Jesse Stong is an artist, educator and dramaturge. He was invited to be one of the starting speakers at the Brave Creative Spaces long table. Here Jesse shares his thoughts a couple of weeks after the event:
The Brave Creative Spaces Long Table was an important opportunity for us to carve out some time to speak and listen, as our growing english-theatre community came together to share thoughts on sexual harassment and assault. I feel like we only began a dialogue that has so much further to go, and that in order to make our community stronger we have to be unafraid of these difficult conversations.
Though I was grateful for all the people who came forward to speak, I am still feeling emotion in my heart when I think of all the young people who came to the table and spoke so bravely about their thoughts and experiences. It was truly heartbreaking at moments, as well as uncomfortable, but I feel certain that as we shine light into the dark corners we may not want to look at, we will eventually see the entire picture and be able to begin the road to authentic recovery.
I was so happy to see the conversation lead to a dialogue around Restorative Justice. This, in my opinion, is the missing piece of the puzzle. Our current judicial system is a punitive approach that does nothing to foster systemic change, and it is up to us as individuals to find ways to not only hear and empathize with the survivors of abuse, but also find ways to better understand and support healing for the perpetrators (who are most often survivors of abuse themselves). I find myself so overwhelmed and disgusted by these stories of abuse of power that it blurs my vision and triggers my own history of being abused – it makes it so difficult to see the abusers as human beings (rather than ‘monsters’) and to remember that these abusers are truly sick/mentally unwell (rather than just assholes).
This is where the personal work is political. It is a difficult journey, to empathize with abusers, to consider a mental-health framework around abuse, and it certainly can not even begin to evolve until we first unconditionally validate the survivors, listen to them without judgement or divisiveness, and stop fighting against the clear truth that our current society is entrenched in issues of sexism and abuse.
We are a long way from any dramatic change, and it will require us to continue skillfully digging – finding ways to make our long tables more inclusive and accessible, finding ways to make our community more committed to an anti-oppression framework, and finding dynamic ways to utilize the arts as a tool for social transformation. If you think Social Justice in 2018 has “gone too far” you better hold on to your hat, because the winds of change have just barely begun.