Monday, November 14, 2016

Bye, bye, bye...

I had to fire a volunteer last week. 

It was the first time we were open since election day and they said, in front of clients, some of whom are immigrants, some of whom are undocumented, that now that Trump will be president they need to “go the fuck back to where they came from.”

I’ve never had to dismiss a volunteer.  I’ve had to break up arguments and deal with gossip, but I’ve not yet had to tell anyone not to come to volunteer anymore.  I’ve fired people from paying jobs, but not a volunteer; this felt very different.  I don’t understand the reasoning for volunteering when it doesn’t come from a place of love.  And while I don’t understand it I have seen it.  People volunteer out of greed, a desire for power, and prestige, but none of those things are all that motivating for me so I don’t understand it. 

When I confronted the volunteer to ask if they had said “go the fuck back to where they came from” they got defensive, saying, “I was just talking politics.”  I informed them that as a volunteer they are a representative of our organization and cannot say racist, xenophobic things while acting as a representative of our organization.  I also (again) reminded them that my name is not “hon” but that is another issue.  By the end of the very frustrating conversation I asked the volunteer to leave, and said that they could no longer serve there.

When I told the other volunteers they were all grateful.  That morning I had brought them a bowl of safety pins, explained the symbolism to them, and said they were available for those who were ready to stand up in support of our African American, Muslim, LGBTQ, immigrant, and women neighbors.  Every one of our volunteers took a safety pin, without hesitation or question.  And when another volunteer who is Muslim arrived later that day, she told me that she was very happy to see everyone wearing that symbol of safety, but said that she would need to cover herself in safety pins to actually feel safe. 

I’m proud of our volunteers for serving as examples of radical hospitality.  I think we do a great job of making people feel safe within our walls, but I feel like we need to continue doing more to make them feel safe when we leave.  Of course, most of the people who are reading this will say that organizing is the answer, and sure, that is part of it.  But I also think that we need to simply work to change our culture, to make it not ok to say things that are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic or otherwise horrible.  We need to (I need to) call people out when they are inappropriate, and interrupt conversations that hurt people.  And we need do everything that we can to support those who do stand up for others. 

Later addition:  I also know that bullying is fueled by attention.  And I agree with and share with our volunteers the methods for supporting the victims and ignoring the bullies.   There is a time for interrupting, and a time to remove attention and diminish the attacker's voice.  It takes practice to know when each is appropriate so I recommend being on alert all the time :)

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