Breaking barriers

We come to radical spaces or events hoping that we can be ourselves, and it can be heartbreaking to discover that the same barriers and hierarchies we experience in mainstream society are often recreated in these contexts. Whether it is certain people talking over everyone else, class assumptions, someone calling the cops or sexual assault, it sucks to find that we are once again on the margins. What can we do to make our spaces more inclusive and egalitarian?

We all bring our histories with us. Each of us is a unique combination of identities and experiences, so what we need to participate fully in community or collectives looks pretty different. Part of making our anti-oppression ideas stick is understanding how we have been trained to marginalize others or to expect marginalization. This can manifest itself physically or socially, as we develop more inclusive spaces.

First, we must do an inventory for ourselves. What identities do I embody that normalize or prioritize me? What identities do I embody that marginalize or disempower me? Consider sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, age, citizenship, religion… When I interact with others, what do I need to a) check in myself and b) know others will accommodate for / include?

Spelling out these boundaries from the beginning is much easier than stopping in the middle of an interaction. For example, non-masculine-identified people are often trained not to take on physical tasks, so making space for each participant to learn / explore / do with the level of instruction they desire is a reasonable accommodation. When planning a public action, the group could consider who is most vulnerable to state violence — such as people of color or people without papers — and find out what risk level feels acceptable to them. In brainstorming or discussion, giving everyone access to background material and acknowledging our theoretical assumptions can increase participation.

Often it is small differences that add up. Taking good stack at a meeting so each person gets their turn, or using phrases like “I agree” instead of “You’re right”, can change the power balance and set precedence for people with more marginalized identities to step up. The (inclusive) heroes of our stories, the focus of our resources, and an increased accessibility of radical culture can all increase participation by people who work for a better world but haven’t found solidarity in the radical scene.