This Bystander Intervention Workshop (BIW) was developed at the request of the congregation of Admiral UCC, specifically in response to a training our pastor attended in 2016 that was "all head" - a training focused on coming up with "good ideas" about how to respond to harassment without any role-play or practice. While in theory this may be a good place to start, it does not address the reality of emotional responses, the effect on brain chemistry, and the resulting "triggering" of our hard-wired fight/flight/freeze survival responses. Without directly engaging with these forces, participants are ill-equipped to effectively respond to incidents of harassment and hate speech. In fact, their responses could serve to escalate rather than de-escalate the situation.
This workshop is rooted in Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), which utilizes theatre games to explore, disrupt, and reformulate power relationships. TO was developed by Augusto Boal in Brazil in the 1970's, and its primary purpose was to support the peasant class's engagement in social and political change. It is especially useful for Bystander Intervention preparation because it "tries out" various intervention strategies and allows for group processing, reflection, and analysis of both practical outcomes and emotional consequences.
TO is also uniquely equipped to support this work because it is informed by Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed; TO assumes that the answers to the question, "How shall we intervene?" are already in the room and do not need to be taught, they merely need to be invited out of the participants. TO does not rely on an "expert" who explains what works and what doesn't; participants will observe both effective and problematic intervention strategies through participation. TO is inherently uncomfortable, because it plays with oppressive dynamics, and is profoundly liberatory, because it invites the gathered body to find solutions from within.
One participant reflected on the BIW in this way:
"It felt good to meet other people in my community who are concerned about these things. I felt like I was finally able to do something positive to work toward a solution, instead of just worrying about it."