Listening to Community

This post is cross-posted from GreaseRag.org

Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition board member Amy Brugh is asking a diverse group of people to answer some questions about what it means to listen to community. I was honored to give my perspective. You can follow the Listening to Community Project over the coming weeks at the Amy Brugh Consulting Facebook page.

Thanks for listening!

Listening to Community

Introduce yourself

L. Kling, they, them, theirs pronouns

I have been organizing with GreaseRag.org for eight years, working at the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition for three years, and part of the Minneapolis community for thirteen years. I spend my time facilitating spaces where people are invited to feel safe, where people commit to resisting oppression, and where people can reflect and be introspective together. I'm especially interested in facilitating spaces for BIPOC+ WTF* folks in an effort to reclaim space from cis white male privilege. I love complexity and intersections.

*BIPOC+ means Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Grease Rag is using the "+" to include folks who have an "it's complicated" relationship with their race.
WTF means women, trans, femme. More about this on Grease Rag's FAQ page, but in short, it means anyone who does not benefit from cis male privilege.

What does listening to community mean to you?

"Listening to community" is easy, and complicated.

The easy part is listening. Listening to hear, and listening and affirming someone's experience takes time, intention, and some skills. But it is not rocket science!

The hard part can be defining community, and creating space where people feel comfortable talking, and feel they are being heard. Is how you define community in line with how a community defines itself? If not, you have a problem! Within the community, there will be subcommunities and identities that add to the complexity of the larger group. That is natural and good! But are you creating space for everyone to speak?

Space can be physical- can someone with a mobility device or vision impairment participate? Space can be a feeling- does it feel hostile or unwelcoming? Space can be structural- Is there a process in place so that dominant voices don't take over the conversation?

Listening to community is also hard to do without community expertise. If you are not from a community, you need to connect with that community to have them drive what "listening" and "sharing" look like. Because it can be very different between communities! Assuming that you know the best way to communicate with a group of people is an oppressive behavior. A behavior where dominant culture assumes their experience is universal, which has the effect of erasing non-dominant culture.

How would you like to be listened to?

I have written a lot on how I would like to be listened to. It starts with how I would like to be asked to participate in a conversation. Every conversation should be consensual, and I should be allowed to set boundaries for what is to be discussed. I need the opportunity to say no. I want my time to be honored, and sometimes this means being monetarily compensated. But not always! Sometimes my time being honored looks like me getting credit for my words, and sometimes it means doing a skill trade so that I can grow as I offer my input.

When I am being listened to, my experiences are validated as real and important, I don't have to apologize for things I've experienced or things I feel, and I no one explains my own experience to me. As a person with intersecting marginalized identities, I never want to have my validity or authenticity questioned by anyone, but especially by people with more privilege than I have. When I am being listened to, the process is transparent- how my input is used and who is using it, and a follow up with the actions taken are absolutely necessary.

Asking me about my life, my struggles, and my identity, (which is emotionally laborious, and can often be re-traumatizing) and then walking away with a shrug saying, "Well that was nice," to yourself without making any actions or changes is abusive and dishonoring of my time, energy, and labor.

When I am being listened to I am being valued.

What are your thoughts on how to truly incorporate community needs and wants into planning processes, decision-making, and more?

To truly incorporate community needs and wants into structures like planning processes and decision-making, I feel there are a few fundamentals.

Value- The planning process and decision-makers, for example, have to value the community, and commit to working for the community. The community can not be seen as a barrier to progress. Believing communities are simple and uncomplicated and stereotypical leads to friction between planners/decision-makers looking for "one solution," and the community's complex needs, which is a recipe for disaster!

Time- The burden of work can not be put on community. Going to where the community already is, using community communication networks, and using the planning and decision-making resources to support the community in a process all take time! But hopefully these things take the burden of time and work off of marginalized communities.

Nothing about us without us- Hire people from the community. Hire people from the community. Hire people from the community. Skills can be learned- I seriously question the wisdom and strategy behind hiring large, out-of-area contractors to do work instead of funding community-based groups to do that work.

Reporting back- Taking information, wisdom, experience, expertise from community and not giving any indication of how that is or is not being used in a process breeds mistrust and a feeling of being used. Transparency is important, because many processes were specifically constructed to value white, land-owning, men above all else. Transparency about how you are being intentional about subverting that structure is important.

Know your history- You can't value voices that have been traditionally erased in our white patriarchal society without knowing the mechanics of that erasure. (And how we/you perpetuate and uphold that.) Understanding systemic and structural sexism, racism, homo and transphobia, classism, and other forms of oppression are crucial to any kind of community work.

Closing thoughts

These are some of my thoughts on listening to community, from my perspective! I want to give much respect to the organizers, activists, Grease Rag community, and QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) who have taught me everything that I know. Every community is different, so I can't wait to see what wisdom other folks will share on this topic.

This post is cross-posted from GreaseRag.org