Here’s the scenario. It’s a Friday night slumber party. All the cool eighth-grade girls are there, and somehow, so are you. Things are fairly chill until they aren’t. Brittany M. is mad at something Ashley T. supposedly said and now everyone is choosing sides. If someone doesn’t do something, there will be tears and the entire lunchroom hierarchy will be in chaos come Monday. There is only one option. Those stage falls you learned last summer at free theater camp put on at the college? The shag-carpeted basement stairs leading directly to where all the girls are gathered? It’s showtime.
I’m not a great actress, but I am good at sacrificing my dignity for the greater good. Was the bruised knee and excessive rug burns worth it for the sake of breaking the tension at the social event of the weekend? Yes. Did I still not get a place at the cool kids’ lunch table? Yes. Everything as it should be.
This is a fairly low-stakes scenario. At the time, it seemed like life or death. What happens when the scene is changed and the characters are unfamiliar? When we only know pieces of the plot? What do you do when you see a girl you don’t know at the bar looking uncomfortable with her date who keeps insisting on doing shots? Or maybe your co-worker makes an off-hand joke about their stalker ex, but this isn’t the first time they’ve mentioned it, and you sense they’re pretty troubled by this latest incident. Maybe it’s a parent the next aisle over at the grocery store, loudly and excessively shouting at their kid. In North Dakota, sticking to the script means we mind our own oats and barley and don’t get involved. But if you wanted to do a little improvisation, how would you even begin to go off book?
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In reality we all know someone who has been, or currently is, affected by a high-stakes scenario. In North Dakota and across the nation, there’s a new initiative training community members to become active bystanders. The ultimate goal of Green Dot is to create a society in which acts of power-based violence no longer exist.
Oh Kayla, you sigh. Eradicating sexual assault, bullying, stalking and domestic violence? Even John Lennon himself never said “Imagine there’s no power-based violence.” It’s not possible.
But it could be. The BisMan Green Dot team is putting together a complete package of bystander-training opportunities, including a summer launch event and in-depth training sessions for individuals, businesses and community leaders. The goal is to learn about how we can intervene effectively. Green Dot actions can include directly addressing the person doing harm; delegating an outside party to handle the situation; or for extremely passive people like me, creating a distraction to break the tension. By understanding our own limitations, we can be ready to take a leading role in making our communities safer.
The BisMan Green Dot initiative will be implemented by the Abused Adult Resource Center. Green Dot teams also exist in Grand Forks, Fargo and Valley City. Green Dot instructors are individuals who have gone through intense training and include those who work in domestic crisis centers, people with law enforcement backgrounds, ride-share drivers and folks like me: former high school theater nerds with a passion for creating a world where we all play our role well. There are no small parts and and even small actions have big impacts. Each time we actively work toward becoming active bystanders, we improve our community and create a new Green Dot.
More information about the Green Dot initiative will be available in the coming months (this is just a sneak peek; a dress rehearsal, if you will). In the meantime, no need to wait in the wings, if you see someone taking an action that could be harmful, consider how you can change the narrative. If you would like to learn how you can support Green Dot efforts in Bismarck-Mandan, contact Renee Stromme at AARC at (701) 222-8370.
Kayla Schmidt is a freelance writer and creative collaborator with The Good Kids. She's a North Dakota boomerang: originally from Minot, she took a detour to study in England before settling in Bismarck.