Anti-Oppression & Accountability

Below are some thoughts stemming from recent encounters on the Roadshow and a copy of the anti-oppression policy of the Earth First! Journal :

If you are hosting us, please read through this and initiate dialogue asap if you think an issue or conflict may arise at a local stop.

ASSAULT & ACCOUNTABILITY
Accountability around sexual assault and survivor support are difficult issues to deal with and dialogue about, but as part of the community-in-resistance, we feel it is our responsibility to figure out ways to actively confront these things.

We do not expect everyone to be on the exact same page as we are in
regards to these issues, but we feel it should be made clear that confronting assault is not about infighting or personal drama.

While we may not have full details regarding all allegations of assault and abuse, we feel that a full trial is not required in order to take a responsible stance. Primarily, showing support for survivors by believing them and respecting accountability process they initiate.

We feel that the details of an allegation should be considered a separate issues from how the allegation is responded to by the person being called out as well as the broader community surrounding the incident. * [see article below]

One one occasion, we decided to cancel a presentation in order to facilitate what felt to be a needed discussion on community responses to sexual assault, abuse and violence. It was not an easy decision for us, as we feel that we have important skills and information to share (which is why we are on this tour).

But being in the role of presenters (or organizers) entails a position of power where people are asked to listen to and respect what we are saying. This comes with responsibilities. To us, that means honoring and being accountable to survivors’ requests (or requests from a community of support surrounding survivors).

Here is some background info and resources that we hope you will find useful. Please share these with others in your group.

Two groups organizing around survivor support and community accountability
http://www.phillyspissed.net/ and http://www.supportny.org/

*A good article on responsibilities in being called out for abusive
behavior (whether you agree with allegations or not)
http://fruitiondesign.com/dealwithit/02wispy.php

Some online articles on accountability in the activist community:
http://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/philly’s-pissed-philly-stands-up-collected-materials/

The Earth First! Journal’s ANTI-OPPRESSION POLICY
http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/section.php?id=6&PHPSESSID=70ae2ffe62327842227364dbf929e773
Editors’ Note: The Earth First! Journal collective presented a draft of this policy for critique and revision during a special workshop at the 2007 Round River Rendezvous. That workshop formally endorsed this revised policy. During the Journal discussion at the Rondy, the movement empowered the Journal collective to adopt and maintain the policy as we see fit. Additionally, the Journal collective will add this policy and information on healthy communication to our website and our orientation guide for short-term editors.

The Earth First! Journal editorial collective recognizes that the institutional, economic, political, social and cultural dynamics of hierarchy, power and privilege that define mainstream society also permeate the radical environmental movement. These dynamics are expressed in various interlocking systems of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, speciesism, etc.), which prevent equal access to resources and safety, disrupt healthy communities and movement building, and severely—sometimes irreparably—harm our allies, our friends, our loved ones and ourselves.

Over the years, the Journal has featured a growing number of articles addressing the need to challenge these systems of oppression. This is a reflection of the editorial collective’s understanding that implicit in our desire to stop the domination and exploitation of the Earth is a need to create communities that are free of oppressive social relations. We understand that failing to address oppressive behavior not only weakens our movement by alienating and further victimizing our friends and allies, it also calls into question our commitment to a better world and our qualification as a radical movement.

For these reasons, the Earth First! Journal editorial collective has drafted this policy of active opposition to oppressive behavior of all kinds within the editorial collective, the Journal community and the pages of the Journal itself.

Definitions

We define oppressive behavior as any conduct (typically along lines of institutionalized power and privilege) that demeans, marginalizes, rejects, threatens or harms any living being on the basis of ability, activist experience, age, class/income level, cultural background, education, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, language, nationality, physical appearance, race, religion, self-expression, sexual orientation, species, status as a parent or other such factors. Oppressive behavior comes in a wide variety of forms, from seemingly harmless jokes to threats of violence, from interrupting to verbal abuse, from unwanted touching to rape, from hitting to murder. Some forms are more extreme and irreparable than others, but all are unacceptable under the Journal’s anti-oppression policy.

Goals

This policy aims to:

•affirm and protect the personal autonomy, safety and well-being of all who participate in the Journal, including short-term editors, long-term staff and volunteers;

•empower all Journal participants to challenge oppressive behavior and provide them with skills and resources to do so effectively (including educational materials, response strategies, etc.);

•nurture a strong, safe, healthy, reliable, egalitarian and diverse community surrounding the production of the Journal;

•make the Journal more accountable to both the Tucson community and the Earth First! movement;

•support and promote anti-oppression principles and practices within the editorial collective and the pages of Journal;

•overcome barriers preventing cooperation and solidarity with oppressed individuals and groups who feel unsafe or unwelcome at the Journal; and

•combat the troubling legacy of oppression that continues to plague the Journal, Earth First!, the radical environmental movement and our society as a whole.

Limitations

The Journal collective acknowledges the limitations of such a policy. Developing an anti-oppression policy is an ongoing process; this policy will undoubtedly need periodic review and revision. Additionally, this policy will not automatically make the Journal oppression-free, eliminate oppressive organizational structures and personal behaviors, or erase the grievances of previously oppressed and marginalized people. Realistically, our anti-oppression policy is only as strong as our commitment to addressing and confronting oppressive behavior on a regular basis.

Prevention and Education

The best way to deal with oppressive behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Therefore, the Journal collective will ensure that all editors, staff and volunteers are familiar with this policy, with the understanding that all participants in the Journal community are expected to abide by it. Additionally, we will support individuals who are unfamiliar with the terms and ideas used in this policy by making available more resources (e.g., zines, essays, books, websites and previous Journal articles) on topics such as: building conflict resolution skills; promoting consent and mental health; dealing with sexual assault, animal abuse and other forms of violence; confronting male/heterosexual/white privilege; and supporting anti-racist organizing and border justice.

Toward a Restorative Justice Model

Every instance of oppressive behavior is unique and thus requires a unique response. Moreover, different types of oppressive behavior demand significantly different reactions (e.g., the strategy for confronting someone who makes an anti-Semitic joke will be different from the strategy for confronting someone who commits a sexual assault). Nevertheless, there are some familiar patterns that often arise when challenging oppression. We believe that anticipating these patterns, avoiding counter-productive reactions and aiming for ideal outcomes will benefit nearly all anti-oppression processes.

One common response to oppressive behavior is to ignore or deny it. Oppressed groups are refused power and privilege, including the power to protect themselves and the privilege of being believed when they express grievances. This marginalizing response to oppression breeds an atmosphere that encourages even more oppression. All participants in the Journal community should consider it their responsibility to be aware of oppressive behavior, to challenge it actively whenever it occurs and to create a safe space for people facing oppression to share their experiences.

It is important to recognize that oppressive behavior occurs every day, often in seemingly trivial ways. For example, interrupting is a common behavior that reinforces power dynamics. Those with white/male/heterosexual privilege frequently interrupt or talk over those without this privilege, thereby marginalizing people of color, women and queer folks. Over time, seemingly minor interruptions, jokes, slurs and stereotypes can snowball into a pattern of oppression that is far more damaging than an isolated incident.

It is important to consider that some methods of challenging mundane oppression are more productive than others. For instance, instead of insulting someone for making a transphobic comment or voicing vague disapproval of such behavior, it is far more effective to clearly and calmly explain what about the comment was offensive and why, while providing as much specific information as possible. Offering resources on transgender issues would be a good next step. Likewise, acting aggressively defensive or passively guilty when being challenged for oppressive behavior is another common reaction. A far more effective response to being called out is to listen patiently and attentively to the grievance, take action by apologizing or making amends, and engage in further education and reflection on the situation.

When dealing with more extreme or violent instances of oppressive behavior, a common response is to expel the offender immediately, with no attempt at mediation or reconciliation. This can create a dynamic of demonization that does nothing to help the offender admit what they’ve done and change their behavior. It can also prevent the oppressed individual from achieving much-needed healing and closure, as well as create incurable rifts in the community at large. Moreover, immediately expelling an offender increases the likelihood that they will simply move on to other communities where they will continue their patterns of oppression. Thus, whenever possible and appropriate, the Journal collective favors the method of encouraging offenders to undertake an accountability process of education, introspection, self-growth and reparations.

While stressing the need for personal responsibility and accountability, the Journal collective also acknowledges that we have all been socialized into systems of power and privilege. At one time or another, every one of us will be an oppressor; at another time, every one of us will be oppressed. Although this does not absolve us of responsibility, it does emphasize the universal need for effective anti-oppression strategies. Our collective goal is to acknowledge and unlearn oppressive behaviors without rejecting anyone. This community-oriented approach to oppressive behavior is commonly referred to as “restorative justice.”

Nevertheless, the Journal collective realizes that this ideal outcome is not always possible. Even when reconciliation does occur, it often requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of the offender, the oppressed individual and the community as a whole. Therefore, while we view the reconciliation of all parties and the growth of the offender as desirable results, we must stress that any process for confronting oppression must be guided (whenever possible) by the oppressed individual and primarily concerned with their needs for dignity, healing and safety. If the oppressed individual’s needs cannot be met through mediation, reconciliation and accountability processes, or if the offender does not sufficiently participate in these processes, then the expulsion of the offender may be the only possible recourse.

Forming a Process

For the reasons presented above, the Journal collective believes that adopting a single process for dealing with all instances of oppressive behavior would be unrealistic and ultimately ineffective.

Eventually, the Journal collective would like this policy to include a diversity of comprehensive anti-oppression strategies, including effective communication, intervention, mediation, accountability and reconciliation processes, as well as a specific sexual assault response procedure. However, the creation of these measures will likely be a complicated and lengthy undertaking, and we believe that little would be gained by waiting to adopt this policy until such processes are in place.

In the meantime, the Journal collective will assemble and make available resources on anti-oppression procedures and diverse response strategies, so that these can be used for guidance and reference when challenging oppressive behavior.

Affirming Other Communities

Since the Journal collective is composed of a frequently rotating group of individuals from diverse communities, it can be difficult to ensure that the Journal is a safe space. For this reason, if someone (1) is involved with the Journal as an editor or volunteer, (2) has a background of oppressive behavior and (3) is required by a survivor, community or accountability process to reveal their background to individuals and groups they work with, then that person is expected to honor and abide by those requirements. This will allow us to respect and reaffirm other communities’ anti-oppression policies and processes, and it will help ensure that the Journal is a safer space for all.

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