When a handful of people start doing something together, sooner or later someone will think:
“Hey! This is cool. We’re all doing this fun thing together. I bet there are other people who would love to do this with us. We should get the word out, plan a meet-up, meet more often, invite new people.”
And because the internet exists, this reaching out and sharing is relatively easy and inexpensive. A Facebook group is made. Emails are exchanged. News travels fast to those with a finger on a particular pulse. Soon more enthusiasts join the original handful of people. They bond over their love of the shared activity. Good times ensue.
When your group gets enough momentum you become something invincible: you become a community.
Now say that your community’s life blood is some kind of event. A sizeable event. Lots of old and new friends to meet and do your community’s activity with. Lots of time and energy is added to your activity, enriching your experience. Perhaps funds are raised so that you can all do your activity more often/in grander settings. All to the good. You all benefit from the group’s cohesion. You all learn things and gain beautiful memories.
Until some of you have hideous memories too…
When I learned this week that a prominent member of the large Lindy Hop social dance community had sexually assaulted a female community member, my calm was damaged. Then the echoes of other women with similar experiences came. Because of course they did. This is how this story goes. we know this; 2016 was made up of these stories.
And now my dance community has a “Assault by Authority Figure” story of its own.
I cannot say that the resultant hand wringing and hesitation on the part of community organizers was particularly surprising. That is part of this story too. Every. Single. Time.
I will never understand anyone who’s first reaction to yet another assault story is to cover their own ass. If, as organizers, you are afraid of legal retaliation, Google what libel is and what it is not. Also look up negligence while you’re at it. Because ignoring the fact that someone you hired has a reputation for assaulting people strikes me as fairly negligent. I dream of the day when a court of law actually asks a negligent organization or employer or institution the question on all our minds:
Why did you not do anything to protect the people you were responsible for?
You are responsible for your community members. If you invite people to attend an event you’re hosting and they come from other cities or countries, they are your guests. You are responsible for your guests. You would not invite someone into your home and not advise them of the balcony door that automatically locks behind you, or that one dodgy power outlet, or the missing stair on the fire escape. You would warn them. Or fix your damn house so that it wasn’t dangerous to visit.
You should care for guests because while they are with you, they are one of your household. Anyone who has read the Odyssey is familiar with this idea. In ancient Greece the term Xenia was used to describe the relationship between a guest and host, especially a guest who had come from away. The relationship, though not always easy, was considered sacred. The Gods would send retribution if you did not care for and protect your guest. It was a matter of honour because without it you could not experience the world fully. No group, no matter the size, can last without trust.
We need to enforce Xenia in our communities. Organizers should never tolerate behaviour that poisons their communities. We cannot tip-toe around the missing stair. We must not allow the few assholes of our small worlds to get away with their assholery. There must be consequences when a community member breaks the group’s code of conduct. The Gods will not strike offenders down for you.
(Note to event/community organizers who don’t have a code of conduct: make one. No group is so magical that there will never be a need for one. It’s a hope-for-the-best-but-plan-for-the-worst decision that can make or break your community. And nothing makes it clear that you expect the best of your members like saying so in writing.)
If you want people to want to come out to a community event (spending time and money while they’re at it) they must be able to trust that they will be safe enough to enjoy themselves. If you have no interest in creating that kind of environment and or building that kind of relationship with your members, you’re just another shady, money-grabbing event where newcomers are at risk and regulars become jaded. Your group will shrink as people leave.
Because a community that doesn’t look after its own isn’t worth much.