Relational Security and Prevention

A central part of relational security is that relationships are the building blocks for organizations and projects, and that practices that keep them healthy and resilient do the same for our organizations and projects. Disruptive people, actions, and relational divides in organizing can often be prevented. This prevention happens through tending to relationships and seeing and valuing unrecognized relational labor, largely carried out by oppressed people and so building resilient, equitable organizations. 

One preventative practice is to center care work, emotional labor, and other “feminized” tasks, seeing them essential to effective organizing, struggle, and survival. When this work is visible and valued it challenges power dynamics that marginalize this work and the people doing it. We use the term feminized to refer to the way that certain tasks and activities have been historically and traditionally assigned to women and/or undervalued and hidden by patriarchy such as child care or sex work, though these kinds of tasks can be done by people from all different genders. Creating a culture and  sets of practices in our movements and organizations that visiblize care, emotional, and relational work helps to prevent  disruptive behavior and heal from the harm that it causes. 

This is a large process that will look different in every context, but one concrete way to start is to examine the roles and tasks that make up the work of your organization or group and which people do what kinds of tasks, and then working to dismantle the forms of exploitation and oppression this reflects. To help visualize this process here is an exercise that can be helpful.  On a piece of paper draw two axes intersect and make 4 quadrants.  One spectrum charts tasks from being more “visible” (such as being a media spokesperson) to more “invisible” (like setting up a space before people get to an event).  This line intersects with another line that charts tasks from being more “technical,” (in the sense of involving discrete skills like bookkeeping or cooking), to more “relational” such as emotional support and being mindful of people’s different needs in a space.    Once you have created this quadrant, together as a group place the tasks related to the work of your organization and the work that each person does on to the quadrant along the spectrums. 

Examples of this are: 

  • Invisible and Technical = Cooking meal for a large group
  • Visible and Technical = Speaking at a press conference to advertise event where large meals are served,
  • Invisible and Relational = Considering food allergies and restrictions and making sure there is food available for everyone and considering how accessible the space is
  • Visible/ Relational = Hospitality at the meal, i.e. welcoming everyone, forming community agreements, explaining where the bathroom is, explaining accessibility etc. 

 

There is nuance and no one correct answer for where tasks fall. Some work might fit into more than one or all categories. Be flexible and consider your own experience. The point of this activity is to consider the different types of work that goes into building and sustaining an organization and to understand who is doing what kinds of work in your group. Look at the dynamics that play out and name when oppressed people are engaging in work that is invisiblized or undervalued in the organization.

To process this kind of activity, as you group you could discuss some of the following questions:

  • What are the security implications for each quadrant?
  • What does it feel like to be valued and supported when doing feminized work?
  • What are the specific skills we need to make this valuing and supporting work happen? Example: How do you apologize? Listen? Be situationally aware of the room? Make repairs when there is harm done?
  • How do you move towards making relational work seen and valued and supported in your organization?

 

This seemingly simple exercise is just a starting point on a much larger project, but it can yield surprising results.  It can be a powerful reminder that we can unconsciously reproduce systems of oppression and exploitation within our movement and organizations, making us vulnerable to disruptive and harmful behavior.  Relational security is the belief that the risk posed by these internal systems of oppression and exploitation are as high if not higher than any posed by the state or our other enemies.  The long term success of our movements depends on taking this challenge seriously, prioritizing preventative practices, and being prepared to grapple with the hard work of self-reflection and healing to make us stronger and more resilient to all the threats we face.