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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’m proud to say that I work in a really supportive cooperative organisation that empowers other organisations to mobilise their causes online through web technologies. It’s pretty amazing work to be doing right now and a big switch-up from doing workshops to youth in the past.

A recent alarm was raised by a close friend and co-worker about our organisation being an oppressive space, which has caused a massive  debate about the validity of this complaint. Our organisation sees itself as being very  ‘progressive’  and it was clear that it’s members felt a sting from this comment…

Systemic Oppression in the Workplace

I’ve talked a lot with other people outside of our collective about oppression in the workplace. I’m shocked to hear about how frequently this still happens in companies. It is also heart breaking to hear from people who don’t fight back against this societal norm of oppression.

Why are we accepting to be treated in sexist, racist, homophobic, dominant, and diminishing ways?

I suppose we have to look at the fact that society doesn’t really raise us up to fight for what we feel is important. It’s also a case of power in some situations where we could be fired (as I have been) for calling out overtly oppressive situations.

We still have a stigma towards really addressing issues face on when people raise alarms. We tend to just shut them up rather than listen and make changes. In turn, it means that people who do speak out about things aren’t guaranteed any results and it could make the situation worse…

Solidarity + Safe spaces = Positive Future

In some ways the debate of who is responsible for what or whether a place is oppressive or not has become a major issue at my work. It really raised some alarm bells for me in terms of how we are dealing with these issues.

This is simple and clearcut to me.

We need to stop trying to find justification for people’s complaints and openly talk about their concerns. Full stop.

If someone doesn’t feel a space is safe, inhibits oppression, or has a complaint then ask them if they are okay and how they feel it could be changed. This is a means of support rather than further oppression (through justification). Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not, because in order to collectively work together we need to consider everyone’s boundaries when working/living/loving together in spaces. It’s just that easy.

On top of all of this I think as a main framework implementing systems to provide ways to report issues, create safety, and work on what needs changing is essential. We aren’t going to empower those within our organisations, our lives, our hearts without providing a space for them to speak up / speak out.

Showing Respect

This comes from not requiring other parties to really defend the validity of our complaints or concerns. It means…

  • Listening and trying to understand the complaint
  • Being aware
  • Thinking about the complaint and how we could make it safer for that person
  • Being humble
  • Discussing issues that you don’t understand (Note: This doesn’t conjure up ideas of getitng them to defend or provide examples)

Spending our energy on finding solutions rather than fighting a battle is way more productive and probably could solve most of the worlds problems. So this is a good reminder for me to just open my heart and listen.

Get In Line

I’m a huge believer in solidarity. I think the only way to really stop oppression is to raise flags when we see this being exhibited anywhere. Being an ally rather than passive simply means that we making it pretty clear to those around us that this is unacceptable. If we don’t show solidarity in banning together on these issues then we have less of a chance of really removing this from our patriotic system.

For society to progress we need to realise that lots of these things are difficult to unpack and unlearn. But with some heart, humanity, and humbness we can more so much closer to what we ideally want. With some concrete education on respect, love, and anti-oppression we move towards a society that respects itself and others. A society open to criticism, feedback, and shifting away from the history that we so tightly hold onto.

For me – well – I’m just going to keep striving to continue to listen, respect, learn, and grow in an anti-oppressive way.


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!

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,


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November 2020

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