BOISE, IDAHO: A successful workshop at the Intermountain Fair Housing Council!
On Wednesday, March 6th, I hosted an anti-oppression workshop at the Intermountain Fair Housing Council. The room was full of new experiences for everyone. About 13 people attended the workshop. We were crammed into a tiny office; there was barely room for everyone to sit around the table! I was both excited at the turn out, and a little nervous. My usual crowd at workshops consists of anarchists, punks, grassroots organizers, and students. How would radical ideas and tools be understood by folks who had perhaps never heard of them before?
Boise, Idaho has a large nonprofit community, but a very small radical presence. This presented some challenges for me. For example, being the first to present racism specifically as a system of white supremacy to a group of mostly white folks was intimidating for me when designing the workshop modules. Also, I was very aware that most folks had never heard of terms like “cis-sexism” and “heterosexism.” What would that mean for the safety of the room?
Designing the workshop, I had a few goals in mind.
1. Establish a systemic definition of oppression. This way, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, cis/heterosexism could be discussed on structural levels that allowed folks to understand that participation in these systems is not a choice you can opt in or out of. I wanted to get across the reality that calling yourself an ally doesn’t erase your privilege.
2. Write a privilege checklist that was relevant to their common cause: fair housing. This way, folks could draw from their own experiences as advocates to explore their privilege.
3. Be very clear about community agreements.
4. Come to common understandings of concepts such as safer spaces and consent in order to introduce tools/structures to uphold these ideas in advocacy work.
The training was 4 hours long, which seems like a long time but really falls short of the kinds of discussions folks ended up having. I was really pleased with how eager folks seemed to explore new definitions and to check their own privileges. Every one was really honest about their positions. There were also many, many questions! It seemed as though people were really eager to learn all the new terms that were thrown their way.
I also was really surprised at how engaging the safer spaces conversation was. I asked folks to try to come up with what a safer space looks like – and I got so many creative answers. People explored physical space issues such as accessibility, scents/perfumes/chemicals, whether it is in a religious building or not, if there was adequate seating/exits, whether an interpreter was needed, etc. They also explored emotional space issues such as identities/privileges of folks in the room, who feels encouraged to speak, whether consent is being practiced, and more. I was really excited about this moment. It was clear that people had a deep understanding of the need for safer spaces because of their advocacy work – but just didn’t have a word to attach to it! Hopefully, this will be a lasting experience of empowerment and intention.
Different folks ended up taking different concepts and tools away from the workshop. Many were struck by the privilege worksheet in very real ways – admitting that after working with underprivileged communities for so long, it was helpful for them to check their own privilege and understand that they could never speak to someone else’s experiences. Others found the understanding of consent as a culture helpful in their day to day decision making.
In the end, I learned something about Boise’s community of advocates and social workers. Many have never heard the language of radical anti-oppressive community building – but they are so ready for it. In this town, where oppression is quiet, yet so overbearingly present, putting names on systemic issues that advocates have been battling for years is extremely powerful and appreciated. For a long time, I’ve been saddened by the lack of radical presence here. But now, I feel that there is a place for these ideas and a real need for them. The experience seemed to be eye opening for every one involved. The nonprofit world is constricting as ever, and many are ready to break through the walls and tackle community building from the ground up – to take the term “no decisions about us, without us” seriously. I feel honored to help facilitate this journey towards radical autonomy.
I’ll be doing a few more workshops in the near future and I’ll be sure to update. Any one who is interested in seeing the training modules I used, feel free to ask!
In struggle from Idaho,