INCLUSIVITY AND ANTI-OPPRESSION POLICY FOR BLUE MOUNTAINS BIODIVERSITY PROJECT
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project has long had an anti-oppression policy that was developed by Cascadia EarthFirst! activists in the 1990’s. Since we were recently asked about our policy, we decided to revise and update it based on the policy adopted by the EarthFirst! Journal Collective. Our revised policy is as follows:
We of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project recognize that the institutional, economic, political, social and cultural dynamics of hierarchy, power and privilege that define mainstream society also permeate the radical environmental movement. These dynamics are expressed in various interlocking systems of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, speciesism, etc.), which prevent equal access to resources and safety, disrupt healthy communities and movement building, and severely—sometimes irreparably—harm our allies, our friends, our loved ones and ourselves.
We of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project understand that implicit in our desire to stop the domination and exploitation of the Earth is a need to create communities that are free of oppressive social relations. We understand that failing to address oppressive behavior not only weakens our movement by alienating and further victimizing our friends and allies, it also calls into question our commitment to a better world and our qualification as a radical movement.
For these reasons, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project has adopted this policy of active opposition to oppressive behavior of all kinds within our organization and its summer volunteer internship program. This policy applies to all activities within our organization, including our hiring and volunteer recruitment practices.
We define oppressive behavior as any conduct (typically along lines of institutionalized power and privilege) that demeans, marginalizes, rejects, threatens or harms any living being on the basis of ability, activist experience, age, class/income level, cultural background, education, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, language, nationality, physical appearance, race, religion, self-expression, sexual orientation, species, status as a parent or other such factors. Oppressive behavior comes in a wide variety of forms, from seemingly harmless jokes to threats of violence, from interrupting to verbal abuse, from unwanted touching to rape, from hitting to murder. Some forms are more extreme and irreparable than others, but all are unacceptable under Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s anti-oppression policy.
This policy aims to:
• Affirm and protect the personal autonomy, safety and well-being of all who participate in Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, including volunteers, paid assistants, and long-term staff, and long-term volunteers;
• Empower all Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project participants to challenge oppressive behavior and provide them with skills and resources to do so effectively (including educational materials, response strategies, etc.);
• Nurture a strong, safe, healthy, reliable, egalitarian and diverse community doing the work and participating in the events of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project;
• Make Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project more accountable to both the Eastern Oregon communities and the broader biocentric ecological protection movement;
• Support and promote anti-oppression principles and practices within Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project staff/volunteer organizing collective and our written rules, workshops, and speaking engagements;
• Overcome barriers preventing cooperation and solidarity with oppressed individuals and groups who feel unsafe or unwelcome at Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project; and
• Combat the troubling legacy of oppression that continues to plague Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, the radical environmental movement, and our society as a whole.
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project acknowledges the limitations of such a policy. Developing an anti-oppression policy is an ongoing process; this policy will undoubtedly need periodic review and revision. Additionally, this policy will not automatically make Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project oppression-free, eliminate oppressive organizational structures and personal behaviors, or erase the grievances of previously oppressed and marginalized people. Realistically, our anti-oppression policy is only as strong as our commitment to addressing and confronting oppressive behavior on a regular basis.
Prevention and Education
The best way to deal with oppressive behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Therefore, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project will ensure that all staff and volunteers are familiar with this policy, with the understanding that all participants in the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project community are expected to abide by it. Additionally, we will support individuals who are unfamiliar with the terms and ideas used in this policy by making available more resources (e.g., zines, essays, books, websites, and EF! Journal articles) on topics such as: building conflict resolution skills; promoting consent and mental health; dealing with sexual assault, animal abuse and other forms of violence; confronting male/heterosexual/white privilege; and supporting anti-racist organizing and border justice.
Toward a Restorative Justice Model
Every instance of oppressive behavior is unique and thus requires a unique response. Moreover, different types of oppressive behavior demand significantly different reactions (e.g., the strategy for confronting someone who makes an anti-Semitic joke will be different from the strategy for confronting someone who commits a sexual assault). Nevertheless, there are some familiar patterns that often arise when challenging oppression. We believe that anticipating these patterns, avoiding counter-productive reactions and aiming for ideal outcomes will benefit nearly all anti-oppression processes.
One common response to oppressive behavior is to ignore or deny it. Oppressed groups are refused power and privilege, including the power to protect themselves and the privilege of being believed when they express grievances. This marginalizing response to oppression breeds an atmosphere that encourages even more oppression. All participants in the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project community should consider it their responsibility to be aware of oppressive behavior, to challenge it actively whenever it occurs and to create a safe space for people facing oppression to share their experiences.
It is important to recognize that oppressive behavior occurs every day, often in seemingly trivial ways. For example, interrupting is a common behavior that reinforces power dynamics. Those with white/male/heterosexual privilege frequently interrupt or talk over those without this privilege, thereby marginalizing people of color, women and queer folks. Over time, seemingly minor interruptions, jokes, slurs and stereotypes can snowball into a pattern of oppression that is far more damaging than an isolated incident.
It is important to consider that some methods of challenging mundane oppression are more productive than others. For instance, instead of insulting someone for making a transphobic comment or voicing vague disapproval of such behavior, it is far more effective to clearly and calmly explain what about the comment was offensive and why, while providing as much specific information as possible. Offering resources on transgender issues would be a good next step. Likewise, acting aggressively defensive or passively guilty when being challenged for oppressive behavior is another common reaction. A far more effective response to being called out is to listen patiently and attentively to the grievance, take action by apologizing or making amends, and engage in further education and reflection on the situation.
When dealing with more extreme or violent instances of oppressive behavior, a common response is to expel the offender immediately, with no attempt at mediation or reconciliation. This can create a dynamic of demonization that does nothing to help the offender admit what they’ve done and change their behavior. It can also prevent the oppressed individual from achieving much-needed healing and closure, as well as create incurable rifts in the community at large. Moreover, immediately expelling an offender increases the likelihood that they will simply move on to other communities where they will continue their patterns of oppression. Thus, whenever possible and appropriate, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project favors the method of encouraging offenders to undertake an accountability process of education, introspection, self-growth, and reparations.
While stressing the need for personal responsibility and accountability, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project also acknowledges that we have all been socialized into systems of power and privilege. At one time or another, every one of us may be an oppressor; at another time, every one of us may be oppressed. Although this does not absolve us of responsibility, it does emphasize the universal need for effective anti-oppression strategies. Our collective goal is to acknowledge and unlearn oppressive behaviors without rejecting anyone. This community-oriented approach to oppressive behavior is commonly referred to as “restorative justice.”
Nevertheless, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project realizes that this ideal outcome is not always possible. Even when reconciliation does occur, it often requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of the offender, the oppressed individual and the community as a whole. Therefore, while we view the reconciliation of all parties and the growth of the offender as desirable results, we must stress that any process for confronting oppression must be guided (whenever possible) by the oppressed individual and primarily concerned with their needs for dignity, healing and safety. If the oppressed individual’s needs cannot be met through mediation, reconciliation and accountability processes, or if the offender does not sufficiently participate in these processes, then the expulsion of the offender may be the only possible recourse.
Forming a Process
For the reasons presented above, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project believes that adopting a single process for dealing with all instances of oppressive behavior would be unrealistic and ultimately ineffective.
In the meantime, the EF! Journal is assembling and making available resources on anti-oppression procedures and diverse response strategies, so that these can be used for guidance and reference when challenging oppressive behavior. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project will have access to these resources as they are made available.
Affirming Other Communities
Since the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project summer internship program is composed of a frequently rotating group of individuals from diverse communities, it can be difficult to ensure that the internship program is a safe space. For this reason, if someone (1) is involved with Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project as a staff person or volunteer, (2) has a background of oppressive behavior and (3) is required by a survivor, community or accountability process to reveal their background to individuals and groups they work with, then that person is expected to honor and abide by those requirements. This will allow us to respect and reaffirm other communities’ anti-oppression policies and processes, and it will help ensure that Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is a safer space for all.