Waging Love for the World in Which We Want to Live

Addressing three incidents from AMC2015

The 2015 Allied Media Conference (AMC) was full of beauty and power. From the overwhelming outpouring of love and joyful celebration of Black life on stage at the opening ceremony on Friday night, to honoring Charity Hicks in the #WageLove Detroit Action Space, to the closing ceremony lifting up the life and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs, and in a thousand other moments, many of us felt a sense of shared brilliance and strength together in Detroit.

Next to and interwoven with this beauty, many of us also saw and experienced more painful and challenging moments than at any previous AMC. Our truest, deepest hope is that these painful moments can contribute to a collective process of ongoing learning, transformation and, ultimately, liberation.

In this post, we specifically want to address three incidents from AMC2015:

  1. The harassment, violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogyny, sexism, and homophobia that people experienced at the Old Miami dance party;
  2. How AMP makes decisions about nighttime programming, especially with regard to artists who have played The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
  3. Transformative justice and survivor safety at the AMC.

We at AMP offer these brief reflections in an effort to take responsibility for what happened in the space that we convened, and to share some things we learned this weekend. These reflections are not at all complete. They are not a re-cap of events and do not describe all perspectives involved. They are written specifically for people who attended the conference and for those who experienced harm at this year’s AMC.

The AMC is not a space that is constructed by Allied Media Projects’ staff alone. The conference is coordinated, organized, and run by about 200 people, including the Track Coordinators and organizers of Network Gatherings, Practice Spaces, and Events. Many more people participate as Presenters and Volunteers, and more than 2,000 people take part as conference participants.

We know that many of you who were involved in organizing AMC2015 experienced both powerful and painful moments, and we invite you to share your own reflections and lessons for the future as well, both publicly with one another, and with us via the AMC2015 feedback survey, as we #WageLove for the world we want for ourselves and our communities.

1. Harassment, violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogyny, sexism, and homophobia experienced at The Old Miami

After successful participant-organized queer global bass parties at AMC2013 and AMC2014, the AMC was excited to provide more direct support for the party and fold it into the official program of nighttime events in 2015. During the planning process, the decision to hold the 2015 global bass party at the Old Miami was made by AMP and Azucar together after the original committed venue canceled at the very last minute. We made assumptions that this would be an adequate alternative venue, based on the Old Miami’s history of hosting many queer and people of color-centered parties.

In part due to this assumption, we failed to work closely with Azucar organizers and the venue beforehand to help make it a safer space for our communities. Further, because of the Old Miami’s position as one of the few long-standing venues remaining in the neighborhood, we assumed it was a better option than newer, unknown spaces where many of us had not spent time. We were wrong on both counts and we apologize for those mistakes.

We recognize that during the party, members of our community, Black femmes in particular, experienced violence. Some people were disrespected and physically pushed by Old Miami staff, and were verbally and physically disrespected by patrons at the Old Miami. Some Black AMC participants were prevented from entering by the venue bouncers, while some white people who may have also been AMC attendees were allowed in.

Black AMC participants demanded that the party be shut down, in protest of the anti-Black racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia that people experienced based on the actions of the venue bouncers and some Old Miami patrons. AMP staff who were present, along with Azucar DJs who were leading the party, immediately responded to that request by officially ending the party. Although the bar manager initially called the police, AMP staff were successful in convincing him to withdraw that request, and no police came to the bar. Lawyers affiliated with the AMC with experience in police negotiations were present for the entire incident and were asked to stay on site until everyone was able to safely leave the scene.

While these actions may have addressed an immediate concern, it did not and could not address the deeper harm that members of our community experienced that night.

What We Learned:

  • As a next step, AMP commits to develop clear criteria and principles for the venues with which we work, and a more rigorous process of working with all venues and all AMC event organizers in advance to help foster safer spaces for all AMC participants, especially Black, trans, gender non-conforming, and queer AMC participants.
  • We will re-envision and re-design the AMC Safety Team. The AMC Safety Team was originally created as a peer-counseling support network for AMC participants. It has been comprised entirely of volunteers, some with crisis response training, but very few with the training necessary for nightlife de-escalation or mediating conflict with authority figures (be they bouncers, law enforcement, or others in positions of power). We commit to providing the resources, time, and planning to build a Safety Team with these competencies for future AMCs.

2. How AMP makes decisions about nighttime programming, especially with regard to artists who have played The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

In solidarity with trans women in our community and elsewhere, AMP’s board and staff members have always strongly opposed Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s transphobic and trans-exclusionary practices and policies.

This year’s AMC nighttime music event featured THEESatisfaction, a band that played MWMF in 2013 and, as of the time of booking at AMC, had never made a public statement about their stance on Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s (MWMF) trans-exclusionary policies.

Some members of our community raised concerns about this. Members of AMP’s staff and board discussed the concerns at length, offered to help facilitate a direct conversation with the artists, and committed to incorporating a consideration of artist compliance with various boycott requests, including the boycott of the MWMF, into future decision-making about selection of AMC performers.

One of our community members, a longtime AMC participant and content facilitator, pushed hard to get THEESatisfaction to make a statement about MWMF’s policies. Another one of our community members with close relationships to both the AMC and THEESatisfaction engaged in direct conversation with the artists. The combination of these efforts resulted in a face to face meeting facilitated by AMP staff, after which THEESatisfaction agreed to make a statement from the stage and to also post a written statement to their website. We look forward to reading the statement.

What we learned:

  • While we were engaged in one-on-one conversation around the issue from the time it was raised, we should have contributed more publicly to the conversation in support of the concerns that were raised, and we should have made the AMC’s opposition to MWMF’s trans-exclusionary policy clear.
  • We need a policy to more systematically ensure that our evening event line-ups are consistent with our values as a network, and to work with artists we invite to make sure they are also aligned with our values and the values of the AMC community. We commit to developing that policy and making it public in time for AMC2016.

3. Transformative Justice and survivor safety at the AMC

We are striving towards the ideals of transformative justice. This year we learned again that we, as a community, have a long way to go in realizing the possibilities of this vision.

On Friday, June 19th, an AMC participant requested that another participant be removed from the conference because he had a history of harming women and his presence made her feel unsafe. The AMC Safety Team immediately initiated procedures to ensure the well-being and safety of the person, including providing a Safety Team member to accompany her throughout the day, at her request. Before taking the unprecedented step of asking someone to leave the AMC, and consistent with transformative justice principles of prioritizing the perspectives of all survivors of violence, conference staff immediately began to look into the specific accusations made against the individual and the history of the situation.

After speaking with elders and people close to the impacted women we learned that the accused individual had participated in intensive and extensive transformative justice processes with the impacted women and many other members of two communities between 2010 and 2011. Our understanding was that those processes had come to a resolution satisfactory to all parties involved, and that the individual had been welcomed back into community with the women who had initiated the accountability processes.

However, once the voiced concern became public on social media, we recognized that for survivors of violence at the AMC, even the possibility of there being a person who caused this type of harm present at the AMC could be extremely triggering. We realized that we did not have capacity to hold a full process with conference participants about the individual’s continued presence. For this reason, on Saturday, AMP Staff and the accused individual jointly agreed that he should leave the conference in order to minimize and prevent any further sense of unsafety at the conference.

This situation raises critical questions such as:

  • When is the process of transformative justice complete and for whom?
  • When and how do we welcome people back into our collective spaces?
  • What measures must be in place to ensure safety and access for all of our communities?
  • What would it take to trust our own safety teams, accountability processes, and transformative justice principles so that we do not have to resort to permanent exile, the same principles that drive a prison nation?

What we learned:

  • We need a survivor-centered transformative justice protocol that we will use in the future in case of any allegations or incidents of sexual violence or threat. We commit to developing this prior to AMC2016.

With Love For Our Communities

Thank you for your interest, commitment, and work to building yourselves, your communities, and the AMP community. Thank you for thinking critically and compassionately about the struggles we faced at the AMC and for helping us face the struggles of the future.

Again, this document is not at all complete, and only represents AMP as an organization – but the AMC is way more than our staff alone. It is a space created and held by hundreds, by thousands. We invite other people who have played a leadership role within the AMC community to publish their own reflections on what happened this weekend.

AMP Staff always take a much-deserved hiatus the week after AMC, so please be patient: we’d love to hear your reflections and responses, but won’t be able to respond until the week of June 29th.

With love and respect,
– The Staff & Board of Allied Media Projects