Safe Spaces, Sexual Assault, Restorative Justice: Thinking Out Loud

So, somewhere deep down on my never-ending laundry list of ideas to broach with fellow humans has long been the topic of creating "safe spaces" at shows. It was bumped up the list a notch or two a few months ago by a conversation I had with Shawna Potter of the amazing Baltimore band War On Women after a show we played together in LA wherein she suggested to me there were more things our band could do from the stage to acknowledge the audience members, specifically women, getting clobbered and pushed aside by the proverbial dude-bros. It used to come easy, berating the oafs and outright bullies, stopping songs mid-chorus to make a spectacle of the spectacle, sanctimoniously sending the meat-heads on their way never to listen to the band or consider the concept of a safe-space ever again as a result. But, for better or for worse, I'm not that person anymore and with hindsight, besides a fleeting, shallow moment of retribution for the people tired of getting trampled at shows, it ultimately changed nothing.

(Stream of consciousness folks, I'm heading somewhere with this )

More recently, this same topic of safe spaces was bumped up my laundry list a whole lot more notches by a publicly made claim (in direct relation to the controversy stirred up in the wake of our podcast discussion with the very wonderful Melissa Martin...and possible trigger warning) that Propagandhi had contributed to creating unsafe spaces at our shows in Winnipeg by allowing a man that we knew had committed a sexual assault in 1997 to play in bands that were scheduled in opening slots. (In fairness to us, by the time these bands played any opening slots at our Winnipeg shows, it was the understanding of the 3 people in our band/ crew that knew about the original assault, that some sort of community mediation/ restorative justice process had taken place between the survivor and offender, but we now know that we were both misinformed and in retrospect, naïve to have taken 3rd party information at face value. I'll say this: it was certainly convenient to believe it and I'll own that). Whatever the case, it happened: a man who committed a sexual assault was effectively sheltered from accountability and we negligently contributed to creating an unsafe space for a survivor. Clearly regrettable. I sincerely apologize for that on behalf of Propagandhi.

I'm encouraged and cautiously hopeful to now learn that both aforementioned parties are currently considering professional 3rd party mediation to hopefully find some long-awaited - is "closure" even the right word? I don't know. Balance? I guess accountability is the prime goal. Like I say, cautiously hopeful.

So why am I telling you this? Well, I guess what's on my mind as a result is "what now?" What do we do with this? How do we make this experience useful in educating ourselves and preventing future occurences? I'm not totally sure to be honest, but as someone who believes in what I understand to be the principles of restorative justice and that survivors have a right to feel safe, I feel like it's appropriate to at least try so

Here's the question I pose to you all:

What do we - I mean all of us, but specifically musicians here in the city of Winnipeg - what do we do in the future, to prevent and address the sheltering and enabling of offenders/ perpetrators/ abusers? What do we do to create safer spaces? How do we help support survivors? what are our obligations in trying to restore balance and peace in the wake of an assault? How do we navigate all this with no professional training as counsellors or mediators?

I have some thoughts just thoughts, mind you, not answers. Mostly confused, half-formed, perhaps sometimes malformed and often oscillating thoughts that I cautiously explore with the women in my life and my surrogate-brothers in Propagandhi but I think at this point, at the risk of appearing to surreptitiously take a step back towards the fire exit under cover of a question left hanging dramatically in the air -- I do pose these questions to my fellow Winnipeggers and musicians in all earnestness and respectfully provide the following links (as introductory and imperfect as they may be) for your consideration:


What to Do

Restorative Justice

If you're a fan of what we've done over the years, I really encourage you - like, as in grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-straight-into-your-eyes kinda thing -- to check this stuff out and take it back to your spaces and get the discussion going in your own circles. We live in a misogynistic society. This stuff is pervasive. I guarantee you're going to encounter it at some point if you haven't already. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way, for everybody's sake, you better have some idea how to respond.

Jesus H. Chris / December 6, 2014