Nov 2, 2011
Well, it seems that we've inadvertently struck a nerve. Feminism and the occupation has been an issue on many lips in the past week or so; there's a fantastic new blog, Occupy Patriarchy, that's doing some great thinking and centralising of information about the many challenges faced by women who either want to occupy or are sympathetic tot he movement but put off by lack of safety. Check out their most recent post, running down many of the incidents that have occurred at various camps and presenting a pretty compelling argument for why safe space is both missing and needed!
A Facebook community called Feminists Occupy London is also doing great work drawing attention to issues being faced by women who want to take part in the Occupy movement, and the Glasgow Women's Activist Forum is collecting signatures for a letter to Occupy Glasgow (where a horrific rape took place just as we in Bristol were getting ready to come together for our Portable Safe Space event last week).
Safe space is needed, safe space is wanted, safe space is absolutely in demand right now, and I for one am doubly confirmed in my belief that we as women need to create, take, claim, grab and demand our safe space, not wait in the vain hope that some benevolent males somewhere will grant it to us.
So. What, to this end, did we learn last Thursday?
We learned that feminists are every bit as socially awkward as other people (if not more). The initial milling around trying to figure out who the other feminists are was kind of toe curling. One piece of advice from an attendee is: bring a buddy, or at least come with someone you know. Another tip is to have some kind of sign/light to identify the Safe Space contingent so that people don't feel like they have to stride up to strangers and ask them if they happen to be feminists!
We also learned that camp business comes first. This is, at the end of the day, about feminists supporting and participating in the Occupy Together movement. At Occupy Bristol last Thursday, the General Assembly was entirely given over to an urgent discussion of a letter received from the City Council inviting the Occupiers to a very short term and vaguely defined meeting with the Leader of the Council. No other topic was discussed that night, and so we had no opportunity to bring up and discuss issues of inclusion and diversity within the camp.
On the one hand this was a shame - but on the other, it provided a great opportunity to test out the Portable Safe Space principle. Would women speak up? Would they be heard? Did we feel more confident with our numbers up?
Here I speak only for myself, but my answer to all of those is an emphatic "Yes". Just knowing that I was not the only woman there, or not in a tiny minority, talking and getting support from other women before and during the meeting, hearing other women's voices raised in prominent engagement with the meeting - these emboldened and encouraged me.
I felt as awkward at the start as anyone would do in an unfamiliar setting, speaking in front of 40 or 50 strangers; but towards the end of the meeting (which went on well into the night) I was fully able to participate and feel like my contribution was being listened to. I'm completely convinced that this was enabled and encouraged by the small but supportive group of amazing women that surrounded me earlier on in the evening!
So the conclusion I draw from this is: we should totally do this again, and soon. I'm greatly encouraged by the fact that Occupy Bristol have suggested creating a Health & Site Safety working group that will work to refine and implement their already pre-existant Safe Space policy; they have kindly invited me to join this group which I will endeavour to do as much as I can given time constraints. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to do the same! It is also a step in the right direction (though the decision can not have come lightly and I personally am sad that it had to come to that) to declare the site a Dry site going forward. Both these things will hopefully work to make women feel safer in the camp.
I'm planning to attend the working group meeting on Friday Nov 4th at 7pm to continue the conversation on these issues. It is also my intention to participate in the General Assembly at 1pm on Saturday Nov 5th, where I hope to be able to expand the conversation into more than just "allowing" or "enabling" women to participate, but how to actually blend their voices into the aims and demands of the movement.
They may not yet realise it, but the Occupy movement needs feminists. We have experience and understanding of battling hegemonic structures that they could really use. Please come and join me - help me feel safe, help other women feel safe, and help us all raise our voices together for the good of the movement and the good of the world.