Protecting Spaces Where Voices are Heard
All too often, violence corrodes the space for underrepresented and under-protected people, like workers and youth, to express their needs and exercise their rights. We know that conflict and disagreement only escalate when these crucial spaces are infringed upon.
That’s why NPUS offers safety support for community actions, celebrations, and events--to keep space open for everyone’s first amendment rights, including protest and civic action. When you support NP, you support communities in prioritizing safety so they can be both heard and protected. Check out how our teams in New York and Minneapolis are doing just that.
Protecting the Workers Demanding Protections
While it is not NP’s role to prescribe strategies, organize actions or advocate for any particular legislative outcome, NP can play an important role in keeping civic space open for voices to be heard and rights to be exercised.
On a cold December day in New York City, 250 workers gathered beside a bustling holiday market. The markets happen every year and garner visitation from tourists and New Yorkers alike. On this particular day, the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition set up right next door. The Coalition represents New York’s multiethnic, and multicultural labor force, many of whom have been excluded from much-needed economic benefits and relief throughout the pandemic.
Why was protection requested? All too often, it is the most essential labor that is under-supported, exploited, and made invisible. In New York state, the Excluded Workers Fund supports these vulnerable workers, those who cannot access covid relief due to their immigration status, and covers essential needs like rent, groceries, and medical bills. But the fund is insufficient for the tens of thousands of workers fits, all of whose labor is categorized as “essential”. As 2021 came to a close and the city celebrated the holidays amidst a massive covid surge, workers were demanding $3 billion to fully fund excluded workers. Based in a long-standing relationship, FEW organizers reached out to NP for support in building a safe space for this action where these demands could be heard.
“From scouting routes, securing marshals, and leading in the coordination of all of the safety and security logistics, this team has constantly pulled through for our FEW Coalition actions and has made space for organizers to pull off amazing actions and mobilize hundreds of people across NYC in order to win a historic fund,” shared an organizer from the Coalition.
Each of these bold actions actively centers the people most impacted by economic and state-sanctioned violence and builds from a place of their safety concerns. The workers who make up the Coalition experience heightened security risks and protection concerns. An unintended escalation could jeopardize workers’ presence in the United States, due to immigration statuses. Workers routinely face harassment from state actors, and feared the same from law enforcement, vendors and park staff. And the NP safety team, together with the march organizers, had to take these factors into consideration.
“Exercising the right to civic space and creating visibility does not have to mean you leave elements of safety behind,” shared one NP team member. “The FEW Coalition’s commitment to safety comes from a commitment to the relationships that they have with each other and centering their needs over the flashiness of it.”
Protection for those demanding protections: The very approach to safety the FEW Coalition models on the street is the one they are fighting for in their occupations: to recognize the threats posed by the pandemic, to build from the concerns of the most marginalized, and, most fundamentally, to feel seen and valued.
NP was able to serve as a buffer to make such a space possible for the demonstration. When park staff threatened to intervene and ask the march to disperse, an NP team member was able to communicate the aims of the event and gain support from a key authority figure. When drivers, shoppers, and passersby became frustrated because their paths were temporarily blocked by the demonstrative body, the NP team was able to share the purpose of the march and quickly build empathy.
When park staff threatened to intervene and asked the marchers to disperse, an NP team member was able to communicate the aims of the event and they left without incident.
Those in support of the action far outnumbered those who remained frustrated by the interruption. As the Coalition gathered around the Governor’s office, passing taxi drivers recognized the group and went around the block to join the march from their vehicles in solidarity. With car horns blaring and chants filling the streets, the demonstration continued, building energy and awareness while keeping everyone safe.
Protecting the Students Demanding Action
Over one thousand miles away, the Minnesota NP team was preparing to facilitate safety for the Student Youth Empowerment Forum. During 2021, several high-profile events have brought attention to systemically overlooked patterns of racism, harassment, and lack of accountability from teachers and administrators.
NP’s role is not to prescribe solutions or actions, but to cultivate a space that is warm and welcoming. The job of NP is to hold the space and honor boundaries so that voices can be heard.
On December 9th, students from high schools around the Minneapolis metro area took to the stage to share harrowing experiences of sexual harassment and racist bullying. While violence and trauma all too often make us feel like the only one in the room, this space was filled with organizers, students, teachers, parents, and prominent Minnesota leaders and electeds who pledged to effect real change. The Minnesota Justice Coalition, who organized and coordinated the forum, asked NP to support the event’s safety.
Why was protection needed? The event took place in a semi-public venue, and in their safety planning organizers were confronted with the possibility of disruptions by outside agitators, as well as threats to the physical and emotional safety of students and elected officials alike. And in a world where threats to schools are all too common, cultivating a safe energy and modeling an alternative became a priority.
“The energy you put out is the energy you receive,” explained event coordinator Thuy Jones. “We put out the energy that this was a safe, welcoming space and that is what we got.”
As participants and attendees listened to upsetting stories and resonated with traumatic experiences, the NP team offered water and gentle support. And when curious hotel guests and passersby became disruptive, the NP team worked to de-escalate the situation and ensure the event continued, uninterrupted.
“Having the vests on gives that safety energy and gives people peace,” stated Johnathon McClellan, the director of the Minnesota Justice Coalition.
Protection for those demanding protection: The students want safety that goes beyond physical safety and affirms their whole being and belonging.
“I never felt safe at school,” shared one speaker. And while there is a long road ahead to build truly safe school environments, the NP team supported that kind of safety for the night of the forum.