This document outlines the intentions of the ‘If We Can’t Dance’ discussion group. It is not a safer spaces policy (we are not naive), but it does point towards processes for negotiating and resolving disputes and disagreements. While we embrace the empowering and dynamic potential of conflict, we repudiate and seek to break free from its negative expressions: oppression, injustice, and marginalisation.
As things stand, it is not possible to operate in society without experiencing these negative instantiations of conflict. To varying degrees—and in a multiplicity of ways—we are alienated, dominated, and subjected to discrimination. We reject this and aim to create a positive environment within which all individuals and groups are equally empowered. However, with sadness and anger we acknowledge that at this point in time no space can ever truly exist beyond the reach of repressive social structures. Acculturated into hierarchical modes of thought and behaviour, constantly surrounded by white supremacy and misogyny and countless other abhorrent forms of oppression, our interactions with others are always tainted by pre-existing hostilities.
Yet it does not follow from this acknowledgement of context that we cannot love and care for each other, that we cannot work to support and empower one another. This document can provide us with a number of tools for working towards creating spaces where people are comfortable and encouraged to challenge and discuss oppressive behaviours.
Primarily, but not exclusively, these discussions will be framed by anarcha-feminist and queer anarchist perspectives. Exploring these frames and their consequences for how we understand ourselves in this world will be a central aim of the discussion group.
♥ Tools for Change ♥
Creating safer social environments is up to all of us—yet the responsibility for bringing about change is not held equally. It is not the duty of the oppressed to bring about an end to their oppression, rather there is an imperative for those in a position of privilege to check themselves. We strive to be conscious of our privileges, first and foremost of which is the fact that we can read. We recognise the ways in which they impact on our views and how we engage with others.
A part of this practice is being aware of our language and behaviour, and thinking about whether it might be offensive to others. We are aware and open to the fact that at times the effect(s) of our actions and words will differ from our intentions. Furthermore, no matter how good our intent may be, we acknowledge that we can never excuse our actions by referring to our intentions.
We acknowledge that everyone has different experiences to which we are sensitive, and that we can speak only for ourselves. Nevertheless, every attempt must be made to be aware and engage empathetically with the experiences of others.
For those not of Indigenous heritage, we recognise ourselves as inheritors and benefactors of a colonial history. This is a complicity in the past and present destruction, displacement, and genocide of the original peoples of Australia. These peoples and their experiences must be acknowledged at every gathering of this group, and we strive to surpass the tokenistic attitude that often accompanies such acts of recognition.
We agree that interpersonal behaviour should respect physical and emotional boundaries and should not make people uncomfortable. Practicing a robust politics of consent will help us to foster positive, respectful, and empowering relationships.
The use of drugs and alcohol is understood to be a personal responsibility and no excuse for unacceptable behaviour.
Ideally conflict should be resolved non-violently, however we are not pacifists. When other means of communication have been removed or disempowered, we recognise that violence can be a valid and constructive mode of expression. Likewise, anger and emotion do not invalidate a person’s claim to be heard.
Every time that the group gathers a grievance officer will be appointed and the process for contacting them made known. Time will be allotted at the end of gathering for checking out (for creating an environment where people can discuss together and reflect on the dynamics of the group).
It is acceptable for anyone to leave the group and the space in which we are meeting at any time. No explanation or justification for this choice has to be given.
Relevant trigger warnings should be provided before any group or personal discussion.
Behaviour or language that does not adhere to the guidelines outlined in this document can be challenged by the group or by individuals within the group. Ideally such challenges institute a discussion and are not framed in hostile terms. They are never to be used as a tool for garnering social capital for oneself.
Being called out on our behaviour and language can make us feel vulnerable and anxious, however we embrace these moments as opportunities for learning, for changing the way we understand the world and operate within it.
Anyone who is unwilling to sincerely engage in a discussion about their behaviour or language and who continues to cause people to feel uncomfortable may be asked to leave.
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We will apply our manifesto to the best of our ability in whatever location we may find ourselves meeting.
While it is intended to serve as a point of reference, this document is neither prescriptive nor definitive. Revision and redrafting are encouraged.