Strategies in building trust and inclusive communities - 12 May Actions for migrating perspectives
In 2019 I started working at Here to Support, an organisation based in Amsterdam supporting undocumented people in the city. They just got a Network of Towns grant from the Creative Europe EU program and needed support with the production of international partner gatherings in Amsterdam. What started with 1 conference in 2019, has turned into a 3-year collaboration in organising assemblies, facilitated and organised with the aim of active participation by some of the most marginalized communities in Europe. After these 3 years, we have developed some critical communication and production strategies to build our international community, earn the trust of international groups and host gatherings that allow for active participation and agency.
On 11 and 12 May 2023, we once again hosted 50 international guests in Amsterdam. These 50 guests were a mix of activists, journalists, podcast makers, artists and other media makers all somehow connected to the topic of Re:Framing migrants in European media. The participants are a mix of groups we met during our previous project City Righst United, people we met during Re:Framing project, and those who were referred to us by the community.
We brought this international community to Amsterdam because we believe that systemic change needs cross-border solidarity, inspiration and collaboration. The struggles and problems (undocumented) migrants are facing in Amsterdam are both local and international. By connecting our local struggles to the international level, we feel less alone, we feel inspired, we feel solidarity and we learn new creative ways to overcome the struggles. The energy that can be felt during these international gatherings recharges the activists, the anti-racist organisers, to return to their homes with new energy to continue the fight.
I want to share with you one organising strategy we implement as an organisation to provide a safe space for these people to come and work together. This year we organised short Zoom calls with all the invitees to explain to them the concept of the assembly and to hear from them 1. what they would like to get out of the assembly 2. if they have any needs that need to be taken into account for their participation and 3. what would make the assembly a success in their opinion.
Only after we had gathered all this information, we start to puzzle together the program of the assembly based on those needs, opinions and wishes. Our aim was to give everyone a stage, a moment to highlight their projects or to be able to discuss some of the questions they have in their current work. As a result, we organise a creative workshop on how to lift a local campaign to an international campaign. With the increasing shrinking of civic space in national context, how can we make use of the European space to continue our work? Or a session solely on decolonising the funding system, for participants to learn new funding models for their practice and get in contact with different funds.
By making the program based on the needs of the participants, we feel that there is a larger sense of agency among the participants. As the program is made to cater to their needs, they have a direct interest in active participation and therefore are invested in the entirety of the gathering.
Instead of aiming to organise a conference around showcasing our project results to tick off a deliverable for our funders, the impact of the gathering is our first priority.
We also noticed that this automatically results in showcasing the relevant outcomes of the project.
The second advantage of investing in those personal calls with all the participants is building trust. Especially when inviting marginalised and racialised communities, trust is the foundation for a successful event. Trust in the organisation and trust in the other participants, makes someone arrive into the space differently than when they are not sure what they are getting into, wondering who is exactly the community they are engaging with. It's this safety and feeling of comfort that is needed in order to have open and stimulating conversations that can lead to new ideas, inspiration, or future collaborations.
Trust is also needed when things do go wrong. As an organiser, you can never be
sure that you covered all the needs. Or that you implemented all the necessary measures for safety. It is a learning process and we continue to learn new practices for inclusive organising, ensuring safe spaces and reducing the risk of unwanted triggers. But a safe space for one might clash with the idea of a safe space for another.
If there is no trust, this can lead to very nasty conflicts. However, when you invested in building a relationship, and you have built mutual trust, conflict can be a space to grow and learn without first causing unnessecary traumas or other negative experiences to your guests.
Welcoming all the guests in Amsterdam, after months of organising is always extremely exciting. To see them present on the stage in Pakhuis de Zwijger and show our Amsterdam community to all those inspiring international guests is one of our proudest moments. Seeing the community meeting each other, the energy that was released, the excitement created, and later getting updated about new collaborations that had their beginnings those evenings, is the ultimate reward.
Take a look at the programs in the evenings at Pakhuis de Zwijger: