I can remember a woman yelling at me, telling me that when I got off the subway, her friends would beat me up. I remember a man whispering in my ear that he had just gotten out of prison, that he had murdered people, and that he really needed my money. I remember walking, minding my own business when someone started hurling all sorts of slurs and insults at me. The list of moments when I have felt unsafe goes on and on. But there’s another list of mine that is even longer. It’s the list of moments when I have seen someone else’s safety being threatened and did not intervene.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but the same fear that paralyzed me when I was being targeted always seemed to overtake me when I saw someone else being harassed. That’s why I instantly clicked the article on a friend’s post about the bystander intervention training being offered by The Accompany Project.
The Accompany Project is “an initiative (of the Arab American Association of New York) that aims to train thousands of New Yorkers to disrupt violence…and to organize for stronger, safer neighborhoods.” And it all began with a simple, brave gesture to help one young woman who felt unsafe.
In the wake of the 2016 election, there was a steep rise in the number of Islamophobia related incidents. A young woman, who happens to be Muslim and wears a hijab, no longer felt comfortable walking home by herself. Her friends put out a request on Facebook for people who would be willing to walk with her and it went viral. More than 3,000 everyday New Yorkers signed the google doc and The Accompany Project began, Volunteer Coordinator Julia Martin said.
Julia and the organization’s lead trainer, Rachel Levy, know that Muslims are not the only targets of hateful speech and violence. According to the Accompany Project website, by teaching Bystander Intervention and Organizing 101 classes across the city, the organization is able to“combat racism and Islamophobia” and empower people to help out any marginalized person they see being mistreated.
Attending this class opened my eyes as to just how much power we all have to change a situation we might ordinarily feel powerless in. We started with some interactive exercises to get better at reading body language and connecting with what our own bodies are saying so that we can appear confident and authoritative, even if we’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode. We talked openly about all the reasons why we stay bystanders instead of becoming ‘upstanders’ and actually intervening. But luckily, we were given many tools to change that.
We learned all about the “four D’s” of bystander intervention: direct, delegate, distract, and delay, and all the different ways they can be applied. We were also taught several verbal de-escalation strategies, which Rachel says involve things like, naming “the specific behavior that is inappropriate” or “turning yourself and the perpetrator into a we in order to foster a sense of unity.”
According to Rachel, each strategy is a different way to speak or behave that will “safely disrupt a hostile or aggressive situation you may witness, and…ensure your actions are more helpful than harmful.” The class was also given a few hypothetical situations that were in need of de-escalation and we brainstormed what techniques we would apply to each.
The class was not only comprehensive, it was also very easy to schedule, and is priced on a donation basis. In addition, I really appreciated the type of kind and forward-thinking environment created by these teachers. Upon entering, we were asked our preferred pronouns and were also asked to not assume anyone’s gender, ethnicity, or level of ability. Another thing done in this class that has stuck with me was the shift of vocabulary from “victim” to “survivor.”
AAANY and The Accompany Project are completely at the forefront of intersectionality and social justice. The changes they seek to help us make in our own neighborhoods are the kinds of changes in mindset that can change the entire world.
To learn more about The Accompany Project initiative and all the other great work the AAANY is doing, visit http://www.arabamericanny.org/.