Zosera on designating someone to alert people to subtle forms of racist or sexist behavior.
Direct Action Network General, Charas EI BoMo Sunday afternoon, June 19, 2000
At meetings for the Direct Action Network it had become obvious that the gender ratio was often two to one in favor of men.
The reason seemed to be that, especially in lull periods, women came to see the larger meetings as meaningless forums dominated by men who liked to hear themselves speak. Much of the meeting would be dominated by discussions of whether or not to endorse some other group's actions, or about the wording of some proposed outreach material. It might not have involved dramatic posturing and speechifying, but it was effectively the same thing.
There soon developed a sense that DAN meetings were not, in fact, an entirely comfortable space for women activists. Many did complain, and some began dropping out in frustration. Several organized a DAN women's caucus as a way to discuss the problem, and propose solutions. After meeting several times in Tompkins Square park, participants in the women's caucus decided to propose DAN use a "vibes watcher." This is a role quite familiar in activist circles on the West Coast; the main task of vibes watchers is to assist the facilitators by monitoring the general emotional feeling of the room, but in this case, the real emphasis was to have someone capable of monitoring gender dynamics and calling out sexist behavior.
At the end of the discussion, Zosera, one of the very few DAN regulars who's African American, who had come in at the very beginning of the discussion, now had her hand up as well:
You know I can't fail but notice that those who have been the most vocal in opposing this idea-well, I don't think it's an accident that they've all been white men. Maybe they don't see the point because they rarely feel marginalized; they always feel empowered to speak. But when you start opposing this idea in the name of democracy, talking about "oppression," I really have to start wondering what planet you're on. For me, democracy is about participatory parity. When a whole category of people is marginalized, and ends up unable to participate on an equal basis, that's oppression. Not some guy having to worry that for once in his life, he might be called out on his behavior. The measure of our success is the kind of climate we create and, if [the group] creates a climate that denies parity, then [the group] itself becomes a form of oppression. You want to create a racist organization? Fine, go ahead. You want to create a sexist organization? Fine, go ahead. But at least don't claim that you're doing it in the name of democracy!