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Safe Spaces?

+2 votes

How do y'all feel about those safe spaces at anarchist bookstores/infoshops or events, like those bookfairs?

Like is it possible to have the anarchist event or bookfair be a safe space? From what I've read, leftist and/or anarchists seem to not really be "allowed" to have different opinions/pov on whichever matters because it might offend someone.

I guess, I'm not clear on how anarchists events that are safe spaces are supposed to ideally function or work?

For the most part, I do know what a safe space is and how some of them function, but don't really understand the anarchist version of safe space.

asked Dec 13, 2017 by ? (3,850 points)
safe spaces are supposed to be places where nobody gets triggered by some sort of racial/gendered/homophobic slur. I think what they have in mind is some sort of place where you don't have to feel like where you are under any duress and you can feel free to express yourself. I believe this organization encompasses the more technologically advanced, rationalistic way of this thinking:

https://www.cnvc.org/

The way that a lot of anarchists tend to do this though is by creating an intimidating atmosphere for people who don't identify with "oppressed groups", by witch-hunting "racists" and other vague types of "oppressors".

I think it's kinda noble and interesting to want to attack verbal abuse and promote a general sense of sensitivity and social tact, but i think that the society we live promotes a very cultish gang mentality in so many of the things it does because of the confusion over wtf is going on. ANTI-FA ATTACK!!!!

3 Answers

+2 votes
I don't believe it is, and when I am involved in projects, I argue against any claims to "safe" or "safer" spaces.

One thing I was involved in came up with the idea of survivor solidarity, meaning that we weren't going to kick anyone out based on them making something an unsafe space, because we had no interest in playing judge or jury, but that we supported people taking direct action to meet their own needs, safety-wise. That same group acknowledged that conflict would naturally occur in anarchist spaces, and that it could even be a positive thing in that it scratches the veneer of a unified anarchism, and helped to clarify our divergent perspectives and methods. That said, we also had mechanisms for if things escalated beyond verbal confrontations.

I still like this model in theory, but have some concerns based on how it has been leveraged in a couple situations. To either preemptively exclude people, or to force escalation.
answered Dec 13, 2017 by ingrate (21,340 points)
how do you think large populations can do away with rackets? Protection organizations, such as what you mention and businesses, seem to be thing that an anarchist would need to destroy to further their goals
Nihilist - can you elaborate on what you mean exactly? This seems like an interesting conversation, but I want to make sure that we are not talking at cross purposes. Where do you see the protection racket coming in in the scenario I sketched out? In the people who take action to remove those who have a history of causing harm? The group I was involved with for facilitating the entire situation and establishing a protocol? Or the people who exploit the set up for their own purposes?

Or somewhere external to this?
The key word i was getting at here is "protection", i define a racket as something that perpetuates itself for no other reason than to perpetuate the organization. For example: the police can't possibly exist without "crime", to fund their organization they must collect speeding tickets, to prevent crime. Otherwise, the police department can't collect the money it needs to exist. The police are a racket. Frankly, i don't really know why i posed this question, other than i tend to assume that people from the world we live in will be fear-oriented no matter how many cracks open up between organizations, and this will create a feedback loop to make people afraid and vulnerable to those organizations. When there aren't so many people, the relevance of rackets and organizations seems pointless and rediculous. "Safe spaces" are a clear indication of the level of fear that people feel towards each other.

"To either preemptively exclude people, or to force escalation."

I'm a little confused by what this means in the specific organization you mention, does preemptively excluding people mean someone says "we should invite x to come and talk with us", and then the group says "no, we shouldn't invite x because y"? And force escalation, do you mean the conversation just gets more heated and impassioned, or someone punches someone in the face?
I don't want to get in to too many specifics, but I have seen the implication of past harm used to preemptively exclude people from spaces, whereas in all but a few situations I would prefer that it be a situation where someone rolls in and then conflict erupts and they decide/are forced out. If someone knows they are not welcome in the anarchist space, they can choose to regulate for themselves, but I think that it is dangerous, anarchically speaking, to start saying to A, you can't come to/participate in X because B says you did Y. If that makes any sense.

As to the using it as a method to force escalation, there is a certain brand of anarchist who sees it as their holy crusade to vanquish the world of Very Bad Things, and revels in a public venue in which to do so, thus letting everyone else know who Good they are. There are also people with personal beef, who want to make political hay of confrontation, or who feel an extreme lack of self worth and seek to compensate through public action. Often the two overlap. Which is not to say I am against public actions or any of that, but there is a certain tone and righteousness that I observe in some situations that I particularly loathe, maybe because I have certainly been that player at previous points and in other parts of my life.

Regarding protection rackets, I need to think about that more.
yeah that makes sense, the last example you give about talking to x a and b (for some reason my copy/paste isn't working right now) sounds kinda like a branding.

Basically any business would be a racket in the eyes of an anarchist, i mentioned cults when commenting on the first question. A cult is basically a spiritual racket, where everyone is trying to score ideological points, and serious transgressors are excluded/branded. Basically, any form of labeled group or organization is going to resemble a cult...I was reflecting on this dynamic really hard when i saw the show "The Path" recently, definetly a food for thought for anarchists.

I'm not saying the group you are describing was a cult or a racket, it sounds like it had some very practical uses in terms of helping keep people safe from psychological terror, but the anarchist scene already resembles a cult, and maybe the group was in some ways scaring people and causing them to become more insular and gossip? I'm kinda going all over the place here. It sounds like clear purpose was a huge problem with this project.
+4 votes
The concept of the "safe space" is basically just bullshit activist newspeak for "place where I never have to hear anything I disagree with." To my understanding, the concept of "safety" within radical activist/anarchist subcultures does not typically pertain to *physical* safety so much as the safety of one's worldview from any sort of cognitive dissonance.

While I appreciate ingrate's desire to not see anyone at anarchist gatherings act as "judge and jury" toward anyone they disagree with, I am skeptical of any organizational 'model' that attempts to accomplish this. Regardless of whether one's desire is to *maintain* a safe space or call it into question, organizational models that attempt to enforce or otherwise facilitate a particular vision of 'normality' within the anarchist scene are ultimately opposite sides of the same coin. The incident at the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair involving the Atassa Journal a few months ago is a clear illustration of this fact.

The person who confronted the folks at the LBC table could be seen as either *defending* or *undermining* the idea of a "safe space" depending on how you want to look at it. Granted, you could say that they were undermining it because they chose to adopt a physically confrontational approach, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong for saying this. But, at the same time, this person could just as easily justify their actions by saying that they were *defending* the safe space by attempting to prevent the violent rhetoric within the Atassa Journal from being circulated. I'm not saying that I agree with either perspective, just that one and the same action can be seen as serving opposite motivations.

The most sensible response to all this is not, in my opinion, to adopt a new organizational model for mitigating conflict within the anarchist subculture but to start exploring ways to *break out* of the subculture itself. If book fairs, for instance, have become toxic environments in which the people who want to preserve their ideological echo chamber are constantly doing battle with those who want to challenge it, then book fairs have outlived their usefulness need to stop taking place. Don't get me wrong, if some people enjoy that sort of drama and want to continue participating in it, then that is their choice. But for those of us who are fed up with it, it may be time to just sever ties and move on.

The anarchist subculture is its own worst enemy. It's time to start thinking creatively about how to burst the subcultural bubble and relate with each other as individuals.
answered Dec 13, 2017 by Matt Dionysus (820 points)
edited Dec 13, 2017 by Matt Dionysus
You are actually fleshing out a lot of the concerns I referenced at the end of my answer that I couldn't fully put my words to. I would stand by the model I described as a basis of organizing a thing like a book fair or an open gathering or group. I would also question the ways in which those forms are open to manipulation by all sorts of politicians (identiy or otherwise) to accumulate power, or social capital, or, I don't know, I am not into that weird kink... whatever it is that gets them off about that shit.

Like I said, if sticking it out and developing this sort of organizational 'model' is a priority for you, then I respect your choice. However, it's not the sort of thing that I consider to be worth my time or energy, and I would find it refreshing if more people came to that same conclusion. It just seems to me that too many people of a 'post-left' bent are automatically defaulting to the view that they need to work within the anarchist subculture just because they can't come up with any better ideas.

"It's time to start thinking creatively about how to burst the subcultural bubble and relate with each other as individuals."

YES

“It just seems to me that too many people of a 'post-left' bent are automatically defaulting to the view that they need to work within the anarchist subculture just because they can't come up with any better ideas.”

This. The country I live in has no post-left anarchist culture of any significance and so that leaves the option of working within traditional social anarchist culture which is so ideological that it’s ontologically and politically sterile. Not only do I find engaging with that a waste of time, it’s also really draining, like how banging your head against a brick wall isn’t only a waste of time, it’ll do damage to you. I prefer to experiment and work in my relationships with people who don’t identify as anarchists.

"I prefer to experiment and work in my relationships with people who don’t identify as anarchists."

Absolutely. That's pretty much where I'm at as well.

+3 votes

i was at a healing workshop several months back (not anarchist, or even overtly political for that matter), and the facilitator said that despite the fact that some folks might possibly be triggered by the somatic exercises that we were going to participate in, he was not going to create a "safe space." he said that the idea of a safe space is totally conservative, in that putting limits around what people are exploring means that they will only go as far as they are currently comfortable. he brought up that psychological healing often requires going beyond a comfortable place to challenge complacency (which, in a political context, most often takes the form of retaining the identity of victim). he challenged us to do that, both for ourselves and with each other in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. he called that creating a brave space

answered Dec 14, 2017 by boles (30 points)

by giving into a fear of vulnerability and anger, we often tend to make ourselves more fearful of bad experiences. You have to accept the things that you do without without contemplation and regret if you really want to heal.

A lot of people still want to establish suppression and morality over certain things that people say and feel because they have memories of very irritating and controlling people telling them not to do something or making them feel like they can't just be, but this just feeds the troll.

As is said in enemies of society, the only god is  consequences, and that should ultimately be the only thing that we fear, not other peoples reactions.

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