Safe Spaces for Feelings

A Convene reader asks how event organizers can help communities navigate ambivalence, fear, and anger over climate change at their meetings.

Author: Convene Editors       

After reading Convene’s September-October 2023 cover story, “A More Charged Environment,” Shawna McKinley, principal at Clear Current Consulting, offered her thoughts on creating safe spaces at meetings for would-be climate protesters to share their ideas in a peaceful, productive way:

Having been moved to participate in climate protests myself — albeit not in the disruptive road-blocking, orange paint-splashing, gluing myself to stationary objects/ways (yet!) — I wish I could put an underline, bold, and infinite asterisks to the last suggestion Lauren Parr, [senior vice president, meetings and learning, for the American Geophysical Union], makes to offer would-be protesters or disrupters ways to gather and share ideas.

I absolutely appreciate the need to carefully plan for possible protests at events to keep people safe. And let’s not let that completely distract from the need to have proactive conversations as event teams about how we can care for people who are, in many cases, experiencing trauma.

What programming solutions, facilitation strategies, and safe spaces can event organizers offer to help members and customers step into their feelings about climate change in healthy ways in order to effectively channel their climate concern? And in doing so, strengthen the communities we serve?

And how can we leverage that to create pathways, templates, and solutions to address other complex environmental and social challenges?

It’s tough work! But managing climate protests only as a risk through emergency strategies is a bit like managing event waste only with recycling. It’s a down-pipe solution that discounts the opportunity (and superpower!) event conveners have to also be better stewards of communities and create root solutions.

[I] appreciate this point being raised, and I would love to see a future article that shares more wisdom on it. What does it mean to effectively engage the climate concerned, and how can event organizers help communities navigate ambivalence, fear, and anger, without becoming an unsafe space?

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