Vision: 3 Ways to Be an 'Interrupter' and Curb Racism, Street Harassment and Animal Cruelty
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But what if immediate action doesn’t seem possible? Interrupting racism is part of a crucial struggle for social justice, but it can make people defensive and provoke violence. One of the underlying messages of The Interrupters is that without a reliably supportive community, being an everyday interrupter isn’t always feasible. Furthermore, knowing how and when to intervene can be a challenge.
“Being an anti-hate activist can be an intimidating, lonely and dangerous prospect for many people,” explains Dr. Jeb Middlebrook. director of the Solidarity Institute. Middlebrook, a white anti-racist organizer and speaker, says that interrupting specific situations may require supportive community. “If one’s goal is to intervene in hateful speech or aggressive acts, building a local collective or group with other similarly minded and similarly committed people is the best way to feel empowered, stay safe, and make an impactful difference,” he explains. “This may mean that one cannot intervene in every act of hate or aggression one witnesses individually; however, the key is to contribute to building a larger social movement beyond oneself that can shift the very culture of violence and aggression in society.”
Echoing the message of the film, Middlebrook says, “Community organizing can be an invaluable asset to anyone passionate about stopping hate and spreading social justice.” Much like the interrupters in the film, being able to act in the moment may first require some self-reflection and community support.
2. Interrupting Street Harassment
When you witness a woman being catcalled or groped in public, is the first impulse to intervene? Or do you fear for your own safety as well? Holly Kearl, the author of Stop Street Harassment! Making Public Spaces Safe and Welcoming for Women and founder of the blog of the same name, says that gender-based harassment in public space continues to be acceptable largely because bystanders and victims are taught to ignore it. “Harassers and abusers continue to harass and abuse when they know they can get away with it, and bystanders can do a lot to stop them from getting away with it,” Kearl explains.
On her Web site, Kearl lists a number of tips for individual bystanders looking for assertive, non-threatening, non-confrontational ways to interrupt public space harassment. If bystanders feel that they can assertively respond, either on their own behalf or on behalf of someone else, speaking directly to and looking a harasser directly in the eye can help deter unwanted behavior. If it feels uncomfortable or unsafe to speak directly to a harasser, speaking to the person being harassed and offering support can be crucial. “If you are unsure if harassment is actually happening or are worried about becoming the target, only addressing the harassed person and asking if they are okay and if you can help is a good tactic. You can also provide a distraction or interruption without being directly confrontational,” Kearl explains. “In a lot of the stories I receive about street harassment, not only are people upset by the harassment but the fact that people around them did nothing adds insult to injury.”
While public space harassment is generally viewed as an unlegislated area, there are certain methods of recourse. On public transit, harassers can be reported to the transit authority. If a harasser is on the job, their actions can be reported to their company.
3. Interrupting Animal Cruelty
Directly intervening in animal cruelty cases is a tricky proposition for some animal welfare and animal rights organizers. Many animal welfare and animal rights organizations suggest calling the proper authorities — either animal control, law enforcement or another agency trained in animal rescue. Some organizations go so far as to insist that bystanders not take immediate action lest they put themselves in harm’s way. But there are always exceptions: If you witness a case of cruelty or abuse that can’t wait for a visit from law enforcement; if you don’t want to write down the details and walk away, even temporarily; if you’re not comfortable calling law enforcement but still want to help.