know it, has extremely strong and crucial roots in indigenous communities and practices.
Transformative justice wants to kind of wrap restorative justice in a hug and then run faster with it. It recognizes that at the roots of every act of harm, violence, or abuse are other systems of oppression: racism, classism, trans- and homophobia, ableism, misogyny. So transformative justice has sort of a bigger project, which is to try and address the harm that’s been done, but to do so by also addressing these sort of bigger systems of harm that are at play. Since transformative justice believes that other types of oppression are at the root of the harm caused, it doesn’t actually want to restore things to the way they were; it wants to transform relationships and to acknowledge and work with what’s happened with the harm and move all those relationships—the person who has caused harm, the person or people who have survived it, the bystanders, the community—further along to make actual concrete changes and shifts in their behavior and their analysis and their understanding of relationships and privilege and community, to make big, meaningful changes that are also addressing those roots of violence and harm.
What are Philly Stands Up’s major purposes and strategies for attaining its goals? What specific activities have the collective been engaged in to work towards these goals?
The core thing is that we’re an organization that supports survivors by working with people who perpetrate harm. That’s what a lot of people know us for. We want to intervene and radically change the analysis and behavior of those who perpetrate abuse, so that it doesn’t happen again and so those people can take on responsibility to recognize, curb, and challenge abusive and harmful behavior around them.
Surrounding this intervention is our desire to offer a viable alternative to calling the cops and our commitment to abolishing the prison industrial complex. Inextricably linked to this is our commitment to achieving a totally different world, one that realizes racial justice, queer liberation, the love and empowerment of all bodies, ages, abilities, and then to end capitalism.
In additional to accountability processes we also host workshops, public and peer education. We try and keep our feet anchored, as much as possible, in Philadelphia, even though we know we have work and reputation that takes us all over the place, which is exciting. It is really important to us that we do local movement building and put the majority of our time and effort and energy into our community in Philly. We are supporters of the Decarcerate PA coalition that’s working to challenge the prison expansion project that’s happening in Pennsylvania and are in the process of doing some work with The Attic Youth Center, which is the queer drop-in center in Philadelphia. Even though we do a really different type of work, Philly Stands Up also has a relationship with JUNTOS, which is an organization in Philly that’s all about immigration solidarity. We also have a relationship with Women Organized Against Rape.[i]
Additionally, we are involved in transformative justice movement building in the US and Canada. As an example, we hosted a four-day transformative justice action camp on confronting sexual assault. It brought together twenty-five of some of the hardest working, most amazing and intelligent folks working with transformative justice and sexual assault all together in Philadelphia. We had folks from Creative Interventions, Generation FIVE, The Revolution Starts at Home, The Challenging Male Supremacy Project, UBUNTU, Decarcerate Monroe County (Indiana), Support New York, The Audre Lorde Safe OUTside the System Project, The Chrysalis Collective, and many more.[ii] It was an amazing weekend in that we worked on sharing our strategies, strengthening and challenging our own analysis around transformative justice, and really trying to make this more of a network because this work can be really isolating, painful and challenging. Hopefully, within the next year, a comprehensive book will come out of all of the work that was done at that action camp.
Currently we are also participating in a six-month long Books Through Bars project, in which folks who are incarcerated and in solitary confinement receive readings we’ve put together about transformative justice and sexual assault. They do the readings, write ideas and reflections, and then they send them back to Books Through Bars. Then Books Through Bars makes copies of everything everyone had to say and includes each others’ responses in the next month’s readings. It’s not just folks who are incarcerated that are participating but it puts primacy on those folks. Additionally, in couple months, we’re very lucky and privileged to be going to Southern California to host workshops at the La Jolla Indian Reservation around restorative and transformative justice practices and consent, specifically with the youth and woman’s council.
Can you describe the importance of language to you work, especially with terms such as “trigger” and “triggering” or “survivor” and “perpetrator,” rather than the more common “victim” and “abuser”?
A trigger is when something you hear, see, or feel or experience somehow wakes up memories, senses, and parts of your body. Usually, people use “trigger” to mean something bad, like you are physically or emotionally or sensor-ally brought back to a time where you survived abuse or experienced harm. One thing that we really love about the Philly Survivor Support Collective is that they talk about triggering as often being a really positive thing.[iii] It’s really common, when you survived sexual assault, to disassociate and to check out of your body. And so, when you get triggered, sometimes that can be a really amazing way to come back to your body and to remember things and to dig in there. So that’s what “triggering” means: bringing something that flips that switch and brings you back to an experience, which can both be positive or negative.
We think language is important: specifically the way that we distinguish between “survivor,” “perpetrator,” and “victim” and “abuser.” Victims are people who are no longer with us; survivors are people who have experienced harm and assault and are still with us. So, it feels a lot more important to use the term “survivor” for people who are with us.
We think it’s important to recognize that people are people and are not only the actions they’ve done. Often, “abuser” is a sort of stamp on someone, which doesn’t get at the complexities of who they are, and can also bully and threaten them in to feeling really shut down and defensive. We think that “perpetrator” is a term that we are working to get away from ourselves because it feels a little bit too snuggled up with “abuser.” But it’s descriptive, right? It’s someone who has perpetrated harm. But we also use the term “people who have caused harm,” or “someone who has caused harm,” or “someone who has caused abuse.” That’s why we use those words.
What is “accountability” and specifically what do you mean by an “accountability process”?
Accountability is a kind of simple word for a lot of really complicated ideas. But, as close as we can get, accountability is when someone who has perpetrated harm or abuse is able to fully recognize and accept what they’ve done, regardless of its intention, and to see all of the ways that it has affected the people who are surviving it—the community, themselves, etc. By doing so they are able to recognize and make changes that respect their relationships, support the survivor, and shift their own behavior.
When we say “an accountability process,” an accountability process can look a lot of different ways. In general, two Philly Stands Up collective members work with one person who has caused harm—the perpetrator—for anywhere between six months and twenty months. And an accountability process has several different stages, but we work to move the person and facilitate their development to achieve accountability or setting them up to continue to achieve accountability on their own. This includes recognizing the harm they’ve done, all of the impacts that it made and had, and concrete ways to really change and shift who they are and what the repercussions of what they have done has been.
Philly Stands Up describes the work of organizing an “accountability process” as having five stages. Can you describe what each is comprised of and how each typically is carried out?
Again, there is no normal accountability process, but that being said, the first stage is “beginning the process” and that kind of exists on our end. First, when we get a situation and we see what we are working with, we need to check in about a couple of things. We first need to see, internally, if Philly Stands Up is able to take it on and that means: Do two collective members have the time and capacity to do this process for the long term? Do we have the kind of emotional capacity to do it as well as time? Is this process going to be triggering? Is this going to be too challenging? Is it not a good fit for the identity of the collective members who can do it? And if we can confidently answer all of those questions, then we check to see: Do we have the skill set to do this? It’s really important to us that we work hard to challenge ourselves and our own skills and what’s possible, but also that we are extremely responsible with what we really can do. None of us are mental health professionals. And even though professionalism isn’t important to us, there are moments that we need to be really clear about if it’s something that is appropriate for us to take on with our skill sets. Once that is done, we are, really, authentically able to begin a process: meeting with the person, making sure that they are up for it. They need to consensually participate. We don’t bully anyone or coerce anyone into showing up.
The second stage is “life structures.” We’ve learned the hard way that quite frequently when people who have caused harm come to us, they are in really low moments in their life. They probably have been having a hard time connecting to their community. Maybe they’ve gotten kicked out of their house or projects they’ve worked on. Maybe their friends have split. Maybe they are struggling to find work. Maybe they have substance abuse or addiction problems. Maybe their health isn’t where it should be. And we really realize that people can’t fully commit and be present in a process if they are sick all of the time and they don’t have any support for health. If people’s mental health is not in the place where any of the three of us can work with it or predict it, if people are struggling to find work or to pay rent or are couch surfing, they’re not going to go to meetings on time, grounded to prepare to talk about really hard things. So, it’s really important to us that we spend some time really assessing what’s going on with this person and we try hard to try and identify where their life is at and to support them in making some changes, to get grounded as best they can. That’s meant that we’ve found people jobs, we’ve hooked people up with housing. We’ve spent a lot of time, often, in addition to working with us, hooking them up with counselors, with therapists, with group support, help them with addiction, in a non-punishing way. We’re not putting ourselves up for success if we don’t support them in getting their life as in order as can be.
The third stage we call “recognizing the harm that’s been done” and “survivor demands.” And this often is the longest and hardest. It’s really important that we go through, in moderate detail with the person who has caused harm, to really work through and to break down stories and narratives, so that we’re clear that they understand how they have done harm, regardless of whether it was intentional or not. It’s really common for someone to show up and be like, “Yeah, I’m invested,” or “I’m here to do this process,” but also say “I don’t actually think that I did anything that wrong.” And that can take a lot of time, telling stories and going over what happened, and situating things in new and different ways, with maybe different language or visualizations or using our bodies, all different types of ways that can work for a person to learn, to really understand what they did: why that it hurt someone, why it hurt many people maybe. And once we do that, we start working with our survivor demands. We don’t always have these, but often demands are a list of just what they sound like: demands that the survivor has given to us and/or the person who has caused harm. That’s a list that indicates, to the person who caused harm, what they need do to, in the survivor’s eyes, to be fully accountable. Sometimes demands are things like: give me $600 towards an abortion and STI testing; pay me back the money you owe me; drop out of this organization that we work on together; don’t date without disclosing that you have perpetrated assault and that you are in an accountability process; stop drinking; write me a letter of apology; don’t say my name in public; give me my t-shirt back. All these things are sort of common and differing types of demands that can happen. We can’t really touch the demands, to do them justice, until the person who has caused harm really can recognize the harm that’s been done and feels concrete and solid, that, actually, they did perpetrate violence or abuse or harm. Demands are the things that don’t really stay steady; they kind of are bred into the whole rest of the process. Often demands have to do with life structures, like sobriety or counseling or dealing with mental health things. Sometimes we’ve already actually done some of the demands by life structures. Sometimes, it’s working to set up things like payment plans.
The fourth stage is “identifying patterns and behaviors,” and “making concrete changes and interventions.” It’s uncommon that the dynamic and actions that were a part of an instance or ongoing assaults have happened randomly. Maybe they’ve happened before. Maybe it’s less concrete. Maybe a patterned behavior is actually rooted in misogyny, patriarchy, or transphobia and it’s less easy to sort of name and articulate. Or maybe it’s something very clear like when I drink more than eight drinks, I stop listening to people and I touch them or something like that. Once you know what these patterns and behaviors are, you can start making plans to intervene in them. The patterns and behaviors are and can be are pretty varied. Usually, they’re on either sides of the spectrum, these sort big things around gender, around class, around race, or ability that are informing patterns and behaviors. And maybe they’re small things like: it’s real that someone actually doesn’t understand consent or does, but doesn’t think it’s that important for some reason. So we really get in there and start identifying what those behaviors and patterns are and sort of placing them in narratives, and seeing where they’ve shown up in the person’s life before and where they are coming from. And that often means we do readings or, right now, we’re in the process of trying to create audio recordings of some of the common readings that we do for folks who can’t read or don’t learn best reading. That often means writing exercises, visioning, or journaling—different types of things to sort of get at these patterns and behaviors. Maybe the intervention is doing some really long term and deep work in unpacking things around gender binary and misogyny and finding maybe a very good friend or a mentor or someone who can really deeply work with you—or us—to start unpacking what some of those issues are and figuring out concrete ways to interact with people’s bodies and genders in a new and different way. So, coming up with these sort of concrete interventions, of changing behaviors in long-term ways and coming up with solutions, that’s a very long fourth stage.
The final stage is “the closing of the process.” To close the process is to make sure that all of the demands are on the path to being met. If a demand was to write a letter of apology, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the person who caused harm to write that in stage two, because they haven’t really worked a lot of stuff out. They haven’t really fully recognized the harm that they’ve done. They’re carrying a lot of resentment and anger still. They don’t care about the demands. They don’t understand where these things are coming from. And one thing that’s our job, as facilitators of this process, is to make sure that the demand is met, not just as a task but also in the spirit. So we can assume that the spirit of the survivor requesting a letter of apology is to see that the person who abused them has come a long way, has made big shifts and changes, and has empathy, has understanding, has self-recognition, has plans, and has changes in mind for how they’re going to behave. So it would fulfill the task of the demands, at the end of “life structures,” for the person who caused harm to say, “Dear survivor, I’m sorry. I did a bad thing to you that you’re so upset about. Sincerely, me.” That would fulfill the demand of writing a letter, but it wouldn’t fulfill the spirit. Our job is to really make sure and challenge and push that the spirit of the demand is being solved. The other types of demands, maybe we’ve made progress in terms of payment plans for paying someone back or paying for medical fees or counseling or something like that. Maybe we’ve gotten tools for disclosing to current and future lovers or partners that they have a history of sexual assault and they have more confidence or practice. So we make sure the demands are met to the best of our ability.
What’s really important about a closing process is that accountability processes don’t ever end. This is life work that we’re doing. This person could be in an accountability process with us for fifty years, but that’s not sustainable for anyone. Our hope is that at the end of this process, this person also is really clear on what their network of support looks like, what resources in their town or community are available to them, whether it’s AA or free queer friendly counseling services. They’ve joined groups that they feel really invested in, they have a housemate that really supports them and they can talk to, that they have their own resources and tools for knowing how handle their lives as they come up. And so they’re not going to be fully done, but our hope is that they are confident about services and resources and ideas and creative ways of engaging and thinking through harm or assault as they come up again. Often, instead of having a last meeting, we sort of peter out. We say, “Okay, we’ve gone from meeting two times a week or two times a month,” and “Now, we gonna meet once a month,” and “Now, we’re gonna check in, once every three months,” and “Now, we’re gonna check in six months and see how it’s going,” and “Now, give us a call if you ever need anything.”
How do you differentiate between harm and abuse? And how does a community, specifically the radical community in which you work, determine what is harm and what forms of harm require accountability processes?
Harm and abuse are on a spectrum. We all create harm, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally and it’s often unavoidable. Specifically in radical communities we’ve also seen a lack of clarity around the distinction between what types things really require demands, an accountability process, and what types of things don’t. This is slippery territory and we don’t always have exact answers for these sorts of things. There are words we can use to distinguish between abuse and harm that might actually be unhelpful, such as “improper usage or treatment for a bad purpose,” or “unfairly, to improperly make gains,” and “what benefits one person.” Often, what we find more helpful is being prepared to ask challenging questions.
That being said, we would say that abuse, distinguished from harm, is a singular or ongoing act of power over someone. We have all different types of power and not all of them are bad. Utilizing power over somebody is often a good indication of abuse and that’s not always what’s happening in harm. If two people feel different ways about each other and it’s harmful and it hurts someone’s feeling, that’s not necessarily one person having a power over the other person, although sometimes it’s very complicated. But power over someone could be clear acts of intentional manipulation and control: controlling someone’s behavior, controlling someone’s mobility, threatening someone, isolating them from their community and friends. We’re giving examples of specifically emotional abuse because those are often the places that get the most sticky and slippery. We think that ways, in terms of prevention, to start really decreasing these things, are really encouraging communication and creative ways of talking about desires and sex, and limits and boundaries.
Accountability processes is one of many, many tools to address a specific type of harm and violence. When people feel like that’s the only tool that exists, they sort of put every hurt that they have in that category. Actually, what’s important and beneficial is to start really flexing our muscles and really widening our tool belts. And so, there are other things that can go towards addressing different types of harm, such as direct communication, having really good friends and support networks that listen to you and share with you. Writing letters, doing art projects, going to kickboxing classes. These are little things that we believe are crucial tools that make a really big difference in terms of what people feel like is available to them. Not everything is an accountability process. One thing that we want to do is really encourage communities to start going beyond accountability processes because when that’s all that it feels like there is, that’s where everything goes.
What limitations is the collective facing in its organizing? How are you addressing these limits? How has the collective succeeded in this respect and what difficulties have it faced?
We have lot of limitations. They’re mostly time and money, like everything else. We’re a volunteer collective and it has felt important to be volunteer and to not be a non-profit. That’s so important to us, politically. But it’s a real limitation. This is work that, often, is not so much answering an e-mail as it is being prepared or available to have a two hour phone call with someone who is in crisis or who is needing support and changing your schedule around to accommodate other people’s schedules. So that really is a big limitation for us.
Also, we’ve often produced a lot of writing and we have lot more materials we could publish than we have time for. So the idea of writing something and putting it out and getting funding to publish it or print it, these types of things just take up so much work and we don’t get paid to do it. We all have other jobs. In fact, one thing that really informs the success of this work is that we all are doing other types of political organizing.
How does the collective address secondary trauma members may—and likely, sometimes—do face?
The first is that when we’re actually working accountability processes, we never work without a partner. So you always have a buddy and you meet beforehand, you talk afterwards, you support each other. This is our primary way of addressing and supporting each other. We take a lot of time to know what’s going on with people in the collective. We know a lot about the harm we’re surviving or where we’re coming from.
We know about what limits we have. We really encourage individual care. If someone can’t make a meeting because they’re having a hard time, that’s fine. If someone in the collective wants to borrow fifty bucks because they really need some acupuncture and a massage, that’s okay. We work hard to always—even though we have a lot to do, and never enough time to do it in—prioritize slowing down or taking a break, because that’s how we don’t burn out. We encourage each other to try different things on, whether it’s therapy or talking to our partners or these sorts of things. We have retreats, at least once or two times a year, where we take time to be with each other, to assess what’s important and what we want to prioritize. We love a pie chart, where we mix slices of all our time and capacity and we determine how big a slice each of the things we do should be. And we try to really stick with that. We also really talk through these things with each other. And we always take time to love each other and challenge each other and remind each other to slow down when we need it. And so, sometimes things have to fall off our radar because of our capacities, specifically our emotional capacity.
Often people join Philly Stands Up because it sounds really good and they really believe in it. And then they actually realize that they’re not in a place where they can work with perpetrators of sexual assault and that they can’t sit down across the table from them and spend a couple of hours supporting them or talking to them. Working hard to do that when it’s not the right thing for them is a major way of burning out because it’s really overwhelming and scary. It’s taken us a while to understand that there’s a shit-ton of things to do in Philly Stands Up. And we do a lot of other things other than accountability processes. Once we started really fleshing out all of the different types of work there was to do, we became much better equipped to match people with what makes sense. The primary way is just recognizing that there are other things to do than working with people who have perpetrated harm or even dealing with specific instances of sexual assault in general. We write things; we give workshops; we do fundraisers; we have administrative stuff that happens; we make art. There are so many things that can happen and, if people have something come up in their lives, and they’re like, “You know, I actually can’t do this.” They don’t necessarily need to leave the collective; there are just other ways they can do work with collective. That’s a big lesson there.
How does the collective deal with confidentiality and objectivity?
Because we do work closely within our community, a situation may come to us where we know one of the people that may be involved or perhaps someone’s housemate does. If someone is too close to the person or the process, they are not a good fit for working with them. Every situation that we have or person that we’re working with, as soon as we decide to talk about them in a meeting, they get a code name. That’s a small thing that’s had a really huge impact on how we operate. So, for the situations that Philly Stands Up takes on, the other members who aren’t the point persons have no idea of the actual identity of the people involved. It could be the person who serves them coffee. It could be someone that they’re in a collective with. That’s really important, in terms of not being completely consumed by the work, in terms of not kind of unconsciously keeping tabs on people all the time, in terms of just letting us live our lives. Then when a member is in a meeting and if the two people who are working on that process are asking for support or for an opinion or where to go next, the others are a lot more able to give good advice or help make meaningful decisions if they don’t actually know who this person is. And so confidentiality and objectivity actually really go together.
In the collective’s workshops you have stated that your work takes place within the “reach of our community.” How might this limit your work in terms of who you reach? How can we utilize transformative justice to transform neighborhoods and other communities outside of typical “activist” ones?
Our work does take place within the reach of our community and it absolutely limits our work, with great intention. We do not want to be listed in Philadelphia’s Yellow Pages of what to do when sexual assault happens because we don’t have the capacity for it and it’s a great possibility that someone who reaches us doesn’t have the same hopes or goals in terms of politics. We don’t beat around the bush that our work and framework is highly politicized and some survivors might be really upset and offended that we’re not gonna pursue the criminal legal system. And that’s real.
Also, we’ve found that we work best with people who can recognize parts of themselves in us. That is something that changes the sort of state-based or institutionalized way of intervening, where there’s great distinction between the person and the professional. So who we are reaching and who our communities are looks really different depending on who’s in their group: What types of queer folks are in there – if there are queer folks in there. What kind of band do you play in? If you’re from Philadelphia, if you are a person of color, if you’re white, if you’re Jewish, all these things are really key. So it does limit our work, but it’s with great intention that it limits our work.
And the regionality and locality of what we do is really important to us as well. Utilizing transformative justice – to have strong geographic connections – is just as important as having strong political analyses and connections. That means really being a part of your neighborhood or your community outside of the Food Not Bombs meeting. Those are maybe your community members and friends and that’s totally okay. But it’s also really important to know your neighbors. And it’s also really important to know your block captain—if you have that—or your building captain. And those are things that are going to make you really connected to your community and challenge what community looks like. It’s okay to be comfortable and to feel excited and at your best when you’re among people who are like you, in whatever way that means. There’s nothing terrible about that. It’s pretty normal. But we need to locate our activist communities and actual geographic communities and share ourselves, in terms of other organizations that it might be worthwhile to reach out to and work with. And that can be people who don’t have a hundred-percent match up with what your politics are, but are really amazing and have been doing work for a long time in your city or in your neighborhood.
How do communities interact proactively to prevent intimate and sexual violence? And can you speak a little more about creating a culture of consent and communication?
In addition to all of the consent workshops that happen—or, hopefully, happen—there should be things about building healthy relationships, about things like communication, limits, boundaries, and how to fuck up gracefully. But often folks that need to hear hard things are often not in the position to hear them, right? And so, how do we create proactive ways that are about injecting our communities with possibility and resources? In addition to those workshops, there are all different types of things like throw a rager of a party that is all about preventing intimate and sexual violence, where you have an emcee making statements, interspersed with really good music and dancing. And there’s a place where people can go talk to mediators and can meet each other. And there’s sober space there, but there is also drinking and it’s fine. You have appropriate safer spaces policies. So just being creative in those sorts of ways. It’s really important to make talking about intimate and sexual violence and harm fun, for the lack of a better word. It doesn’t always need to be at a really depressing study group and it doesn’t always need to exist in and of itself. What if, at every single amazing dance party there was literature somewhere or every hour of every party there was a two-minute blurb about prioritizing checking in with each other and having healthy and safe communities? This can be a part of everything that you’re doing!
In some ways, creating a culture of consent is something that some communities are really good at. For instance having awesome posters around that say “This is what consent means” or “This is sexy to me” is part of this. Encouraging each other and ourselves to practice really good consent with our partners and with other people too. Sometimes you ask if you can give someone a hug. Sometimes you just practice asking and saying no and saying yes. That’s doing really important work toward creating a culture of consent.
What frameworks and lessons can you provide to others looking to create a similar project or address intimate and sexual violence in their community?
One thing we say to this is to start with an understanding of sustainability and clear cutoffs. Doing more than you can is the absolute best way to totally fuck up and burn out and leave with a very bitter taste in your mouth for accountability processes in general. Starting before moments of crisis and starting with best practices around how you want your organization to function are important. Even small ways, like: we will never meet for more than two and a half hours, we will always have check-ins, it is always okay to miss a meeting, we will always do this, we will always take notes. Whatever those things are, it’s really important to start by having these really healthy norms of an organization.
A second thing is that we really are big proponents of this two-model system, where we have two different and separate collectives: one that works just with survivors and one that supports survivors by mostly just working with people who perpetrate harm. And that’s been crucial for our success even though the groups have seen different formations of themselves. This just avoids a lot of messiness, a lot of confusion, a lot of burnout and a lot of sticky places. And so, if you have the capacity for it, it’s a really, really great thing to explore: trying to have two separate groups that have a really good relationship with each other but function as autonomous organizations.
We all have practice in transformative justice and anti-violence work; we are all experts, we do this all the time, and this is especially true in queer communities and communities of color. As of yet we just don’t have practice in writing it down and in naming it. For instance many of us have stories of intervening with a high school bully or helping a friend with options in regards to a relationship with their partner: we are always doing this work. Philly Stands Up and related initiatives are just working to talk more about transformative justice and anti-violence work as we build skills and resources.
Suggested Resource List:
Chen, Dulani & Piepzna-Samarasinha (eds.), The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence within Activist Communities (Brooklyn: South End Press, 2011).
Generation FIVE’s “Towards Transformative Justice”: http://www.generationfive.org/downloads/G5_Toward_Transformative_Justice.pdf
INCITE! Women of Colors Against Violence (eds.), Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006).
Creative Interventions, Toolkit: http://www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/
Benjamin Holtzman's work has appeared in Upping the Anti, Left History, Space and Culture, Radical Society, and the collections Constituent Imagination and Uses of a Whirlwind. He is the editor of Sick: A Compilation Zine on Physical Illness (Microcosm Publishing, 2009).
Kevin Van Meter is a member of the Team Colors collective and has recently relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota to complete his doctorate in Geography. Van Meter appears in the collection Constituent Imagination; with Team Colors, co-edited the collection Uses of a Whirlwind; and with Team Colors, co-authored Winds from below and other interventions (forthcoming). Van Meters’ work has appeared in New York Newsday; as well as the Earth First! Journal, Organizing Upgrade, Left Eye on Books, Radical Society, Groundswell, Perspectives, and other radical publications.
[i] Decarcerate PA: http://decarceratepa.info; The Attic Youth Center: www.atticyouthcenter.org; JUNTOS: www.vamosjuntos.org; Women Organized Against Rape: www.woar.org.
[ii] Creative Interventions: www.creative-interventions.org; Generation FIVE: www.generationfive.org; The Revolution Starts at Home: http://revolutionathome.tumblr.com; The Challenging Male Supremacy Project: http://zapagringo.blogspot.com/2010/06/challenging-male-supremacy-project.html; UBUNTU: http://iambecauseweare.wordpress.com; Decarcerate Monroe County (Indiana): http://dmccoalition.org/; Support New York: http://supportny.org; The Audre Lorde Safe OUTside the System Project: http://alp.org/community/sos; The Chrysalis Collective; additinally see: Communities United Against Violence: http://www.cuav.org/ and Colorado Anti-Violence Program: http://www.coavp.org/.
[iii] Philly Survivor Support Collective: http://phillysurvivorsupportcollective.wordpress.com/.