Learn how to help when harassment happens: Anti-Hate Alaska Junction, local minister present ‘bystander training’ Sunday

(WSB photo: Admiral UCC’s Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom, Anti-Hate Alaska Junction’s Susan Oatis)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Next Sunday’s bystander-training workshop presented by Anti-Hate Alaska Junction isn’t the first event of its kind in West Seattle.

But it’s the first since two people were murdered in Portland during an incident that began as bystander intervention – three men trying to stop another from harassing two young women, shouting anti-Muslim slurs.

The upcoming local workshop was planned before that happened; we received the original announcement earlier that week. It shone a brighter light on questions about what to do if you’re there when hate happens, so we sat down to talk with the presenter, Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom of Admiral Congregational Church, and organizer Susan Oatis of Anti-Hate Alaska Junction.

The free (donations accepted) 2 pm Sunday training at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Admiral promises “interactive techniques to help attendees learn how to intervene in an aggressive or harassing interaction – safely protecting the target while not escalating the perpetrator … (to) increase your confidence about intervening when needed.”

We first ask the minister about the Portland deaths and how the situation, as has been publicly reported, compares to what he trains people for. He made it clear that what happened there was murder, plain and simple, and the victims were not to blame, while noting that they were reported to have intervened with force, and in what he teaches, “using force does not lead to de-escalation.”

The goals set in his training are “we need to protect the targeted person and de-escalate the emotional energy in the room.” It’s not a workshop where you sit and listen to instructions – more on that in a minute.

First the backstory: After the escalated rhetoric of last election season, members of his congregation asked for some kind of training to deal with “problematic speech.” Conley-Holcomb’s background included working for a dispute-resolution center and teaching conflict resolution, so he took it on, and led a workshop. Next, his congregants wanted to know how to intervene in hate-speech situations. “So I developed another workshop rooted in ‘Theater of the Oppressed‘,” created by a Brazilian artist to help people “figure out how to claim political power in a totalitarian state.” He used that to “frame up an hour-and-a-half workshop.”

It is not the kind of workshop where you sit around and “talk about what would be a good idea. … there are no ‘spectators,’ there are only ‘spect-actors’ … everyone who is watching the dramatization in the center is going to participate in some way in resolving the situation.” The “situation” follows a scenario, and then participants practice intervening. “You pause every so often and check in on how it’s working, how do you feel, is this working… if people have ideas, they just come in, tag someone out, and try it again.”

Words matter as much as actions, Rev. Conley-Holcom explained – not just the words used by the person portraying the oppressor, but also the descriptions of the roles. “I intentionally don’t use the word ‘victim’ … ‘targeted person’ puts them (in contxt) in the relationship to the oppressor who is making them a targeted person.”

He presented this workshop for the first time in December at Alki UCC; then, at Fauntleroy UCC, at a church in Magnolia, at a school on the Eastside, and now for Anti-Hate Alaska Junction.

He is hoping to help others learn how to lead this training, as his schedule is fairly full already – besides his work as spiritual leader at Admiral Church, “I also volunteer with Moms Demand Action – I teach childhood gun-death-prevention workshops,” and is training people for those presentations as well. “We’re hoping to give one in every school in West Seattle.”

Back to the bystander-intervention workshop: Oatis from Anti-Hate Alaska Junction says, “If we want to live in a hate-free place, we need to learn how to stop it.” Her group has been active since last February and is working on other initiatives including a “Safe Haven” program in The Junction, asking stores to put a sign in their window that “this place is a safe haven” for anyone who is targeted for ay reason. “It means someone can hang around in the store, and (911 will be called) if the situation warrants.” Like the Seattle Police-coordinated Safe Place program, Oatis said, but with a broader scope – whatever reason has a person feeling targeted.

Rev. Conley-Holcom says the ways to intervene as a bystander can be simple: “Be a presence – stand near the targeted person, make it clear you’re listening, especially when it’s clear there’s a power differential – when the person is aware they’re being watched, the willingness (to continue the behavior) changes.” Also: “I want people to be aware, to have an exit plan, if it feels dangerous.” And be aware of your skillset – don’t “overreach.”

This isn’t a self-defense workshop, they make it clear; if you’re interested in learning it separately, he recommends aikido, “which uses a lot of the same principles.”

The workshop has room for 50, Oatis said, and had room as of a few days ago. To RSVP, e-mail antihate3@gmail.com with your name, neighborhood, and phone number. First come, first served.

If you can’t make it Sunday – or if it’s booked up by the time you e-mail for a spot – Rev. Conley-Holcom says he has two more trainings this summer, July 30th and August 27th, also on Sundays, 2-3:30 pm, at Admiral Church, and you can contact the church office to sign up.

7 Replies to "Learn how to help when harassment happens: Anti-Hate Alaska Junction, local minister present 'bystander training' Sunday"

  • Concerned WS Family June 19, 2017 (8:03 pm)

    Maybe after the workshop, WSB could publish both some phrases/behaviors where the bystander “intervened with force” to support the “targeted person” but unfortunately escalated the situation, as in Portland incident, as well as sample recommended phrases/behaviors that the bystander could use, in addition to “being a presence”?  Also, how would you know you are “overreaching”?  Not everyone can attend a workshop.  Thank you very much.

  • Yeah that's easy June 19, 2017 (10:45 pm)

    Yeah, that’s easy. How about yelling, “I don’t remember thinking it’s cool to be a racist”. Or, maybe, saying something like, “If I went after your mom and sister like that, would that be christian?”. One of my favorites, “You are not welcome here, so see yourself out”. Of course, all shouted with the amount of alarm that would get interested movie-goers to evacuate a crowded theater.

  • Fish Barrel June 19, 2017 (11:14 pm)

    Really, @”Concerned WS Family”?  Here’s how I decipher your question: “I haven’t been trained, so I’m going to allow the racist attack of a fellow passenger to un-defended”. You know what? You’re better than that because our city is better than that. We now know how bad it can get. Any knob can tell whether an attacker is a childish heckler or potentially-armed attacker, yourself included. You know what, though? All people respond to grown men and women yelling the truth at them.

    If there are racists, shout them down. If there are mentally ill attackers hiding behind racism, shout them down. The reason the Portland tragedy happened is because the train emptied when the attacker went ballistic. “What could I have done?” You could have stood with the brave few who tried to save the unfortunate victims. The attacker can’t stab everyone, and the overwhelming presence of all the adults on a train car would have undoubtedly deterred the first molecule of his violence.

    Stop being a baby. Violent attackers don’t deserve to live among us. Tell them that with the volume you save for the people who decided to buy out the building where your hot yoga class used to meet 3 times a week. Go after them with the fervor that you had for the gluten-free bakery that introduced “lite gluten” for people who are just faking ciliac disorder and tainted the cookware. Fight them with all the anger that you have for the day care that dared use over-the-counter sunscreen on your daughter when they went to the aquarium on that field trip. Unleash just like the time you were commenter number 3764 on the CNN comment thread the Thursday after the last presidential election. You sure told them then, tell off a racist on the bus next time you have the chance.

  • Double Dub Resident June 20, 2017 (4:33 am)

    @fish barrel, 

    The last paragraph of your little rant is either filled with logical fallacies and projection, by making up stupid hypothetical scenarios and protecting them onto someone as fact, or you’re omniscient. I’m thinking the former.

    Also, it’s easy to talk tough sitting behind a computer screen and not the actual event this occurred 

  • momof3boys June 20, 2017 (8:48 am)

    Wow FISH BARREL – overreact much?  I don’t see what you’re “deciphering” in Concerned WS Family’s post.  They are right to be concerned, none of us wants to be a bystander when someone is being attacked, verbally or physically, but a smart, thoughtful person is concerned about the reaction of the mentally ill person, or someone under the influence.  Either of those situations can have a huge effect on the strength of that person, among other things.  And “any knob can tell whether an attacker is a childish heckler or potentially-armed attacker…”  really?  That is just patently false, and a very dangerous assumption IMHO.  

    That all being said, you are certainly allowed to disagree with me – but hopefully you can reign back the vitriol and respond with graciousness.  Attacking those who disagree with you?  Not cool, and not “you’re better than that, because our city is better than that. ”  I agree, I want to be better.  You weren’t.

  • BJG June 20, 2017 (8:51 am)

    After years of working in healthcare settings where patients and families and intruders have been out of control, aggressive, and threatening, I know this. That moment is not the time to debate a point of view. Don’t escalate an argument. Get yourself and the victim as far outside of the agressor’s range as you can. Get help. You can stand and fight or object to the irrational hate talk, but you will not win. The Portland Max train is the latest example. Good people were tragically lost while doing their best.

  • HappyOnAlki June 20, 2017 (9:02 am)

    Fish Barrel — none of that sounds much like “de-escalating” to me —

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