Calling Out Oppressive Behavior at Noisebridge
(An Open Letter to the Noisebridge Community)
[Trigger Warning, talking about oppressive behaviors in detail]
I think there are two fundamental issues that are broken in the foundation of Noisebridge right now:
1. Emotional Censorship
(i.e. we must speak ex-act-ly in a monotone, engineering way and cannot, under any circumstances, express anger or raise a voice).
2. Protecting Oppressive Behavior through Censorship
(i.e. if someone says a certain behavior is “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “ablest,” etc. it is met with much anger and flak / retaliation and they are told they are “name-calling”).
I’d like to get into those 2 items, but first would like to provide some background:
I’ve been coming to Noisebridge for 10 years (since 2010) and, for whatever its worth, have been a “capital M member” for 5 years, since 2015.
In that time, I’ve seen a lot of things in the community, some good some bad.
In the early days of Noisebridge, one of the first things we had to addressed as a community was the harassment and sexual assault of women in the space. Some people believe this appeared only after #Occupy. That is false. One of our founders, Jacob Applebaum, was himself accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and assault. This was a problem in our community from the very onset.
Noisebridge used to be close to 50/50 men and women in 2010 - 2011. We used to host Food Not Bombs in our kitchen making food for people on the streets downstairs. It was a “golden time” for many - we garnered a lot of attention, donations, and support and we were featured in books, videos, and more.
By 2013 the mistreatment of women in our community reached a head, and many women left to be a part of their own (safer) feminist collective, Double Union. While I’m really glad that women have their own space, I was sad to see so many of our fellow hackers leave because we failed to prioritize their safety.
After that, I saw many people of color leaving Noisebridge - many black and latinx members were being forced out of the Mission due to landlord greed and increasing evictions in 2012, and they would come to Noisebridge. Some were unexcellent and sleeping in the space, but many were wonderful members of our community.
Many, if not all, were pushed away because of the 2 points listed above, exacerbated by white fragility and a refusal to incorporate different cultural values into the space. I saw PoC members gaslit, spoken down to, demeaned, and neglected until they left the space altogether.
After that, I’ve been seeing our LGBTQ members leaving. Similar to above, members, both old and new, continued to leverage their privilege and homogenized cultural views to silence, talk down to, intimidate, and belittle the different perspectives from our LGBTQ friends. Well, they branched off now and started a different, Queerious Labs.
The disabled have never had great access to Noisebridge, but that community has been largely forced out since 2018, when the elevator was destroyed by someone calling the police on a woman of color for taking some glasses. The police showed up with shotguns and the fire department cut open the elevator and damaged it, and it has had problems ever since.
I’ve documented other access issues elsewhere, including the all too common blockading of the wheelchair entry with bicycles, e-waste, and other items. Noisebridge has never offered braille, sign language interpretation, or remote classes. The list goes on.
… So what’s left? Noisebridge has become a place of 90% straight white men that look like me. I should’ve spoken up about this a lot sooner, but I was selfishly operating from that same place of privilege. It wasn’t until I needed wheelchair access to the space that I experienced firsthand just how destructive our community can be towards minorities.
I experienced the flak, retaliation, and outright discrimination for expressing any views on oppressive behavior or calling it out (like I am here, we’ll see what happens…)
I experienced what it was like to be punished for expressing any anger. I was told that calling out oppressive behavior was “name calling” and “unexcellent.”
This is one of the very best ways to protect oppressors and/or people who express racist, sexist, homophobic and/or ableist views. It is a form of censorship that is highly concerning.
More and more nowadays, important decisions, blocks, bans, and agendas are pushed by social capital, bandwagoning, condescending white speak, rules lawyering, and other unsavory tactics. These are part of almost any social group, but I’m concerned to see these becoming the majority tools used in the Noisebridge community “process.”
The “be excellent” policy has always had issues, although we’ve worked out many of them in the past. However, as the demographics of our city change, more and more people are struggling to get by. The new people that are coming to Noisebridge are often operating from unexamined privilege, with little involvement in PoC, LGBTQ, and other communities. As they become “Capital M” members of Noisebridge they gain more social capital and more say in the community. If these newer members don’t know about our past and our larger neighborhood community, we lose a lot.
What is most sad is that we don’t discuss as a community what we’re doing wrong when it comes to diversity. We tend to blame the victims of this behavior and continue with business as usual.
Can we take a step or roll back and appreciate the loss here?
We’ve lost so much diversity in our community and so many good people have left - we should ask ourselves why that is (and self-examine).
One of Noisebridge’s great strengths is that it is always been a fluid, changing place. I think we can address these issues with:
A diversity sub-committee led by minorities.
New policies that provide safe space for people to speak up about oppressive behavior, with safe space to vent / express anger around discrimination (“proven” or felt).
Cultural education workshops (especially on white fragility), and a de-escalation workshop that members have to attend
Anti-harassment education workshops that members have to attend.
As a white male engineer, I can relate to some of the monoculture here. I think there are a lot of benefits to the culture of Silicon Valley and all the precision and exact-ness that has made leaps and bound in technology over the decades. But I also appreciate how narrow and confining that culture is, that we can also explore and appreciate different forms of hacking and emotional expression.
Noisebridge is located in a diverse and vibrant community - it would be nice if we could learn and grow from this diverse environment and explore these options for encouraging broader participation in the space. This will support more funding, more community engagement, and would benefit Noisebridge as a whole.
Note to admin: Please do not edit this post without my consent, thank you.