In Solidarity, I Resolve to Take Action

There is a lot of discussion in the Lindy Hop community about sexual assault — and for a good reason. I have seen accounts from Sarah, Allison, Heidi, Brenda, and Clara about the inappropriate actions of Steven Mitchell, and I am appalled. If you’ve missed these events, you should read Sarah’s post and the subsequent comments (while taking care to avoid the negative, victim-blamey comments). I think the encounter resonates with many of us for many different reasons.

Personally, I am saddened and troubled to know that these things have happened in our scene. I have always felt so safe in the Lindy Hop community. It is my place of refuge, and I feel as if that refuge has been violated. But while I am saddened and betrayed by the actions of a man I once admired, I am also proud of our community. There has been a strong show of support for the women who have come forward.

There is also a lot of discussion about what actions we should take. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussion revolves around what actions to take against Steven. Personally, I think that’s the easiest action to decide: I refuse to attend any event where he is present, whether in a guest or staff role.

At this time, I think the most productive thing I can do is to consider what actions I can take as an individual. Moreover, I would like to consider what actions we can take as a community (and then help make those things happen). In solidarity, we need to take action.

As an individual in my community, I resolve to:

  • speak out against and condemn harassment I might witness
  • listen to my peers when they speak to me about harassment or violence of any sort; inherent in this, I will not minimize or downplay any harassment they feel
  • respond in an appropriate and serious manner when harassment of any type or severity is reported to me
  • support my peers when they feel marginalized or attacked based on their age, race, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, appearance, or religion, etc.

As a larger community, I hope we can:

  • write and enforce a Code of Conduct for every community venue and event we have
  • provide a safe and accepting space for someone to report any harassment they feel
  • provide necessary support to those in our community who have been wronged, including access to resources such as the police, a rape hotline, or
  • act appropriately in the event of inappropriate actions of a member of our community, which could range from speaking to someone about their inappropriate choice of words or actions up to and including asking someone to leave a dance or an event (whether for the night, until further notice, or permanently).

If you are a scene leader, I hope you are writing a Code of Conduct if you didn’t have one already. Check out the Code of Conducts for Lindy Focus and Mobtown Ballroom if you need a starting point. As a member of the Fog City Stomp team, you’re also welcome to use ours. Once you have a Code of Conduct, you need to advertise it. Make sure your attendees know that you intend to provide a safe community, and then follow through when necessary.

If you are a member of your community and you feel passionately about creating a safe space for anyone to dance in, I urge you to become involved. Nag your scene leaders for Code of Conducts. Be vocal about your thoughts on harassment. Watch out for your peers and support them when needed.

***

I would like to mention that we should take this opportunity to create policies which address all levels of harassment seriously. The events which have been reported over the last week are not the only forms of harassment and violence we see. There are many small, insidious forms of harassment. If we do not also address these insidious forms of harassment, we leave our doors open to the terrible actions like those we have learned of this week.

For example, I was verbally harassed at a large event while I was dancing with a peer. The details of the conversation aren’t necessary, but this peer tried to force me to admit I was interested in him. When I declined, he began talking about pornography and fetishes in an attempt to glean any information about my sexual life, despite my expressed discomfort. I fled this person’s presence and resolved to never dance with him again.*

In retrospect, I wish I had either addressed the issue at hand in the moment or reported the conversation to a staff member at the event. I think there is a great need in our community for a safe way to report harassment. It should provide a space where young men and women can report inappropriate words and actions, regardless of the severity. Maybe then we will be able to head off or prevent actions as terrible as those which we’ve learned of recently.

One event which is notably leading the way in this regard is Lindy Focus. I did not originally sign up to participate in Safe Spaces, but I became involved in the endeavor as a result of my job at the event. I obviously will not share anything about the incidents in which I was involved, but I will say that it was an eye-opening experience. I am so grateful that Lindy Focus started Safe Spaces and that they are constantly working towards creating a safe, accepting, and harassment-free event.

As a community, I hope we can provide a space to report harassment of any kind and receive the necessary support for that experience. I hope we will take appropriate actions against harassment, because actions speak louder than words. Finally, I hope we can work together to create a space in which anyone and everyone feels safe from harassment of any kind.

***

I would like to note that we wouldn’t be having this conversation without the brave post from Sarah and the subsequent posts from Allison, Heidi, Brenda, and Clara. I thank these amazing women for their strength in coming forward. I will support you in any and every way that I can.

***

*It is worth noting that we should also be capable of forgiveness for actions like these. At a later event, this person asked me if he had offended me. When I explained that he had, he apologized sincerely and turned to walk away. I respect his apology, and I am grateful to have had the chance to resolve that interaction.

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  One thought on “In Solidarity, I Resolve to Take Action

  1. 27 January 2015 at 1:08 am

    Oh, wow. I have been in and out of the Seattle swing scene for a while — but as a lead (and one bad enough to never go places or dance with important people), I have never had to deal with this sort of thing, myself. I had no idea this was going on. I’m really glad that people are speaking out, now, and I hope change can be handled gracefully.

    There seems to be a pervasive sense, in these conversations, that women who felt violated at these events were uncertain about reaching out. As a person who frequently goes to nerd conventions (comic, anime, gamer, &c.), I am familiar with similar problems (running the gamut, but including instances like this, of abuse by celebrities). I hope I do not impose by sharing one of the ways we have dealt with this problem, which is backup! ribbons (http://backupribbonproject.com). Men and women wear these ribbons to show themselves publicly as people who are safe to come talk to (backup) and will intervene (make them back up) in uncomfortable situations. It’s still a growing movement, as people are learning about it and learning to recognize what it means, but for us, it is a ribbon attached to the name tags that allow us into these events. It’s a way of reminding people who need help that we are there to help them and lets them no who they can run to. It also makes public to people who behave badly that their behavior will be challenged.

    It doesn’t solve these problems, alone, but steps like these could be move us in the direction of a more openly and assertively supportive atmosphere. And the more boundaries symbols like this cross, the clearer the message will be.

    I hope I do not seem presumptuous in offering this.

    • 27 January 2015 at 2:08 am

      Thank you for your comment! I think the Backup! Ribbon Project is a great potential solution. There are similar projects in the Lindy scene right now (like “Safe Spaces” at Lindy Focus, where a person was manning a booth during set hours). Thank you for sharing!

  2. 27 January 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I’m really glad to see the outpouring of support and discussion the past week.

    I also want to offer the Sundown Blues Code of Conduct. It’s under creative commons and was inspired by the Geek Feminism Wiki anti-harassment policy.

    Sundown Blues Coc: http://www.sundownblues.com/code-of-conduct.html
    Geek Feminism Wiki: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy

    –Victor

    • 27 January 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Victor!

  3. Nellee
    9 February 2015 at 10:56 pm

    I have some problems with the blog entries:
    1) a lot of them reveal mutual inappropriate behavior (notably alcohol ingestion and group sexual behavior at lindy hop functions), and
    2) only name Steven Mitchell – although there are references to “other” male dancers and instructors.
    I think if you name one, you should name the others too. Hesitate? Think twice. Yup. Good that you aren’t condoning bad male behavior, but you ought to take responsibility for your behavior too. Why put yourself in the situation in the first place? And evidently (from some of the blog entries), this predatory sexual behavior isn’t limited to male on female inappropriateness. I’m not sure what led to everyone jumping on one individual, however deserving. But how about helping him rehabilitate himself, containing him by alerting him and everyone else about what behavior is appropriate — and then ostracizing him (and others) if the behavior doesn’t change? What I’m seeing now reminds me of a shark attack or hens pecking another hen to death.

    • 10 February 2015 at 6:27 am

      I choose not to name the male dancer who was involved because I don’t feel like he should be publicly shamed for his actions, but I do want to acknowledge those actions as inappropriate. I did also bring this up with him, so it has been addressed in my mind and there’s no need to draw attention to him specifically.

      In regards to taking responsibility for my behavior, I think that is dangerously close to victim-blaming. In the incident I reference, I specifically asked to change the topic of conversation. I think that’s more proactive than most women, in fact. The only way I “put” myself in that situation was by accepting a dance with someone I’d enjoyed dancing with before — and that’s generally something considered “safe.”

      I disagree with rehabilitating Steven back into the dance scene. He is a repeat offender — it’s just that he hasn’t been publicly outed until now. However, I don’t think ostracizing a person is always the appropriate course of action.

  4. Nellee
    10 February 2015 at 9:12 pm

    How do you know this unnamed person is not a repeat offender? How do you protect others from the ones you don’t name? My point is this dance community is not following the rules that are set up to protect society legally – and are conducting a witch hunt instead. You say taking responsibility for your own behavior is “dangerously closed to victim-blaming.” What I saw in the comments before mine were women who engaged in risky behavior -drank with men in their rooms and one was prepared to engage in sexual activity with another person allegedly in Steven’s presence – just not include him too. I think people need to clean up their own acts before they jump in to battle against another. I think I remember reading about being without sin before “casting the first stone.” On the other hand, if someone is dangerous – put him or her on notice, hold a hearing and then punish him or her if that’s what the facts support. That’s the way our legal system is set up. And that’s what I don’t see happening here. I see a guy who reportedly acted badly, and stopped when he was told no. It’s a good thing to start making general rules for allowable behavior between students and instructors and other dancers. But I don’t see people holding others to the same standards and the same punishment that you are holding Steven to – before now. Instead, I see vigilante “justice” and that’s not fair. It’s childish and it’s a good way to make mistakes that result in things that can’t be rectified.

    • 17 May 2017 at 3:24 pm

      I like your point of view, and I agree, A LOT of bad behaviour are tolerated and easily swept under the rug, and those bad behaviours are not limited to sexual abuse, they hit everyone in the community.

      Very bad coaching that put the lives of dancer in dangers, peoples being dismissed for unpopular opinions that have nothing to do with the community and are spoken between “friends”. Peoples bending the rules and therefore are unfair with people who obey the rules, and the spirit of the rules.

      These day in the community, being a great dancer seem to be a “Do what the hell you want” card, and this is unacceptable for me, and send a very bad message to all the new people trying to integrate our community.

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