Thoughts on Creating Safe Spaces, or Why Möbius Strip Canceled Their Upcoming Show in Baltimore
Last week, Möbius Strip withdrew from a show scheduled for August 7 at Charm City Art Space after learning about some disturbing events. CCAS is a collectively-run space in Baltimore where artists, musicians, and other performers share their work in a DIY setting. CCAS members have organized many memorable shows over the past decade, in part because the space purports to "filter out negative influences including but not limited to: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ageism, violence and judgmental fundamentalism." With a sense of shared values and common goals, we were very much looking forward to performing with Gifts From Enola, Prayers For Atheists, and Voyage In Coma at CCAS.
Then we learned about the history of sexual harassment and assault associated with CCAS. As reported by a local blog, in late 2009, five women accused a male CCAS member of "sexually harassing them in separate incidents" culminating in the male "having sex with [one of the women] against her will." When the matter came to CCAS's attention, "members publicly vetted the question of what happened … for over six months with several members essentially calling the women liars." CCAS then issued a draft statement to which certain "members responded with questions about whether the person who was accused of the harassment felt comfortable with the statement's wording."
The official CCAS statement, issued almost a year after the fact, acknowledges that "some members of CCAS felt that the accused should be banned from CCAS membership, as his continuing involvement might undermine our efforts to create a positive, comfortable, and safe space for the community." However, a majority of the membership voted in favor of allowing the accused member to remain part of CCAS.
We find this outcome—and the process that produced it—totally unacceptable. If rape is not a violent, sexist act, then what is? What good are our flowing manifestos if they do not inform our actions—if, when a chorus of complaints rises against a prominent member of the community, the response is to do nothing? Even conventional, profit-driven night clubs and venues respond more appropriately to harassment in their spaces: troublesome clientele are shown out by bouncers, and employees who misbehave are sent packing.
Isolated incidents are difficult to prevent; for as long as there are human beings, some will feel entitled to take advantage of others. While that may be out of our control, what is within our control is how we react. CCAS's inaction upon learning of the pattern of abuse of one of its members makes CCAS a safe space for those who threaten our community. By subjecting those who spoke up to humiliating character attacks, the collective institutionalized the veil of silence around rape erected by the dominant culture CCAS supposedly opposes. The next woman who experiences a problem with a predatory CCAS member will think twice about going public with her complaints. This is unacceptable.
We understand that we are late to add our voices to this conversation, but it is obvious to us that not enough has been done to change the culture at CCAS:
- To the best of our knowledge, the person accused of the harassment has not been barred from the space.
- The CCAS website does not mention these events, much less acknowledge that the manner in which they were handled contributes to an oppressive culture. There are no links to organizations or resources about sexual assault.
- Only 2 of the 11 listed "current promoters" appear to be women. Being a safe space for marginalized groups means more than merely tolerating their presence; it means actively achieving their participation.
Because CCAS has not bothered to create and publicize a plan for dealing with future sexual assaults; because CCAS has not taken sufficient steps to ensure that everyone in its space feels safe, respected, and included; and because CCAS welcomes the accused while denigrating the accuser, we cannot take seriously its commitment to the ideals it supposedly espouses. When our words are poetry rather than the fuel of our conviction, we end up with nothing more than a boys' club—Daddy's patriarchy dressed up in spikes and septum piercings—and that is not a brand of punk rock we care to be a part of.