Safe(r) Spaces in a Small Town
A lot of questions may come to mind when one hears the term “safer spaces” for the first time. What constitutes a safer space? What should a safer space look like?
Ethically implementing a safer space initiative demands one to understand their positions in relation to race, class, disability, gender and sexuality - and how those factors play into institutional, social and financial power.
When we ask ourselves these questions, we may scrape the surface of understanding what makes a space unsafe to begin with. This can convey unsettling truths that become startlingly apparent within the microcosms of small town art and music scenes. When we confront these truths, we must ask ourselves what can be put in place to validate, prioritize, and effectively address the needs of survivors and marginalized bodies to feel safer in a space. I say “we” because this work cannot be sustained or executed by one person. Safer Spaces work requires multiple tiers of folks that understand and prepare to navigate the nuances that occur surrounding community intervention practices—because Safer Spaces protocol and policy is just that: community intervention.
I’m grateful for the safer spaces team by Flotilla put in place. Having directorial support, policy, team infrastructure, and team education on-hand was incredibly helpful. Flotilla’s safer spaces team influenced me to move forward with a safer spaces initiative at my own shows in PEI and, through cross-pollinating this work with other safer spaces initiatives across the maritimes, I’ve seen other safer spaces initiatives gaining momentum—to name one, the Show Buddies safer spaces initiative in Saint John, New Brunswick, developed by Abigail Smith.
Safer spaces work calls attention to the history of communities and individuals prioritizing the reputations of abusers over the safety of survivors. One common and uncomfortable truth that I’ve seen through the lens of safer spaces work is that bystanders are more inclined to act in favour of the relationship they have to an abuser than they are inclined to act in solidarity with a survivor (or survivors) of said abuser. This is dangerous, because without conflict resolution, mediation and accountability processes, people who have exhibited abusive or oppressive language or behaviour are a threat to the safety of survivors and others.
We must recognize that the onus and legwork of this process should no longer be weighed on the shoulders of survivors and marginalized bodies as it has been. In doing so, we must also recognize that, often, it still is.