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Tree SilhouettesOver the last year, I have found myself in several fairly interesting discussions about community development work. Not in the nature of actually building empowerment within communities or the struggles associated with that but something just as significant. Everyone knows this type of work takes time, effort, energy, dedication, collaboration and plenty of other elements in the mix. Reflecting through a social justice lens this also means that we have to look at community work through the complexities of culture, communities, privilege and class to name a few.

So what was the discussion around? The precarious nature of internal dynamics of organizations.

Frequently, I had conversations with friends, workers and acquaintances over the frustrations of internal dynamics and structures. The conversation usually starts with comments surrounding their voices were not readily heard, continuous structural changes, and overall diminished sense of empowerment. The workers essentially become disenchanted and either leave or just stay until their contracts end. All this to say, this nature of community organizing lacks a sense of desire for others to replace them.

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[I recognize that some people might read this article and find it hard — or _I hope not_ offensive. Please comment and write in the comments cause really the point of this is to create a discussion not prove my point]

It’s interesting working in several organizations and seeing the various dynamics and relationships that exist within them. Most recently I’ve been working in a pretty large cooperative that contained at moments up to 35 people and now more around 25 people (on a good day). Our mission is to support other organizations attain their goals online through the use of open source software. It’s interesting, nerdy, and fun to help people realize new and cool things they can do online. And most importantly, at least for me, is to be able to break that _hard-ass_ bubble barrier that technology creates for folks. Yep you go it technology empowerment!

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On Friday night I attend a talk by Andrea Smith who spoke about the racism that exists in North America around the Violence against Native Women and the struggle of indigenous peoples.

Andrea Smith is a Cherokee feminist and anti-violence activist who is the the  co-founder for INCITE! An aloquint speaker i found that I was really drawn into the points that she made around systemic racism that exists in our North American culture around peoples of colour.

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For a moment consider the following classic scenario.

A womyn is working at a work place and her male manager begins to making explicit derogatory comments towards his fellow employee (read: comments ranging from sexuality, having sex, or competency – choose your own adventure). Most often followed by physical gestures towards this individual (read: winking, pinching, touching, etc.)

There are laws in place to indicate that the manager is at fault, because in this way his actions are creating a dynamic that is oppressing this womyn in the workplace. Tragically this type of situation is still happening and encouraging inequality.

Forms of Oppression

These days forms of oppression can happen in many different facets be it verbal, physical, or even mental abuse (in the form of non-verbal).

Mental abuse is actually a harder action to trace back to its origin mainly because the action itself is displayed through non-verbal actions (walking away, disregarding peoples thoughts, ignoring, not attempting to solve conflict, etc). Understandably, statistics indicate that mental abuse is the hardest form of abuse to prove. In contrast, physical and verbal forms of abuse are far more tangible and present.

Society still struggles with recognising that this is a true form of abuse. What’s interesting is that in the example above there are actually two forms of abuse happening. The manager making a sexual comment to his employee and then winking is indicative of both verbal and non-verbal abuse.

Resolving Oppression

At the base of this all it’s really important to stop any form of oppression or abuse.

  • Tell people – It’s important to tell people around you what is happening to bring more awareness to the actions.
  • Talk to the abuser – Not always the easiest option. Sometimes impossible (sometimes it’s easier to just leave I know). But realising that it’s not going to change that person if you don’t talk to them about what is going on for you. Using a facilitator can be helpful to ensure that no further abuse takes place.

Enter stage left… (Solidarity is the key)

The concept of solidarity is to create a pact of common responsibilities and interests around issues.

  • A pact – Creating a pact with other people who could be affected in this situation too (coworkers, friends, etc)
  • Solidarity – Collectively demand an end to the action
  • Actions – Taking actions like work-to-rule, striking, collectively resigning, or demanding the resignation or leaving.

What’s interesting is that it’s not about taking one persons side, but more about trying to balance the table. Demanding that an action does take place. If the person being oppressed has taken action and the oppressor has not recipricated the power is still in their hands. The crux of the problem.

We are all human and do make mistakes, but we need to be responsible for our actions in life. Intentions are great but actions are stronger. Actions have brought this world to what it is today whether we agree with it or not.

(Thanks Sarah for your awesome insight in this)

A million years ago I wrote about how bothered I was that people tend to always look at external things to judge people’s level of education, social standing, and other things. That it bothered me that I came from a certain ethnic standing because it gave me social standing that I’d rather not have.

Frankly, it’s something that comes up in my mind from time to time. More that I feel this massive need to help out those that aren’t in the same social networks, benefits, or situation that I am. For a while I volunteered a long time with Food Not Bombs in Calgary to try and help out people who just needed something to eat (yes some people don’t really like going to homeless shelters to get food cause they can feel a bit intimidated).

I wonder at times if people forget that a lot of ethnicities (refugees) end up taking on a lot of the jobs that help support the existing culture that we sustain each day. It’s the immigrants in Canada and even in Australia that are working the late shifts at gas stations, packing food on shelves, and cleaning stores when they shut. I appreciate that and at the same time feel a little disheartened because I know that some of these (many taxi drivers I’ve met and chatted with) actually have engineering degrees from foreign countries that they can’t seem to get recognized in Australia or Canada.

I guess for me it just enhances the fact that I realize there is a need for me to really continue to strive to break down those barriers between the class structure I was raised in and others. Try and find ways in which I can integrate myself with more of these people (and frankly I feel more connected with them to begin with because like Ecuador they seem to value things that are more important to me).

What brought all this home for me was watching the Chilean movie Machuca.

“In 1973, in Santiago of Chile of the first socialist president democratically elected in a Latin-American country, President Salvador Allende, the principal of the Saint Patrick School, Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran) makes a trial of integration between students of the upper and lower classes. The bourgeois boy Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer) and the boy from the slum Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) become great friends, while the conflicts on the streets leads Chile to the bloody and repressive military coup of General Augusto Pinochet on 11 September 1973, changing definitely their lives, their relationship and their country.” – IMB

At about the half way point I was crying and from that point onward the movie really brought you closer to the reality of what can happen in social situations (not only from politics but also because of social class systems). It was a beautiful reminder that breaking down berries, helping out those that aren’t in the same situation as ours, and sharing what you’ve got is the only way that we can help to create a sustainable fair world. And I know I can do that!

This one has been bothering me for sometime now.

I went to an amazing festival this last weekend for three days (more on this later) called the Global Carnival. Amazing music, peeps, and dancing!

While at the Global Carnival this last weekend I went to a workshop where a womyn (sorry I tried to find her name online but was unable to do so) was speaking about the connections between various activist types and groups. I have to admit that she did a great job during her discussion and made me think about where I stand with my activist work.

During her discussion she relayed a story where she was working for the government. She met for dinner with a guy whom was an Indian Diplomat and as they were discussing what she was doing with her life and work she made some realizations. The details aren’t important though …

What was important is that during her relay of this conversation she broke out into an Indian accent. Broken english and all. Funny cause lots of activist types do that out here in OZ and it’s something that I’ve been having a hard time with these days.

So reign in your opinions I want to hear them.

  1. Is is racist to imitate another person’s use of the English language? My thought is that it is. Mainly because in either telling a joke or relaying a story that imitates another person’s accent you are making fun of them. Look at it from this perspective — what’s the relevance of using the accent? I found it interesting to me in Ecuador last year and be teased by Spanish people (some kind teasing and some not so kind) about my lack of Spanish knowledge. Pretty humbling experience that one…
  2. So if it’s not appropriate to make fun of languages (other races) does it make it acceptable to make fun of white western languages (or am I taking this to far?) Yah ok I’m sensitive to these things. I sorta feel like it’s the same thing as a black guy calling another black guy niger. It’s that they are taking back that name and using it amongst themselves. Clearly not appropriate for me. But for me to make fun of other people within my culture is totally fine I figure cause well there isn’t racism potential in that (or so I can see).

Fire me back with comments. I’m curious. Is that not contributing to oppressive language or not considering that someone isn’t being respected?

It’s funny because in Canada we don’t actually do things like that…well I haven’t been to conferences where people imitate individuals like that unless they are of the same race I suppose.

Kinda wanted to do an anti-oppression workshop of sorts here at the trust and have been diggin around on the net for stuff…

In the process I came across this (read: Shut the fuck up! or, How to act better in meetings). Funny cause I was the one that had to bring this forward in the B.C. Crew so that we were all aware of the amount of talking space we do in meetings and around other people. It’s pretty amazing when you look at how much you are talking and how little you aren’t asking others how they are doing, what’s new, or trying to tell them what they are thinking.

Now don’t take this as an insult or read into what the post is. I think there are points there that we can all learn from whether we think that we contribute in some ways or not. I think the point is that we are more sensitive to how we contribute.

And yes I’m totally guilty of this too folks…and still found myself reading this and going…”Shit house I’m still doing this…”

Life’s a journey..

Hope this all finds you well,

Shane