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Activist Communique: Patriarchy within the movement sucks, too

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I'm not new to activism. This isn't my first rodeo.

That said, I still sometimes fall into the mythical trap of assuming that everyone within the Toronto activist community has already dealt with their 'ism' issues and thus are better people for it.

I forget that even activists who proclaim to be anti-oppressive, anti-racist, anti-disablist [thanks for the term, AJ], anti-queer, anti-sexist (to mention a few "isms") still live in a capitalist driven culture and even grew up immersed in the primordial soup of oppression.

That said, I sometimes get badly burned when I let my guard down under this assumption and a participant within the activist community acts in (naming the behaviour) a threatening, intimidating, violent, misogynist way.

How could we as a community let our collective guard down and let someone like that in our midst? And why do they still hold an elemental position within our community when his survivors have been calling for accountability for his actions (from him and from the community for not supporting his "victims" when they came forward?)

I have lost sleep over this. And as I stare at my ceiling at night, I ask myself questions like:

-- "Was I wrong to challenge this guy on his violent behaviour?"

-- "Am I being too sensitive? This is politics after all."

-- "Should I just toughen up since I am outspoken and on the front lines and should just get used to catching flak?"

-- "Sometimes, I wish I had just shut up about it, because when I raised my concerns, a group of mostly male but a few female activists ran to support and shun me?"

I don't like admitting to being kept awake by these questions and doubts. After all, I want to look mighty in the face of this horrible situation and act like this isn't getting to me. But it is.

I have reached out and received council and support from different Elders for which I am grateful since it reminds me of my connection to something so much bigger and better than how I feel right now. And I pray to Creator for continued strength as I walk the straight path like the straight quill of an Eagle feather.

While I (still) wait for action and accountability, I have been comforted by wisdom from two activist sources.

Last weekend in Toronto, radical activists hosted the 2011 Anarchist Bookfair. Within the official booklet available to all participants, I found a specific and lengthy (not just a footnote) reminder for all participants of the Bookfair's sexual assault policy and a shout-out against rape culture.

On page eight of the booklet, it read: "The Toronto Anarchist Bookfair Collective recognizes that organizing and activist spaces are not necessarily spaces liberated from sexual assault and gender-base violence.

Sexual assault breaks our movement and our communities. We reject the silence surrounding these issues and commit to creating spaces that acknowledge this reality as well as fighting structures and individuals that sustain rape culture within our society.

We also believe in the importance of establishing support and inclusion mechanisms for individuals who have experienced sexual assault as a way of trying to break through the isolation and alienation that sexual assault creates." [Bold mine]

I've been screaming: We Have a Big Problem Here in Toronto -- and it finally feels like someone is listening. Because it's true that gender-based intimidation and violence can break the movement and it can also breaks the spirits of those who both experience and witness it.

And I know I am fighting against the current of disbelief and denial from activists who don't want to believe that so-called progressives could act in such a dangerous and disharmonious way and/or have also lost their vigilance regarding the oppressive "isms" that threaten the movement. I know this is really ugly, just as much as facing the truth about the existence of racism and disableism is ugly. But we have to face it.

I was also given the heads up by the wonderful Harsha Walia of an article she wrote on People of Colour Organize titled: Challenging Patriarchy in Political Organizing -- A 101

In as much heartfelt emphasis that text-based media can provide, I ask you to please read the article in its entirety. It was so comforting to me to know that someone gets the insanity that I am trapped in, with all its traps of isolation, second guessing my speaking out, searching for allies who only wave their hands in the air and back away when you ask for support.

I would like to draw your attention to this portion of her writing on examples of sexism in political organizing:

"Women are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments rather than men challenging other men, and the general assumption is that women discussing sexism are 'pulling the sex card' or are making false accusations which leaves women feeling guilty and/or unsafe in raising such issues. Unfortunately, women's issues and concerns are generally belittled or invalidated, unless validated by other men. These two points highlight a general disrespect for women's voices in discussing their own oppression.

Women discussing sexism are often characterized as 'divisive' or as 'emotional and over-reactive,' so women often feel like they have to moderate what they say so that men don't feel attacked. Many men are likely to shut down emotionally or get defensive when women want to discuss specific incidents of sexism instead of listening and understanding what is being said."

Walia also notes this solution.

"The silence and denial of sexual violence and sexual harassment in activist communities is unacceptable. Be committed to accountability processes -- don't say you are too busy or have more important things to do. The tendency to blame survivors for the divisions and upheaval that may result from such processes is problematic. As allies, do empower survivors to regain and maintain control over accountability processes. Unless you have a better solution or are actively part of growing an alternative to deal with interpersonal gendered violence, definitely do not judge women who maybe forced to resort to the state apparatus. The only ones 'hurting the struggle' are those that want to deny or minimize the experiences, realities, and traumas of sexual violence."

I do want to publically acknowledge the support and understanding from No One Is Illegal (NOII), First Nation Solidarity Working Group (FNSWG) and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) for also getting-it and providing of themselves to protect my safety and sanity.

As well as all of those people in my life who have put themselves in the line of fire for me and provided me with hope when I became exhausted in this struggle against patriarchy and gender-based intimidation and violence.

It's good to have allies.

But I do wish the activist community here would unite and come forward -- not be in denial or ashamed that this type of behaviour exists even within our progressive communities -- to stamp out patriarchy and gender-based violence within our movement with the same passion it attacks the problem in society.

I am strong. I need the movement's help.

Reject the silence. Let's fight this together.

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