Statement on the Patriarchy and the Movement event – Portland 2/28/2013

We, the organizers of the event titled “Patriarchy and the Movement”, have been asked to write a statement about our position on what unfolded in Portland, in the Red and Black, after the panel. We have asked for and welcome open critiques and dialogue concerning how the panel could have been done better.

Our experience
Organizers of this event have received an overwhelming positive response from attendees of the event who found the panel empowering and important. Many responses are encouraging that these conversations continue, and that resistance to patriarchy in the radical community is taken seriously. We have even heard that people who have engaged in damaging patriarchal behaviors have begun to seriously acknowledge these actions following the event.

Before going on, we had heard that there were rumblings in the community ahead of the event that some folks thought we had plans to singularly call out certain guys, or to
particularly call out our ex-boyfriends. These comments are insulting, sexist, and ridiculous. It is depressing that our politics, or even our concerns, are often reduced and minimized in this way, to “personal vendettas” or “attacks”. We did not organize the event in order to call anyone out, and this event had nothing to do with anyone’s ex-partners. The fact that people were ruminating over the personal lives and past relationships of organizers in the context of this event feels like a privacy violation, it is unprincipled, and it has been triggering. We organized this event because of conversations happening up and down the west coast, and because there has obviously been a need to put forth an anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist feminist politic and to develop an anti-patriarchy praxis, and simply, because we are militant feminists.

We would like to speak directly to the events that unfolded during the discussion that took place after the panel, and after the live stream was turned off. We understand that there may be variety of experiences and perspectives in the room, and we will share ours, and also share our political positions on these discussions. We also understand that what took place during the discussion caused an uproar, and a lot of political controversy. We would like to point out that if what happened during a single public discussion in a single event caused such a political crisis, it is clear to us that issues of patriarchy needed to be addressed for a long time, and must continue to be addressed politically and in the open.

Our last panelist was a clinical psychologist from Oakland who we invited to speak on the topic of “patriarchy and trauma”. As he began his speech, he called himself out for
supporting a member of the Portland community, who we will call X, while X was enacting patriarchal and damaging behaviors while engaged with an accountability process which neither was the subject of. He also called out X for these behaviors, and connected this to the re-traumatizing of the survivor. He then went on to complete his speech.

After about 4 or 5 attendees spoke during the question and answer section of the discussion, some attendees identifying as members of a support committee of a survivor also spoke about their experiences with X in the aforementioned accountability process, and their political analysis of this experience. What we understand from what was said, the particular attendees called out X for putting the survivor in danger during an accountability process, talking in sexist ways within the community about the survivor, divulging personal information about her, and for severely discrediting the survivor and other members of her support group in the larger community.

Directly afterwards, an attendee identifying themselves as former members of an organization in which X was a member stood up with a pre-written statement in counter-response to the experience that the first group had expressed about X. This pre-written statement has been identified by the Red and Black collective as a violation of their safer space policy.

After the pre-written statement was read, a member of the Pink Tape collective stood up on behalf of another survivor, who was unaffiliated with the first group who called out X. It was then that X was called out yet again. This survivor stood up later and said that X had questioned her and doubted her when she was sexually assaulted.

Many things that were said had the potential to trigger people in the room, and it’s likely that many of those things did. However, it was our experience from our vantage point sitting facing the room, that many of the attendees became particularly triggered when the pre-written statement was read. The room seemed to fall apart in this moment. In attending discussions about the event after the event itself, and in taking care of people in the aftermath, we have heard a few different people state that they “could not bear to listen to the statement all the way through” or “began shaking during the reading of the statement” because of the triggering effect. Some of the organizers were also triggered by the statement. People have also expressed, both the night of the panel and in the aftermath, that they have serious political disagreements with the statement. This no doubt contributed to the upset in the room when it was read.

Our Political Position on the Pre-Written Statement
We as organizers would like to extend our support to all who attended and were triggered during the discussion, for whatever reason they were triggered, and we hope that everyone is taking care of themselves and each other. We would particularly like people to know that we do not politically support the statements made in the pre-written statement, nor do we think it was appropriate or necessary to come to this particular discussion with this pre-written statement. We do not support bringing the “questions” posed within the pre-written statement into that particular space.

There are a few reasons for our position:

1. The “questions” within the pre-written statement did not appear to actually be questions for discussion; rather, these were the type of “questions” which in of themselves asserted a conclusion, and a certain line. To use a question format does not excuse the political line pushed within the question.

2. The conclusions, or political lines, that these “questions” asserted are lines that are classically used by perpetrators and/or those supporting, surrounding, or backing
perpetrators or abusers, either against survivors or as a way to shield the perpetrator. This was immediately recognizable to many.

3. For us, these statements and “questions” are not a matter of “political disagreement”, and framing it as such is insincere. It is insincere because this “political disagreement” was asserted in a specific context of responding to X being called out, and was posed in the form of qualifying the validity of the actions of person X for which he had been called out on. Thus, we repeat that ironically, this same line did not appear as open political discourse or sincere questions, but rather as a way to shield the person who had been called out.

Adding irony to irony, the statements made actually discouraged open discourse, in that they minimized, silenced, and were dismissive of the reasons that X had been called out, and yet the justification for this has been in the name of open discourse. The statements also in and of themselves minimized, silenced, and were dismissive of survivors talking safely about their needs.

We also feel that framing the discourse around survivor’s needs as “political disagreements” or “political arguments” is in of itself sexist- as it pretends that this conversation should be emptied of subjective narrative, or that there is an equal playing ground in the conversation because the conversation itself isn’t about real power, or that this conversation itself isn’t already racialized and gendered. It is also problematic, in that it suggests that there is a neutral or objective rationality in this debate, rather than the possibility that the debate itself and the content of the debate is a socially contingent result of prevailing power dynamics. This isn’t qualifiably the same, nor does it have the same implications, as having a political disagreement over Trotsky for example. There are direct consequences to these “debates”, and there physical bodies involved. As survivors and feminists, we must become cautious when our bodies our safety, and our well-being, as well as our needs around our bodies, safety, and well beings, become the subject of “political debate”. We also need to have some political and real autonomy from cis men in discussions that concern our own needs and well-being.

For us, there is more at stake here than just the merits of a “debate”. Our bodies, safety, health, personal autonomy, and well-beings are at stake. We do not agree with people having a “political argument” at our expense. The outcome could be life or death for us.

4. The line offered by the pre-written statement was one that, as we quickly saw unfold, had the effect of collectively silencing, disempowering, and triggering people. As we said before, there were people in the room were not capable of listening to the whole statement. Whatever the supposed justification or intention of this statement was, this was the effect, and we cannot support it. This was the immediate consequence in terms of trauma.

5. Beyond the immediate effects, the pre- written statement has also had a lasting and awful effect on the psyche of many survivors who were present, and has embodied a lot of the trauma that survivors have suffered. While taking care of those triggered after the event, we have heard several survivors say things to the effect of “the things said in that statement were exactly why I didn’t tell anyone I was assaulted.” This also points to the political implications of the statement being silencing.

6. The pre-written statement carried a line that had the potential of emboldening or empowering abusers or perpetrators in the space.

7. The pre-written statement may have the effect of emboldening or empowering abusers in the future, as now the needs of survivors have been put out in the public as something to be questioned, a point of “tension”, or a “subject of debate”. The needs of survivors have been scandalized by this statement, and that is worrisome to us. (We encourage community members to be aware and vigilant of possibilities of this effect within the community, not only in terms of emboldening perpetrators, but also on those currently trying to identify, survive, and leave an abusive dynamic, or those wishing to speak up.)

8. The statement carried an argument that painted men who have been called out as “victims” of feminist processes, of being called out, or of accountability processes
themselves. One of the ways in which it did this was by stating that the concerns about X were “personalized attacks”. We do not politically support this line of arguing, nor or these accusations, nor the political implications of saying that concerns over patriarchal behavior is purely “personal”. We think it is a classic line-that men are victimized when called out on patriarchal behavior, or minimizing feminist or survivor concerns, to a “personal attack” rather than these concerns being over a real embodied sexist structure in behavior that should be addressed and changed. We think this is extremely silencing, and that it also is reflective of dominant sexist paradigm, and we do not politically support it.

9. It was completely unnecessary, triggering, and inappropriate to come into a space where survivors are present (and obviously survivors would be present at an anti-patriarchy event) and actively and verbally support someone who has been called out, by two different, unaffiliated people, for damaging survivors. No matter what he was being called out on, naturally, survivors witnessing this were imagining and projecting the ways that people would support their abusers, or have supported their abusers, and this was overwhelming and traumatic.

10. Despite the fact that the person who read the pre-written statement was defending the character of the person called out, she did not come prepared whatsoever with any
commitment from person X that would reassure the community or the people in the space that his damaging behaviors have stopped or would stop. When a second survivor came forward, again, unaffiliated with the first group, she was also not met with a response committing to making sure the behaviors would change. Rather, she was asked outside of the space to have a face to face talk with person X.

11. It seemed further unnecessary to bring the pre-written statement into that space, as it became more clear that it was not directly linked to most of the debate by the panel itself (it was pre-written anyway and could not have known what would be talked about on the panel), though it ironically in of itself embodied much of the patriarchal mechanisms that were talked about during the panel. When one of the organizers asked the person who had read the statement to politically back up the statement, and to identify a “political criteria” for the statement, she was only able to respond to X’s character once again.

As we have noted, this pre-written statement violated the Red and Black safer space policy, triggered many people, may have emboldened perpetrators, was antithetical to crucial points of feminist praxis around survivor safety, was politically problematic in various ways, and did not show any commitment that X should change his behaviors, even despite another survivor coming forward. On all ends, we want to politically distance ourselves from this statement, and we were shocked and dismayed that this took place at an anti-patriarchy event.

Further Experiences and Retrospect:
The organizers would like to note that the event and the discussion afterwards were separate pieces. We organized and planned the political content of the event itself, and only planned the discussion afterwards in terms of moderation, not in terms of content.

We would like people to be aware that leading up to the event, person X questioned the event on a national listserv. This questioning appeared to be asking about the politics of the event, but person X also asked specifically who was speaking. Organizers explained that panelists would not be revealed because we wanted to avoid panelists being approached or intimidated ahead of the event, and we also wanted to avoid attempts at manipulating the content of the event, as we have had experience with this in the past. We also explained the general politics of the panelists. Even so, person X continued to question the content of the event, and said that he would not commit to supporting the event without knowing the experiences, background, and proposals of those involved, which seemed to be a lot of to ask.

On the same national listserv, person X then expressed political views over the content of the event, but without having knowledge of what the actual content of the panel was. Also, people close to X, including members of his former organization, in two different cities, expressed reservations to other comrades about the politics of the event before the event happened, stating that they would “disagree” with the content of the event or that people should be “cautious”. Person X was the only person we know of who so aggressively questioned the event. We were dumbfounded and confused about why people presumed to know what the political content of the event would be, and why that presumed content was continuously and publically questioned, by members of the same former organization, before the event even happened. While everyone else expressed excitement over the event, in the aftermath, it now seems to us that the group of people politically questioning the event were those concerned that a former member of their organization would be called out by people attending the event during the discussion, and they were also the same people who were aware that a statement was being prepared.

It seems unprincipled to us, as organizers, as people who put effort into making these conversations alive, that our political work itself should be questioned because of the possibility of certain people attending the event, or that our political work itself should be scrutinized in order to shield a single member of the community from being called out.  Although we kept public anonymity, people locally knew who was organizing the event; one could see on FB who was hosting the event as well. None of the people expressing reservation came to us directly or attempted to seek us out and have open conversation, or let us know they were coming to the event with a prepared statement. Instead, from what we understand, there were rumors flying and accusations being made that the organizers themselves had underhanded motives.

For us, the course of all this has been pretty bizarre.

We would like to reflect on the space we found ourselves in during the discussion after the panel. While we have discussed what we could have done better to facilitate a discussion on the topic of patriarchy in the movement, it was extremely difficult to moderate a discussion at a certain point, as our own panelists and moderators became triggered and upset. Our own panelists and moderators had to leave the space at different points, and take care of people who had been triggered. If anyone would like to contact the organizers and give us suggestions for what we could have done better when the discussion became triggering and difficult, we welcome dialogue. However, a few of us have had experience in organizing similar debates in the past, and although we have seen people called out before, we have never seen what transpired that night.

Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the Red and Black for their impressive show of solidarity and hospitality in accommodating this event. Members of the collective stepped up, without being asked, and helped organize childcare, made extra space, and did the entire tech support for this event. They also donated a part of the profit they made to the event. We are glad that male-identified members of Red and Black helped with some of the grunt work for this event, as well as organizing childcare, as this work typically falls on women. Knowing that survivors of patriarchal violence would likely be attending and possibly speaking at this event, we decided to hold this event in the Red and Black because of their safer space policy. We would like to support the public statement that Red and Black published regarding their safer space policy in the aftermath of the event, and we also applaud their collective in the efforts that they make in their objective of holding up their safer space policy and supporting survivors. See the Red and Black statement here: http://www.redandblackcafe.com/statement-in-response-to-2-28-13-event-2/

We would also like to thank members of the Pink Tape Collective, who identified themselves as possible support people should anyone become triggered. We want to also applaud members of the Pink Tape Collective for their efforts in providing support during the discussion and in the days following. We would like to note that the work that the Pink Tape is a collective focused on survivor support, and this collective engages in often exhausting thankless work, yet work that is absolutely necessary for the safety, healing, and overall survival of members of our communities. This work is unfortunately not often regarded as political, and thus we would like to extend an invitation to the Pink Tape Collective to make a statement regarding the discussion following the event as well, not only because they were impacted in terms of survivor support in the aftermath, but also because we do see this as political and because of the nature of the discussion following the event we feel the Pink Tape Collective has a critical voice in the subsequent discussions.

We would also like to thank all of the panelists. We understand that participating in an event of this sort and speaking out against patriarchy in the movement carries a serious and real risk. We often censor ourselves on this issue, out of fear of the consequences of being directly undermined or discredited for speaking up or politicizing our experiences. We applaud the panelists for their fearlessness as well as for the work that they put into their powerful presentations.

In the aftermath of the event, and what we heard during the discussion, the following has become obvious to us, and we suggest that the community take up some considerations:

-There was a need expressed by many in the discussion that childcare has to become more paramount in our communities, that there is an extreme work burden put on parents and single mothers, but that doing childcare or other work of this sort should not excuse members of the communities from their patriarchal behaviors and filling in this work is not a source of “immunity.”

-There is a need to educate ourselves and others on trauma- to understand how people become traumatized or re-traumatized, what is triggering for people, and the harm and damage that triggering people causes. We need to understand what trauma symptoms look like, and work to create an environment that is supportive of trauma survivors. We also need to understand how to care for people who are traumatized or triggered, and deconstruct the way this care is gendered. We need to be aware and call out members of the community who attack trauma survivors or ostracize people suffering trauma from the political community.

-Work around survivor support has fallen on a select few, and neither the work nor the politic behind it is appreciated enough or given enough attention. There is a need to support collectives such as the Pink Tape Collective.

-There is a need to hold more feminist meetings, a need to talk more openly about patriarchy and oppression people are dealing with currently, to make more copies of zines on these subjects, and to put out more resources in the community.(If in the aftermath of the event and seeing how serious and real these issues are, men are still unsure about what to do, one easy suggestion may be to begin by educating themselves and also taking on responsibility for printing and distributing zines on these subjects.)

-There is a need to listen to people other than cis white men.

-There is a need to question men who are discrediting women in the community

-There is a need to talk directly with other members of the community, instead of behind people’s backs

-There is a need to hold feminist reading groups- groups in which non-men can study what they want to without the presence of cis men, as well as mixed gendered groups where people can study feminism together

-There is a need to speak up and write more

-There is a need to stand up for feminists in the community who are taking risks by speaking out, and have their backs

-There is a need to eat more often and drink more coffee and beer at the Red and Black, as their space is a very important resource in Portland, and their collective are allies in feminist organizing, and they have suffered hard times financially. Also, this space is a safer space. Hold your meetings at the Red and Black!

Don’t be afraid to speak up, and resist. Every time we speak out, we empower others to do the same. Don’t be intimidated by the mechanisms which are classically used to silence and discredit us. Other feminists who have had similar experiences will have your back and be there for you. We are many more than you think. Resistance begins when fear stops.

Take care of each other,

In solidarity and struggle, the Organizers of the Patriarchy and the Movement event,
Oakland, Portland, Seattle.

 

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