Mastering the Hustle 13: Creating Safer Spaces III

Mastering the Hustle
08/15/2019
Martin Douglas
All photos by Victoria Holt

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + SummitMoPOP, and The Recording Academy have partnered together to present Mastering The Hustle: a panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.


Being as though this is our third panel on the concept of creating safer spaces, it's safe to say there's not really a way to exhaust the discourse on making the public places we inhabit fully safe for everyone. Mortal danger should not be on our minds when we go somewhere to have a good time, whether in the form of structural disrepair or encountering abusers. Every space we go to see live music, to dance, to have a good time should be an environment where all of us feel safe and supported.

In the 13th installment of our Mastering the Hustle workshop series, several members of Seattle's community gathered to once again discuss the concept of safer spaces and what we can do to achieve the objective of making sure everyone has a place in our city to go where they can enjoy themselves without fear or harassment. Nancy Chang, Executive Director of Reel Grrls and co-founder of Skate Like a Girl, Jonah Bergman, a musician (formerly of Schoolyard Heroes) and owner of Bait Shop, and Kim Selling, contributor to The Stranger, convened to address topics directly addressing the obstacles we face in creating safer spaces and what we can do as individuals to help make our spaces safer.

The panel begins in earnest by Chang discussing Seattle's Teen Dance Ordinance, which basically prohibited and prevented all-ages spaces from thriving in the city, causing severe limitations for underage musicians and music lovers to have a safe space to enjoy live music. Selling grew up in Silicon Valley, a place she half-jokes "hates humanity." To feel supported by the arts community, she and her friends would throw shows in basements and "basically anywhere we could plug in amps and cops wouldn't complain about the noise." These guerilla shows were essential for building community, but they weren't regulated and there was no way to help grow them into something community-supported.

In addition, there were no regulations in place to help the people attending the shows feel safe, so there were quite a few dangerous scenarios for marginalized members of this ad hoc community. Fire exits and indoor plumbing are cool things to have, but will there be people afraid to be in those spaces? Do attendees have to worry about their rapist being in one of the featured bands? In Seattle, creating a safe community has been challenging for Selling, as she notes the general culture is non-confrontational, which proves frustrating when these very important topics come up and people don't want to discuss them. The current climate of introducing these conversations has proven helpful.

Bergman notes that young people are confronted with the anxiety of entering an unfamiliar space even when it is safe. He felt fortunate to attend shows in welcoming environments. "It's humbling to walk into a space and be like, 'I don't run the show here,'" he says. "'This space is not mine just because I stepped foot into it.'" Bergman makes a crucial point when he says even if you do attend a show in a safe space, maybe you don't feel like you belong at first.

Chang asks the other panelists about using their privilege to make sure other people navigating these spaces feel included. Bergman, as "a straight white man who owns a business," has acquired a privilege most people don't have. After his career as a touring musician ended, he started working for a woman named Linda Derschang, one of Seattle's most celebrated restaurant and bar owners. Utilizing his experience being in bars all across America and having experienced being around people he would never have met if not for being a musician, he was empowered by Derschang to experiment. Being given the opportunity to book Linda's Fest, Bergman programmed diverse lineups, with metal and queer-punk bands playing shows alongside experimental hip-hop artists like Guayaba and DoNormaal.

He spoke about building community as co-owner of Bait Shop by having events such as Party Mix (a queer new-wave dance night) and Just One More Thing -- partnered with KEXP's Sharlese Metcalf, McKenna Haley, and Dusty Henry -- which allows various collectives in Seattle's vast music scene to essentially run the bar for an evening, picking their own music and creating themed cocktails. Events such as these engender a more inclusive community.

Selling shares a story of volunteering for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation while also attending a Catholic high school; it catalyzed a very real truth she encountered: "Intersectionality is not a myth." She brings up a point Bergman made earlier in the panel ("Shut up and listen"), and though she describes herself as a "total bulldozer," she makes it a point to find out the needs of the people she interacts within her community. Selling's sister is a special needs educator, and that has been a valuable resource for her in terms of learning about physical accessibility.

"I talk a lot about my own experiences because I know that maybe I'm not like everybody who you know in your life, so if I'm not like the people who are in your life, then maybe you need to know my perspective and I need to know yours," Selling says. She speaks about her experience managing Capitol Hill boutique Indian Summer and stresses the importance of being in a place where everyone has physical agency, and the equal importance of businesses owned by womxn and people of color. It's paramount to the concept of community for people in their communities who are historically marginalized to have a place where they feel they matter.

Chang notes that in Seattle, there can often be toxic discussions about race and asks the panel about the process to understand what their privilege looks like. Selling recommends therapy for those who can afford it. She speaks on the notion of call-out culture and how some privileged people find it to be one of the most toxic things about contemporary society. "Call-out culture doesn't come from a vacuum," she says. "It comes from a place that needs to be examined." Selling uses the CLAIM model, established by Canadian social justice worker Lukayo Estrella, which is an acronym that looks like this:

Center yourself
Listen
Acknowledge/Apologize
Inquire
Move forward

Selling explains it's not on the person you've harmed to go through the emotional labor of educating you on how you've harmed them; they're under no obligation to offer awareness if you ask. Bergman notes the importance of "calling in," the notion of accountability. He makes the observation of people with privilege getting defensive; in website comment sections, in conversation, probably complaining about the "PC" panel sitting before the people in attendance today. "If every room you walk into smells like shit, you gotta check your shoes," he says. He also notes it's easy to get defensive about the notion of white supremacy, to only think about the notion of burning crosses and white robes when in actuality it is a long-established power structure keeping white privilege at the top of its list of priorities.

Chang acknowledges white supremacy as a framework, and she works to help remove those frameworks from our culture. She asks about resources in the community that are also removing these frameworks. In addition to Real Rent Duwamish, mentioned earlier in the panel, she also points out Totem Star -- "Inherent, implicit bias is huge and it affects everything we do; the way we look at our neighbors and our coworkers and ourselves and our siblings and the people we date. White supremacy plays into the micro and macro activity," she says. Being a part of nonprofits that educate the community and foster equality is a good start to deprogramming the messages of white supremacist culture. Taking apart the systems that have been put in place to benefit a very particular set of people is the real action.

"The world that we live in was [made] by design," Chang says. "We might not like it, but it was by design. And if we don't acknowledge that it was by design and we don't do anything about it, we're continuing to perpetuate and uphold things on a default."

Selling says the behavior she has run into the most specific to Seattle is how people -- white people in particular -- refer to the space they're in as "their bubble" and laugh it off. Joking about how Seattle is so white. Selling observes the extreme segregation of the city, acknowledging the notoriously segregated school system, the redlining, "every discriminatory policy you can think of that hurts black communities, indigenous communities, Asian-American populations, Eastern African immigrant populations; it is built into the way our city exists and functions every day." Layering our own existential ideas of ourselves on top of the way the city functions, on top of our bias against our neighbors, it all plays into each other." Selling also says changing how the system works is a matter of chipping away at your own implicit bias and seeking education regarding that matter.

On the question Chang brought up about the power we have in these overwhelming times, Bergman indicates the fact that power is scaled. He doesn't often consider his measure of power but does acknowledge he runs a space. He says some people run bigger spaces and can make these bigger spaces safer for a wider swath of people, but the change he can affect starts within himself.

Selling brings up an article about millennials being afraid to buy homes because the planet is dying, and thought about how there are so many problems stacking up that it's all too easy for the accumulation of disrepair to become too much for a person to handle. She says, "True power comes from your personal relationships and how you connect with people. Anger is optimism, anger is a motivating factor." She quotes Shirley Chisholm: "Organize your rage." Find an injustice and fight against it. She acknowledges the numerous structural problems in Seattle and jokes we should just wipe the slate clean before describing the best way of implementing individual change ("Pick something you can access and target it without killing yourself trying to change it").

Chang brings up a Wizard of Oz reference and adjusts it: "In my reboot of the version, it's just gonna be a mirror. You pull back the curtain and it's you, you are The Man. We are the system!" She notes the fact that we've grown up in an age of punitive punishment, but the point of humanity is to add to it instead of dismantling it. Infusing joy into your interactions is key; it doesn't take much to be a nice person. Chang then asks about the steps and practices of helping build a community, helping build safer spaces.

Bergman notes the difficulty of living in late-stage capitalism, where you have to grind to survive. He says, "One example of privilege is that we even have the time to have this conversation and that we have the opportunity to get together and have this time and this space just to start to chip away at these issues." It is an important privilege for our community to get together and have panels such as these, to be able to meet up and discuss and listen. Not everyone has the time to be able to reflect and deconstruct as a community.

Selling acknowledges the fact that issues like mental health get discarded in the act of the grind; as someone diagnosed with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, she notices we sometimes forget to check in on the mental health of others. "you need to know where people are coming from inside themselves before you ask for something," she says. "Because you might be asking too much, or you might be asking something from a different context from what they can handle, and that should always be a part of the equation." Because Seattle has changed exponentially in the twelve years Selling has lived here and the issue of gentrification has gotten as prevalent as it has, supporting the spaces that give to the community is crucial. Other examples for supporting your community, she says, include sharing GoFundMe pages, "Venmo'ing black femmes in your life who have given you way more patience than they should have," help your friends even when they don't ask, ask if you can do something for a stranger.

"It sounds like some Mr. Rogers shit, but it really works," she says.

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