4 min read

Making Room

Yesterday I was coming home from a friend's house, pushing my bike up a steep hill in the mid afternoon heat, eating a divine ice cream sandwich from Earnest Ice Cream and thinking that despite the choking haze I have so many gifts in my life.

Coming down the sidewalk was a man and, though he walking at an easy stroll and clearly saw me, he was coming straight at me.

As I was on the far right side of the sidewalk and also pushing a load with one hand uphill, I stayed on my path trying to hug over even further. He kept coming at me and finally swerved at the last minute, almost knocking me and my carefully balanced load over and making a rude comment as he went by.

High temperatures and smoky skies are a combination that pushes some people beyond normal behaviour so I chalked it up to that and kept going, thinking about something I once heard Lee Maracle say about how sidewalks work.

Her premise was that the sidewalk is where you go to learn what a society's hierarchy is. The people at the top of the hierarchy move for no one, not because they are conscious jerks but because subconsciously they both don't see you and even if they did, they have no muscle memory on how to make room for others. Conversely, those at the bottom of the hierarchy have to constantly scan for others and take steps to make room for every one in their path, lest they end up in a near collision with an indignant power-holder such as I had just experienced.

Maracle's example was set in Vancouver and the person at the top of the hierarchy was an affluent white man while the person at the bottom of our hierarchy is an Indigenous woman. In case you were wondering, yes the guy coming up at me was a white guy wearing some expensive labels.

To test her theory, I've sat on a bench on a busy street in downtown Vancouver and watch this play out hundreds of times over the course of a couple of hours.

Her description of who moves for who - roughly summarized as everyone moves for affluent white men including working class white men, racialized people move for white women, racialized women move for racialized men, Indigenous people move for everyone except for the men who don't move for Indigenous women - played out almost 100% of the time.

What changed the pattern? Either a person higher up the hierarchy was more conscious of the space they were taking up and consciously made room for others or the people lower down the hierarchy refused to cede their ground.

I think about this a lot when I am teaching about power. Power informs the way we take up space and whether or not we leave room for others. But how we unconsciously accept the way the playing field is tilted and cede ground to other people also reinforces power structures. Refusing powerless identities is a critical part of changing power dynamics.

Think of it as making room for yourself when others will not. In that spirit, I've decided it's time to relearn what it's like to totally power down and make a little room for me amidst a lot of professional commitments and personal passions. I love them all but somehow over the last several years it's been taking up pretty much 365 days of the year outside of the occasional day away from the computer.

Starting today I am going to be offline for a bit. The hope is that a little time away from work and my computer will give me a clearer mind, a lot more energy and maybe even some very good travel, fishing and reading recommendations.

There will still be newsletters - I've set up four for you that contain some great reading lists on Indigenous 101, economics for the 21st century and where democracy and social media collide as well as some favourite novels, movies and games, .

I hope you are somewhere thinking about how you are making room for others but most importantly how you are making room for yourself. See you in September!

HOT TAKES

Check out my final column for Press Progress' Power and Democracy explainer series which talks about omission bias and why elected officials won't act to save lives even when it's clear their action would make a difference.  

SOME JOBS

THINGS TO CHECK OUT THIS WEEK

Excited to announce that I'll be teaching Practice of Engagement at SFU Continuing Studies Dialogue and Engagement certificate program again this fall (Sept 22-24). Why join us? (1) It's online so easy to access from anywhere. (2) We talk about power. (3) We use tools to design power literate engagement.

In the spirit of giving my brain some time a way from work, I decided not to read anything that is non-fiction and/or related to the policy work I do. Here's the list of books I will starting with:

  • Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
  • The Humans by Matt Haig
  • Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
  • Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp

After that it's whatever comes my way. If you have any recommendations, please send them along.

I will also be checking out all the movies I can at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival which you can too from the comfort of your own home August 12 - 22. If you're in the Lower Mainland, you can also catch the biggest, baddest Vancouver Mural Fest yet happening  August 4-22. Over 60 new murals, 11 neighbourhoods from the North Shore to the Fraser River PLUS 40 live shows. I can't wait!

THE LAST WORD

Goes to…

Thanks for tuning in and if you liked the newsletter please share it with a friend or colleague! They can subscribe at https://citizenandrea.ca