Here is more interview with Justin. I am sorry it is not as polished as the other one and may be annoyingly glitchy. honestly, video editting got exhausting to me. I will try to get a time key up later today or tomorrow.
As many people may or may not know, there was an inquiry and process with the Lookout Arts Quarry about whether or not they felt comfortable hosting Recess in light of the current concerns and the departure of the 3 members of the team. I, and Justin, have been in process with the Quarry for weeks. And, ultimately, Northwest Recess will happen at the Quarry. But, only thanks to a lot of commitment, time and energy on the part of Islando, myself, Justin, S.E.A.T and quarry members. All parties agree that there is still conversations to be had and work to do. I wanted to share with you Justin's letter to the Quarry. I have been in process with him for months, I will admit that I cried when I read this letter from Justin to the Quarry.
This whole 8 month conflict has been the most difficult, intense, complicated, and confusing thing I've ever dealt with. I'm sorry if my words came off as dismissive of the concerns and issues of those who left. I don't feel that way at all; on the contrary, nothing could be more important to me that the feelings and wellbeing of my closest collaborators.
Despite not having personally heard from everyone who left Recess or having a clear solution for how to make everything better, I believe that I have a good idea about what they are upset at. I think there was a general feeling that their voices were not being heard, listened to, or given sufficient space on the team. I think they felt this both in our group processes, our organizational structure, from me personally, and to an extent from Ely. While it's certainly more complicated that this, I see this as accurate and can understand why they are upset.
There were many ways that I could have and can do better at listening. I needed to have more patience and faith in group and interpersonal process, to create space for facilitation without being outcome driven, and to establish better organizational structures that would have given more agency to each individual team member. I needed to make the organization as a whole more responsive to the needs and desires of contributors and community members at every level. For years I have been aware that not everyone on the team felt like their voice was valued equally. Although I have put much care and attention into changing this, the departure of three organizers has been a wake-up call for me. Our attempts were clearly insufficient. If Recess is to continue, more is needed.
I acknowledge that I am a difficult person to say “no” to, that my excited and sometimes stubborn personality is difficult to confront, that me being the “founder” and the person with the most work equity, social capital, Recess history, social connections (continue long list of organizational privileges) only compounds the problem, and that gender issues play a role. Ely and I are the two most confident voices on the team as well as those with the most capital and history with Recess. We are also both male socialized and male presenting. This created an uneven power dynamic in which the femme organizers were disempowered from the start, and which we did not adequately compensate for through formal organizational structures or by accommodating our communication styles to their needs.
I see that Recess has been largely seen as, and that I have treated it as, "my show", despite many people putting time, energy, and love into it. I don’t want it to be “my show”. I want it to be a show shared by those who invest their care and labor into it, and despite my intention to share it, I have not been as successful as I've needed to be. This failure has had profound consequences for my community. I care about them deeply, not just as contributors but as my closest friends, and it is tragic for me that I failed to do better.
For the Recess next week, we are committed to a lot of specific changes. We have an appointed safety person who is a non-cis-man, non-organizer, who has unquestionably the ultimate decision around safety. Our hopes is that this person will be removed enough from the finances and running of the event that safety concerns will be adequately addressed. We have had community members come to us interested in stepping into needed leadership roles, of which we are excited to weave into the event. I have also committed to numerous ideas of how to personally step back, distribute leadership, improve team responsiveness, and lead and push less.
I have new understanding of the way that I can be a better director, leader, and team member. This includes better listening, removing myself from the facilitator role, and maintaining a vigilant awareness of my tacit authority over those with less operational power.
Many of the difficulties and hurt at Recess historically happened in high-pressure moments. This event next week has been designed to intentionally require less effort from all involved so that there will be fewer of those moments. In having a simpler artistic and size vision, we hope to free ourselves up to give more care and attention to each other, our own process, the needed community weaving and process, and our commitment to doing better and listening more.
In terms of a future “way through for Recess", Ely and I are less sure. This has been a learning experience for us; our many lessons as a team; our new realizations and lenses. We have a clearer understanding of the mistakes we were making, and new ideas and commitments of how we can do better to serve the community and those we care about.
However, the specific future of Recess is confusing and complicated in the midst of this community-wide conflict. We are uncertain whether Recess will continue, and whether Recess continuing is the best answer to this conflict. We have a long list of actionable changes within Recess. If that is of interest, let me know and I can share that work with you.
Thanks again for your time and energy. I see it and appreciate it, and recognize that it is not clear nor simple.
Title: Answers to a concerned community member.
Are you concerned about the holding of Northwest or other Recess events at this time? If so what are the concerns, and what is being done to address them?
While I respect people’s choice to not engage, I have not seen any reasons for forced termination of Recess. I can see reasons why I think it is in the best interest of David, Ely and Justin to terminate recess, I ultimately feel like it is their decision. And, I can also understand why there is concern in the community. I have listened to many public complaints and many private ones. While publicly there has been a lot of concern expressed, I have not found any actual incidents or substantiations that warrant concern for systemic safety, oppression, or harm to participants at events.
Most of the critique I've seen has been around the intra-organizational patterns and hardship of being a member of the organizer team. Feelings of frustration with the organizational structure of Recess - the ways it operates like a collective and on the work of many, yet is still being managed by Justin and he still has more power than others and gains resources, and social capital from his work that others do not. I hear concerns over how femme labor is respected and listened to. While I think that needs some serious looking in to and work on behalf of Justin and the organization, at this time, I am hesitant to say it warrants an end to recess holding events. I am opening to hearing other perspectives on this. Or, at least to say, I think that it warrants more conversations with those who have been organizers with Recess in the last 10 years.
What are the reasons people are boycotting Recess? And can you speak to what you have seen of them and think of them in regards to your work with recess?
The concerns listed below are the major ones which have been brought to my attention. I have put the concerns in quotes to be clear that they are not my words or necessarily things I believe. They are not direct quotes from anyone.
Here are the main concerns I have gathered and some of my lenses on them:
Is it true that Recess has an exceptionally high turnover and burnout of labor, particularly femme labor?
Recess does move through organizers, and it seems Recess is not an easy organization to work for - and the pay and praise for that work low. It seems that people work with Recess because they believe in it as “good community work" and they care about it.
I know numbers and statistics don't hold the whole story, but out of curiosity, I looked at Recess’s entire history of organizers that have worked with recess and for how long. I've kept the names anonymous to respect individual privacy. Surprisingly, when not including Justin in these numbers, Recess has had 5 mfab (male assigned at birth) and 5 famb (female assigned at birth) people work as Recess off-site/full Organizers, and their average number of years working for Recess are nearly the same. With Mfab organizers working an average of 3.4 years for Recess and Ffab organizers working slightly longer at Recess averaging 3.6 years. Also, I was surprised at the high number of a 3.5 year average of working with Recess, only because I know that community dance organizer turnover to be very high in general in the dance community, and since Recess produces 9 events in the same annual time frame that local organizers produce one or two, I expected a higher turnover.
I hear calls for concern in some individuals about femme labor and I wold love more insight and information about this as I am struggling to understand the exact situations, concerns or critiques. While I am sure they merit attention. I don’t have the information to work with this one with Recess.
Were the departing members invited to the camp out?
The departing members were not formally invited to the camp out. They had already stopped responding to messages from Justin, Ely and David. Recess was respecting the implicit and explicit "no" to further communication. The camp out was not about an accountability processes. It was held because of the lack of information and engagement from those that left in an attempt to hear, listen and audit what was happening (and what was needed) in a face to face way with the community at large.
It was an incomplete process. It was a beginning. We are still in the work of unravelling and addressing what happened. And, more is still needed. We know that.
Is there an accountability process happening?
No plan of accountability has been made. I have been in the process of supporting Recess in designing a process (accountability, reconciliation, conflict resolution, community peacemaking circle, etc). It is still a work in progress and after 2 months, we dont have enough concrete concerns or incidents to work with that warrant and official “accountability process.” With out more involvement from concerned parties this is going to be a slow process and possibly one that can't actually have integrity or be successful. We have been hesitant to create something insincere or superficial for Recess. I know there are real concerns and people are upset and there is an ask for change. Recess is in conversation about how to move forward with addressing that in a way that honors values of restorative justice and reconciliation.
I don’t think accountability can happen without the need for it from, (and participation of) Leah, Kim, Dig or Cat. Or, another individual or group from the community step forward to call them into that process. There are community members who have been in conversation with me about working together to design something. And, I have not found (in my scouring, digging, and asking) any reason to approach this situation with an abuse narrative and invoke an accountability process.
* I welcome and invite more voices and more community involvement in this process so that can happen if it needs to. I know that Recess would step into it if it were asked of them.
Have the departing members been involved in the accountability process?
No accountability plan exists. As we are still in the quest of to whom and to what Recess should/could be accountable. But requests - from me (to Leah) and from Recess (to Leah, Kim, and Dig) - have been made for feedback and invited participation in some process (with me, or another mediator, or anyone of their choosing). At this time, those offers have been declined.
I know that this choice and decision (by Leah, Kim and Dig) to step out of processing with recess is important, and one I respect in honor of self-care and holding boundaries.
My assessment is that this conflict best deserves a conflict mediation process rather than one of accountability. Perhaps a conflict mediation process would bring to light a need for accountability, but at this time I do not see it as appropriate for this circumstance and don't have the skills to design something based on what I have.
My other idea is that Recess sit in formal mediation with all past organizers and influrntial people to Recess to talk about and design changes together.
I won't support recess until I see real changes and accountability.
I won't support recess until Kim, Dig, Cat, and Leah do.
Thank you for your conviction and passion to see real changes in the experiences of femme and nb folks. However, I am really concerned about the tactic of asking a community to stop supporting Recess or asking Recess to fold without offering some means of reconciliation, transformation, addressing concerns. I think it is complex. And, I believe that those who stepped out have done so out of their own necessity and self-preservation, and I do not question this decision. I do question a community in which we “other” and villainize those who have done wrong and made mistakes. In which we alienate, shut down or shut out that which is not working. I believe in community. I believe in goodness and good-will of others. I believe that Recess would like to change and would like to step-in to this conflict and step-in to the chance and the opportunity to change. But, currently, the process is slow going. And, continuing to host events and gather with community seems to be the thing that Recess team has access to in order to be in conversation, to try to do better.
I don’t see how forcing Recess out of business or out of its work is going to create positive growth or change for the community or the remianing organizers. I also don’t see how a boycott of recess and recess terminating is accomplishing anything empowering or transformative for those who left, for those who remain, or for the community at large. We can't not end patriarchy by poisoning the king. It is not enough to “take down” a symbol of patriarchy. Or, to take down a leader. We are best off to look at what is happening and take collective inventory of a bad situation, work towards demands, boundaries, and make clear requests and expecations - to give each and all of us the chance to have Recess and have it be different. I can understand that perhaps those who left have lost hope in that. I am entering late in the game here. But, my optimism is both my gift, my strength and my achilles heel. And, I would rather risk trying and losing then to fall in to patterns of punishment used by systems of power - shame, alienation, exclusion, finger pointing.
What are your personal goals in boycotting Recess? Tangible outcomes? What are you standing behind and what are your hopes? For yourself? For the community? For the departing recess team? For those who remain?
Are there ways to engage and come toward this situation in a way that honors community and transformation and liberation? That acknowledges the people behind “recess” and their humanity? Is there a way that does not put this problem as “their” problem, but rather “our” problem? Is there a way that holds each other “in” instead of “othering" the problem as “not in me?” Where is the growth in it for me? For them? For you?
As far as accountability to those who left, no concrete demands or requests have been given to Recess by those who left. The public post asks the community to stop supporting Recess. It also doesn't name that transgressions of abuse, harm, coercion, manipulation nor abuse of power have occurred. Everything I have read from the departing members suggests problematic dynamics behaviors and hurt. It names trust issues. It names gender dynamics. And, it certainly has sparked much critique online that includes a whole world of annoyances, disagreements with, and dislikes of, Recess. But, I haven't found anything to base or warrant an accountability process at this time. More invovlement and more participation from others may yield more reasons down the road. Again this is all made difficult by the lack of communication around the issue from those who have left: accountability processes are conducted between people and the other parties are absent.
I believe that the tone and language of the public posts invoke an abuse narrative rather than a conflict narrative. They infer injustices around gender and patriarchy.
As I have spent months trying to siphon through all of this. I can not understand how or why an "accountability process” is needed. That is an honest sentiment of perplexity. Not an argument against those who want that. I also recognize that not everyone is willing to work with me and talk to me in this because I am seen as being allied with Recess. So, it’s complicated.
I hold concerns about community approaching this with an abuse narrative and the implicit power dynamics that can create. I also hold concerns that the call for “accountability” is actually a desire for punitive justice. To see recess suffer and be penalized for it's mistakes and short-comings.
Does Recess need a conflict resolution process with those who left? Yes. Certainly. Some changes to be a better organization? Yes. Certainly. Work on examining patterns of patriarchy and how they play out in recess team? Yes. Please. It will be well worth the time. Do Justin, David, and Ely need a break personally from events for a while? Yes. Probably. Does the community need to demand that they do that? Seems dramatic and unfair based on what concerns I have found as substantiated. Are people upset with Recess? Yes. Are their legitimate reasons for the community to boycott Recess? That is one for personal discernment based on personal values. From my value and ethic set - no.
Hey all! I am doing my best to get a bunch of 1/2 finished work up on the site and available to you all to read and review. The hope and the goal was to have this stuff out weeks ago. I am pushing to get stuff up before Northwest. It's been complicated. Between Justin's travels and mine. And, the ever changing landscape of this whole situation. I have been reworking and rewriting. And, Justin and I have been in redesign of a lot of things.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to answer some questions on behalf of the quarry in consideration of everything that has been happening with Recess. In the process of answering there questions and being in conversations with them, I found myself in a bit of a reconsideration of my role with this blog. With Recess. With all of this. It has been a lot of complex emotional and intellectual work to balance what I hoped to do in this process with the limitations of resources/voices that I have access to, and, juggling that with complexities of being in close working relationship with Recess for two weeks, and, also feeling like time and attention to a formal work around this has been limited.
In light of that, I chose to ask Justin to spend some time just speaking to the issues and the questions we have been grappling with for the last few months. For me personally, I don't have a lot to say right now. I will. Soon. But, I feel like my work with Recess is a work in progress. One that really needs more time. I need more information. We all need to get more clear about what it is that I am doing and what it is that we agreed to do together before I can be successful in anything else.
You'll find the video in the next post.
Until then ....
Here is one of 3 (or 4) videos where you can here Justin answer some of the questions about Recess.
Below you will find a key to important parts/topics as best as I can offer them:
1:00 Why did Recess ask me to help them?
2:00 Timeline of this conflict
9:30 Why are you hosting NW?
13:00 Is Recess going to end?
13:45 What is the plan for reconciliation/Accountability
16:00 Justin asks Erin " What do you think is needed?"
20:00 "Erin, how is it working for Recess and why are you doing it?"
* and, I just want to clarify some things that I said in the video that were hard to edit in to the conversation in a good way:
1) I think that an accountability process may become clear and appropriate in conversation/conflict resolution process with those who left. It be necessary but I don't have the tools or the information at this point to be the person designing it. I invite and welcome support in that process.
2) I am (and we are) really looking at this conundrum with a lot of reverence to the complexity of the situation. Justin, Recess and I want take on this process in a good way. There are complexities and obstacles at this point to Recess and I doing that well. We are working on it. It is a slow process. One wrought with emotion. And, the impact of this conflict on Justin has definitely been hard. For this process to really be successful, we need time to do well by all the complexities and emotions. The decision to hold Northwest was complex and I support the decision. I look forward to what can and will emerge for Recess after.