Throughout the past couple years numerous women and men have been shedding a light upon the horrifying amount of sexual assault and misconduct that is pervasive around the world. Primarily these accusations have been lodged against rich and powerful men who have used their power and privilege to coerce or force women into performing various sexual acts. Such notable names being Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis CK and current United States president Donald Trump. The wave of sexual assault scandals has led to the creation of movements such as #MeToo which seek to provide the victims of sexual harassment and assault some justice.
However, the sexual misconduct has not been limited to the rich and powerful. Certain figures on the radical left have also been accused of performing some atrocious acts against other comrades in left organizing circles. The rise of the Me Too movement and the sexual misconduct controversy surrounding certain notable leftists has led many to seek justice for the survivors. No doubt we all want to see justice done for the survivors of sexual assault, but what does justice look like? One person on the left who has provided some insight into the difficult questions surrounding the notion of justice is leftist YouTuber and Podcaster Mexie.
Mexie has a PhD in Human Geography, her primary focus being political economy and environmental issues. She started her YouTube channel in 2016 and she started her podcast, Vegan Vanguard, with her friend Marine, who hosts the YouTube channel A Privileged Vegan, in 2017. She agreed to answer a few questions regarding justice for survivors of sexual assault, the cancelation of offenders, and how we on the left try to prevent further incidents of sexual misconduct in radical organizing spaces.
We started our interview with the question of how groups and organizations can be more mindful and welcoming to survivors and not just sweep accusations under the rug. How can we try to avoid situations where organizers in radical spaces who have some clout, do not abuse their position or their platforms? Also, what does justice look like for the survivors? And is cancellation an effective means of distributing justice?
“There’s no easy answer, but following Adrienne Maree brown’s advice, I think we need to ‘move at the speed of trust.’ Try to ensure that accountability processes are entered into in good faith, with humility and compassion for everyone involved. survivors should know that they will be believed and supported, and perpetrators of harm should know that although they will be held accountable by the group they will also be supported in holding themselves accountable and won’t be abandoned (unless circumstances are such that such a process is not possible or workable).”
“We need to spend time on trust and relationship-building among group members, and also on collaboratively working out protocols for how to deal with harm within our movement spaces. We need to create a safe space for survivors to come forward with their stories and we need to be ready to work through whatever accountability processes need to happen for the community to feel safe and whole together again.”
“In terms of preventing the abuse of power, that is trickier. But if we can be continually self-reflexive about why we are doing this in the first place (ie. for the cause and not individual gain), and if we can actively discourage hero worship in the movement, this could help.”
“Justice will look differently for every survivor of harassment or abuse. It will be context-specific and will be driven by the needs and wants of the survivor in question, along with what the broader community would need to see happen to repair trust with the person who committed harm.”
“I don’t believe that outright cancellation is effective in bringing about a positive transformation in the person who did harm. Punitive measures are rarely effective in that way. There is a difference between consequences and punishment. Losing one’s platform may be a good consequence, but being completely barred from leftist organizing for good I would say is closer to punishment and not terribly productive. It depends on the circumstance, though.
If the abuser is not interested in doing the work to repair relationships and earn back the trust of the community, then an accountability process won’t work. This is really meant to work with people who have some sort of relationship already so that there is buy-in from everyone involved, particularly the abuser, in repairing the relationships and the trust that has been broken.”
Mexie raised some great points in her statements. Those of us engaged in radical organizing spaces should always treat every accusation of sexual misconduct as a matter of great importance. We should never ignore or belittle accusations even if they are lodged against high ranking or influential members of our organizing communities.
Survivors should always be treated with sincerity and compassion. At the same time perpetrators should understand the severity of their actions and be held accountable. However, there is a fine line between punishment and consequences. A punishment would include taking away a persons house or denying them the ability to ever be able to make a living again. A consequence on the other hand, could be the removal of a person from a particular position or the deplatforming of the offender. A consequence would leave the possibility of redemption open for the offender, if the person was willing to accept full responsibly and understand the gravity of their harmful actions.
In short, punishment is inflicting pain while consequences is taking privileges away and setting boundaries. This method of transformative justice will only work if both parties are willing to engage in the process, but the abuser holds the responsibility in correcting the mistakes and willing to put in the work to repair trust. We on the left should build the infrastructure to hold offenders accountable and who are willing to participate in the process of transformative justice. As Mexie stated in her Youtube video Cancelation: Are We Our Own Cops? “ We should think about how to collectively heal from harm.”
During our interview I remembered something that Mexie touched upon in her YouTube video Cancelation: Are We Our Own Cops? She mentioned that we must always have room for self-examination and reflection. All of us hold pieces of the hegemonic ideology in our ways of thinking. Although we want to smash patriarchy, racism, homophobia and capitalism, consciously or unconsciously we may hold views or attitudes, which are capitalistic or misogynistic in nature.
The dominant ideology of a society, particularly the ideology of a neoliberal, white supremacist and hyper capitalistic society, is not easy to erase from our minds and our modes of thinking. To transcend the dominant ideology in our ways of thinking and acting takes time, effort and much self-reflection. I do not have all the answers on how to combat sexual harassment and assault; it is a topic and issue that will require massive mobilization, conversation and education.
It is my hope that my conversation with Mexie will open up broader discussions in radical leftist organizing circles and beyond about these difficult topics. It is also my hope that this interview serves as an introduction to the ideas of transformative justice. At the risk of sounding cliché, if we on the left are genuine about changing the world into one that is more just, equitable and humane we must also change ourselves in the process.
We must remove the bigot, the homophobe, the cop and the sexist all of which live inside our heads. We should always show solidarity and act out of solidarity and love with survivors of sexual assault. In this way, we start to slowly build the foundation for a new society.
For more information on this topic Mexie recommends the podcast How To Survive The End Of The World episodes on #metoo with “a restorative justice facilitator to learn more about how these kinds of processes can look and how they can work.” Also, the book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown. I highly recommend Mexie’s YouTube channel and her podcast Vegan Vanguard.