Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, and Activist Center, an activist/feminist bookstore collective in New York City, is hosting a Bystander Intervention/De-escalation Workshop on Thursday, December 8, to teach people how to use verbal techniques to de-escalate tensions during potentially dangerous situations.
Bluestockings collective member/part owner Janelle Kilmer, who is in charge of book buying and events programming at the store, said former member/part owner and current volunteer Rachel Sarah Blum Levy recently offered to bring her de-escalation workshop series to Bluestockings free of charge.
Levy has a Master’s Degree from CUNY Hunter College in macro social work and community organizing and has been conducting anti-violence work for over a decade. She originally developed the course at Bluestockings to teach de-escalation in a retail setting and since then has been teaching the workshop at universities. Levy told Bookselling This Week that the recent increase in social tensions and racist incidents following the election have made learning de-escalation tactics all the more important.
“A class like this is important because we already live in a world infused with violence,” she said. “We live in a world with racist and xenophobic violence and a lot of that violence is moving beyond microaggressions and becoming more and more visible. More often than not, it’s possible for us to use our words to defuse potentially violent situations, so it is important for people to know those tactics.”
The upcoming program is definitely something that the Bluestockings community wants, Kilmer said, adding, “This de-escalation workshop focuses on tactics that can be used in the context of incidents arising out of nonviolent protests, but they can be used in all sorts of situations, not only in protesting but in confronting any sort of racism in regular life, like two people getting in a fight on the train or at work, or during situations that arise in customer service.”
Kilmer referred to a situation that occurred at Bluestockings the previous week involving a man under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs who began touching a female customer inappropriately.
“I was able to defuse the situation for both people and get the guy out of the store without anyone getting more upset,” she explained. “If I hadn’t learned those tactics it would have been so scary and it probably would have turned into a bigger incident.”
The workshop description says that participants will learn verbal and non-verbal techniques and tactics to de-escalate conflict in the context of self-defense and harm reduction. The interactive program will also focus on the four Ds of bystander intervention — direct, distract, delay, and delegate — in tandem with the importance of larger scale community organizing and alternatives to policing.