Dealing with persistent oppressive behaviour on the Biketour

Every year, a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds join the Biketour. Like in any group that does not consist exclusively of people, who have already intensively reflected upon power structures, situations happen that are experienced as more or less oppressive by some people. As none of us is perfect, we will make mistakes. That’s okay, because the Biketour aims to be a space that is open. A space where people who have never thought about mechanisms of oppression before can learn about them.

Sometimes though, some specifically difficult personalities are joining, who regularly show inappropriate behaviour. And when being called out they are not willing to listen, learn and change. Most of the time, these are white men who have been joining the Biketour for many years, who are still used to the old times when apparently oppression was not much talked about, and come to the Biketour with the attitude that they know already everything.

Over time we have heard of more and more people telling us that they are not joining again because they don’t feel comfortable around those people and find the process of dealing with their behaviour too exhausting. This is not how it should be, and it is not in accordance with our Participation Guidelines. Instead, the oppressive people should not join again, so that the people who feel oppressed can come and feel comfortable.

To change that, we thought for a long time and updated our Participation Guidelines in the preparation for this year. They now say that the Biketour “is not open to people who show persistent oppressive behaviour. The Biketour commits to supporting and promoting the safety of participants from all kinds of oppression and discrimination.” In practice, this means that if someone is repeatedly behaving oppressively and doesn’t show any sign of acknowledgement and changing their behaviour, the tour is not open to them anymore. And thus has the possibility to ask them to leave.

So far we had never done that, and didn’t have a procedure how to apply this guideline, how to identify when someone is showing persistent oppressive behaviour, and how to decide whether the only solution is to ask them to leave. That’s why on a wild-camping rest day on the beach next to a river, we met to discuss about whether and how to uninvite certain people from this and/or the upcoming tours.

We then realised that this concept has to be applied directly because there was one particular person on the tour who quite some people had problems with. We decided to collect stories about situations that people had experienced or witnessed with him, and to share them at a later point anonymously with the group to make a decision what to do about it. What made the process easier was that this person was taking a break from the tour for a week and was thus not there.

Many different stories were shared with us. One time he told to a person from Romania who had told a car driver not to drive on the bike path that French people are voting for nationalist parties because of Romanian like him not behaving properly towards them.
Another time he put decoration in the national colours of France on his bike and wore an Afro wig, and was not willing to take it off or even listen when someone pointed out that it was nationalist/racist and they felt oppressed by it. When this incident was discussed in the group, he said that he was a “grown-up man” and no one should tell him what to do, and in the end three people left who felt oppressed by him.
He was regularly warning women who were pulling trailers, lifting heavy things, or doing other physically challenging tasks about how heavy and difficult it was, and offering and sometimes forcing his help.
He prepared one part of the route, but didn’t really share enough information with the group in order for everyone to be involved in the decisions, but we mostly had to follow what he told us because we didn’t know enough about the places.
Once he told to a woman who was scouting with him that a much older man whom they met on the street would be a good husband for her.
When criticised about his behaviour (by individuals, in a circle and during a discussion about sexism), he never showed any sign of acknowledgement or change, but rather defended himself, called himself a “grown-up man of experience”, and even called people pointing out his behaviour “stupid dictators” and “fascists”.
Of course, all of these examples are written from our view and his versions of some of these stories are different.

We met again some days later to discuss about what conclusions to draw from these incidents. After a long discussion we came to the conclusion that we don’t see his behaviour changing any time soon. So, the only way to solve the situation and to make the tour open for people who are not joining because of him is, to ask him to leave. We decided to ask him to leave this tour and not come back next year (so that people who have a specific problem with him can know for sure that he will not be there next year), and if he wants to join at any point in the future, he needs to show some initiative and willingness to work on his behaviour.

A small group of people went to him to tell him about the process and the decision, read out the stories to him, and gave him the space to talk. He accepted some of the criticisms, but not the general reproach and didn’t seem to be willing to change anything about the way he is acting.

Asking someone to leave is something that hasn’t happened in any of the last years, and we are not aware of any case in the whole history of the Biketour where this happened. It is a big and difficult step for us, and the group took several months (too long) to come to this decision. A few of us didn’t feel so comfortable with this process in hindsight and found it violent. It is something that we have to work on and improve. We hope that in the future, we are able to react more quickly to persistent oppressive behaviour.

We created an email-adress where expieriences can be shared and will be heard by an awareness-team. We want to collect stories of oppressive behavior on biketour to make it a safer space.

While we had a consensus among all the participants of the discussion (which was almost the whole group), we are aware that the decision to ask this person to leave was not a full group consensus. This is one of the cases where some of our participation guidelines are contradicting each other, just like for example when we need to choose whether to buy organic food to be environmentally sustainable or to buy cheap food to be inclusive for people with little money. In these cases we need to decide what is important to us and find a compromise. Oppression cannot be fought by consensus decisions, and the decision to exclude someone can (almost) never be made when that person has the right to veto that decision.

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