Meet Joanna Grabarczyk

Joanna Grabarczyk

Joanna is a political scientist by profession, that deals with bias motivated crimes and new technologies in the context of digital security. Since she was a child, she developed an appetite for risky situations and clear signs of disobedience. Very few has changed in this concern.

The revelatory moment

Ever since she was a teenager she has been intrigued by the random appearances and disappearances of “Jude raus!” (transl. Jews out!) inscriptions on various buildings in her hometown. After documenting local history and hate speech phenomena she felt the need to correct these disgraceful situations. She developed the very first online reporting platform that collected complaints about the occurrence of hateful inscriptions in the city that were to be removed. In the long run, the platform gathered extended hate speech reports that were further submitted to legal authorities.

The first victory

When asked about memorable victories she recalls her first major action when she gathered a 70 people squad that in just one day managed to remove more than 40 hateful inscriptions on the walls. Joanna puts this success on the account that all the people involved were aware about the negative symbolistic of the inscriptions and they were willing to clean their neighbourhood. To some extent, all these actions were similar to those environmental cleaning actions. Except in these particular cases the residues consisted in racist or Nazi symbols such as the swastika, Celtic cross or the Star of David crossed.

The bumps in the road

Joanna is aware that this endeavour is exposing her and her colleagues both physically and emotionally. She is also a little bit frustrated that hate crimes and hate speech are underreported and that the state agencies do not engage more actively in this area. She would like to find the necessary resources to invest herself in advocacy actions more.

Coping mechanisms

For Joanna, it is very important to take care of herself and her closed ones, as she understood how important it is to indulge herself with some rest time. Recently she signed up for a machine sewing course, hoping that the noise of the machine will distract her from daily pressing activities.

Extremism explained to a 5-year-old

If asked to explain extremism to a child, Joanna would use a role play in which he or she would have to imagine that their best friend in kindergarten is being kicked out from classes just because they have a different skin colour. And this simple example would illustrate clearly how racism works. If racism would be doubled by physical violent actions against their best friend, by all means it would be an extremist action.

When activism interferes with personal life

Joanna is quite concerned about the implications of her activity to her personal life. Sometimes she gets a little troubled just when she thinks about her colleagues’ families and the potential risks they are exposed to. To put some extra weight on her conscience, she is even trying to project herself as a parent and analyse if that this is a proper environment to raise a child.

Confessions of a restless activist

Despite her activity’s ups and downs, every time she’s confronted with people that are helpless and clear targets of hate crimes or hate speech, Joanna feels compiled to take a stand. Ironically, most of the times her decisions are confirmed by people who would rather formally criticize hate speech instead of articulating the speech into concrete actions.

Some thoughts for undecided activists

“According to Joanna, there are mild forms of interventions that are safe and effective. For instance, one feasible activity would consist in monitoring content posted by radical groups on the Internet. And in order to do that all it takes it’s just a computer and a bit of cunning. Once identified, content can be archived and sent to specialized organizations that deal with hate speech reporting.

But if someone is into more adrenaline, removing racist and extremist messages that appear on public and visible walls is the best choice. For this sort of endeavour, Joanna has a list of recommendations that could assure the success of intervention:
get the building administrator’s permission. It is important to monitor where such content appears and remove it by painting over it or removing it with a cleanser or solvent, as well as remove stickers (remember that sometimes razor blades or sharp objects may be placed under the stickers).

– cooperate with the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office that such content is out there. To save time, it’s a good idea to inform law enforcement in writing instead of waiting in line. For some, it can be uncomfortable to take part in an interrogation later, as it can be discouraging for a well-intended citizen. Patience and endurance are mandatory due to the bureaucratic processes.

– ask for professional support when it comes to historical buildings and do not engage in covering up independently the identified messages. There are strict regulations for historical buildings and your intervention could amplify the damage.

– create trust networks with buildings’ administrator and other local authorities so that your good intention will not be assimilated to a vandalism act as well.”

Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations

“When addressing extremism and potential extremists it is mandatory to work under the radar. It is very important to control how public is the information about you and your peers – do not share too much, do not expose your relatives and friends. No matter the enthusiasm, never post or share content right from the spot where you had your actual intervention. Also, it is crucial to keep your online identity as secure as possible, even that translates into regular safety checks and password changes.
Apart from online security, physical security is vital too. It is extremely important to create a group of trusted people you can talk to about your actions and that knows your whereabouts. When in public make sure that no one can see your phone or your messages.”

Challenge your inner activist

Joanna believes that there is a hidden potential in each and every one of us, depending on the determination and availability. To some extent everyone could act as watchmen, either it is within a neighbourhood watch that is looking for outdoor racist messages or as part of an online monitoring taskforce. Hate speech is coexisting both online and offline and there are various ways to spot it and to report it. If none of these scenarios is suitable, you can always engage in debates with your family and friends about false and polarizing information that is affecting our society.