For those of you who don’t me, I have been peripherally associated with the
Van Slam community since I reconnected with Jessica Mason-Paull over a year ago.
I’ve done an eensy bit of volunteering here and there. Mostly, however, I just adore
this creative and incredible bunch of folks who give voice to struggling artists and a
chance for the rest of us to be touched by that art. It’s no small thing that y’all do for
us in terms of nurturing our souls and for that, I am deeply grateful.
I’ve also been an activist for a good chunk of my life. In the early ‘90s, I got involved
with environmental issues, but have had my hands in many pots over the years.
Most recently, I was involved with Occupy Vancouver, which has been struggling
with its own issues around community safety. I was honoured to be invited to
attend the community safety workshop for Van Slam led by Tara Hardy and this
piece is just some of what I’ve been processing since.
When this blog was first posted and it received over 7,000 hits in just two days,
Jessica Mason-Paull made the very astute comment, “You’d think people were
desperate for a model about how to deal with sexual assault or something”.
Because this isn’t just an issue that affects a handful of people in one small
community. Given the statistics about how widespread this issue is, and I’m not
going to link them here because they are easily Googleable, this is clearly something
that every community everywhere has an issue with, whether they choose to talk
about it or not.
Which brings me to my next point: the fact that some people are choosing to
talk about it is not the problem. Hold on, let me repeat that for emphasis: THE
FACT THAT PEOPLE ARE CHOOSING TO TALK ABOUT SAFE SPACE AND SEXUAL
ASSAULT IS NOT THE PROBLEM. For too long in too many communities, and from
sources I wouldn’t expect, when people bring up this issue, they are accused of being
During the Van Slam Family Meeting and Safe Space workshop, Tara Hardy said
something that Jessica pointed out was very profound (and I wholeheartedly
agree): that one of the indicators of safe space was that people were talking about
violence. By remaining silent about this issue, we are not creating cohesion in
our communities; we are simply ignoring a problem and allowing it to fester. By
refusing to talk about this, we are deepening divisions THAT ALREADY EXIST.
Blaming the people who are pointing out what’s wrong is not actually solving the
problem and further creates the very fertile grounds for abuse/harassment/assault
Many people have silently left our communities or have stayed and not said
anything until now in order to take care of their very real need for personal safety
– I think that they are indicators of our inability to effectively address what’s been
going on for far too long. It has been heartening for me to witness people coming
forward in this process to take responsibility for allowing this to happen. Hell, the
rest of us are all responsible for this.
By taking that up that responsibility, Van Slam is helping us to create the container
that allows us to face this together; this whole process strengthens us and facilitates
what a friend of mine in other parts of the internets has called “A Habitat for Love”.
By bringing their experiences forward under the larger umbrella of community safety, the folks
at Van Slam have done the very hard work of making a space for this process to
develop and they should be commended, not berated. My own experience with
addressing these sorts of issues in other communities comes from a place of deep
love and respect and a desire to build a viable, supportive space.
I know I’ve learned a lot from what the Van Slam has done thus far and my hope is
that we can all do the same and take this process to heart. Moving forward, I see a
whole lot of opportunity for us all to act in strong support of one another to create
the healthy, loving and vibrant communities that we all envision.
In Loud, Loving Solidarity and Massive Appreciation,