Category Archives: Blog

Prelude to Transformation

Prelude to Transformation

By Sean Norris

While both learning and doing Transformative Justice work there have been many eye opening moments, maybe none more eye opening than this realization: We will not live to see the change we are building toward.

I am in no way saying that this is some revelatory assertion, or that Martin Luther King Jr. never said “I might not get there with you,” but as someone new to organizing, this felt very important for me to ground in as soon as possible.

This is the somber, sobering reality of radical work; it is also one to the most liberating aspects. This truth connects us to all of those who came before us who spent their lives in service of freedom. It connects us to all of those that did not live to see the change they fought hard to set the stage for, that they diligently devoted so much of their being to. From Grace Lee Bogs, to Martin Luther King Jr., to Sojourner Truth, to Cesar Chavez, to Audre Lorde, and to the countless agents of liberation that have gone unrecorded and unacknowledged, yet have had an immeasurable impact on us being here in this moment that we are. None of them lived to see what they envisioned and labored for come to fruition.

And neither will we.

Liberation is too big a task for any one individual, or collective, or organization, or governing body. Liberation is too big a task for any one generation. As much as we rely on our ancestors for education and guidance, we must rely on those who come after us, our descendants, to not only take care of us, but to take care of our work.

This is generational work. This is something we leave behind for our descendants to continue. This is decentralized, collaborative work. This is something we hand off to as many people as we can so that they can build and grow it with, or without us.

This does not mean that we do not do the work, this means that we approach it in a different way. We do not approach it with the pressure of having to solve CSA in our lifetime, to abolish prisons in our lifetime; those issues are much too big to conceive solutions for in one lifetime. However, when we think of the strength, knowledge, and wisdom of those who have come before us and those that will come after us, when we set a better stage, set our sights on moving things forward for our descendants, the work gets a lot lighter and a lot more manageable.

In our collective, we make sure we leave space for visioning. The more I do this work, the more I realize just how important visioning is, and how cut off we are from it in our myopic day to day lives.  We vision across lengths of time ranging from one year from now to fifty years from now; we experience what it is to imagine something that you will never see, but move towards it any way. Engaging in that type of visioning makes you realize how important it is to, not only develop your own leadership, but grow the leadership of others; we begin to understand that everyone needs to take ownership and leadership of TJ, or it will not be sustainable. If and when we die, this thing, our movements, our ideals can’t die with us, or become inert, aloof, or content because of what one individual accomplished in their lifetime.

In the workforce (as far as my understanding being socialized in a capitalist country), you set short term and long term goals, or deadlines, or benchmarks, or what have you, you work toward those until a project or task is either complete or abandoned because the goal cannot be accomplished, then you move on to your next goal and the cycle repeats.  We are afraid to start projects we cannot finish, we consider that failure in our professional lives; Transformative Justice requires that you begin something that you cannot finish, as well as redefine success and failure in the process. Did you make sure that one child was a little safer, that immediate harm stopped, even if you did not address all the systemic factors that caused the violence and transform a community? Did you make sure that someone going through abuse had a respite, that they had a meal, helped them find housing or a job, even if you did nothing to address their abuser?  Did you get someone to connect to the conditions (i.e. alcoholism, internalized oppression, patriarchal modeling, etc…) that cause them to act in unaccountable and or abusive ways in their communities and interpersonal lives so that they can do their own accountability/healing work? These are all ways of pushing TJ forward, these are all ways to take care of and build community. These things are the foundation of Transformative Justice, that get us thinking about being accountable for ourselves and those around us.
We are in the prelude of the long story of liberation, and as with any great work of art, the prelude is just as important as the body; the prelude sets the stage for everything to come.


Challenging Toxic Cultural Norms: Shifting From Solely Thinking and Adding Feelings

Challenging Toxic Cultural Norms: Shifting from solely thinking and adding feelings.
By Layel Camargo

As a culture shifter from punishment to accountability, I have become familiar to some cultural norms that make it almost impossible for individuals to transform their harmful behavior. I have been consciously and intentionally supporting the practice of accountability for a humble 3 years now, which has mainly been through my involvement with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. Through this work I’ve been approached by bystanders, survivors and people who have harmed alike.

In politically engaged communities, when supporting people who have caused harm, it has become clear to me that we are unequipped to respond to incidents of harm and violence in our liberatory organizing spaces/communities. Regardless of how politicized our communities are we simply fall short in one way or another at how we respond to these incidents. I have yet to understand the totality of why our movements have shortcomings at responding to incidents of violence and harm. However, I strongly believe that there are cultural norms established by imperialistic, colonial and capitalistic ideals that have seeped there way into our movements and contribute to these shortcomings.

what do we do when intimate partner violence exists in our collectives? what do we do when community organizers verbally abuse each other? what happens when the people we march the streets with, hurt the people we are fighting for? how do we continue our liberatory work when our comrades abuse and harm each other?

Imagining and feeling the responses to questions like these will help us understand not the specifics of how to respond but what cultural norms exist in our movements that hinder the possibility of creative and innovative responses outside of the prison industrial complex. This is where I believe our liberatory work needs to move. When talking to folks who are seeking to be accountable in their communities the narrative is more often than not the same, “I tried to find support in my community but …” followed by some explanation of how they were ignored/there wasn’t capacity for them to be accountable or told to literally or figuratively leave the community.

Being accountable for harm or violence does not require a collective of people to respond but responding alone is neither radical nor new. This is why it pains me to accept that in our movements, we struggle to foster relationships that will show up for each other when we are seeking to be accountable or need support when we are victimized. For example, as a college student I was in an abusive intimate relationship that escalated to physical violence that was visible to our community members and comrades. Even though, my ex and I met in an organizing space and at the time were seen as leaders in our community, at the time I struggled to find one person who could validate the ways I was victimized. If finding validation was difficult for me I doubt my ex had space to process and transform her behavior. How does this dismissal of violence happen? What are the unspoken cultural norms that we have accepted in our movements that make ignoring violence so prevalent?

Unfortunately, in our fast paced world the opportunity to practice compassion and humanity feels unaccessible and overwhelming, and our liberatory work is not exempt from that fast pace of life. This is one of the reasons why we rely heavily on fast thinking and less feeling, it’s what keeps us moving forward. And even though our radical communities are politicized we have allowed what I have come to call, toxic cultural norms to saturate the foundation of our movements. These toxic cultural norms such as individualism, professionalism, disposability, fear of scarcity, binary thinking, competition, criminalization, othering and many more, do not allow us to be creative or innovative in responding to violence and harm within our movement/liberatory work. Thus perpetuating the lack of practice for compassion and humanity and in my experience we don’t respond any better because we’re politicized, we respond better when we hold compassion and humanity during incidents of violence and harm. This is one of the biggest struggles of my work as a culture shifter and this is our work as movers and shakers against the prison industrial complex.

In no way am I saying that we must stop the encouragement of analysis or fast thinking, because it is this practice that has liberated many of us and interrupted the generational imperialistic, colonial and capitalistic brainwashing. However I do want to emphasize that the ideals of such oppressive systems are not only ideals but are cultural norms that we have accepted and negotiate constantly. The reliance on analysis and fast thinking alone will not liberate us and will not dismantle toxic cultural norms that harm us and perpetuate violence. It’s the allowance and permission we give each other to feel the pain, grief, sorrow, joy, confusion, guilt and many more of emotions that occur at our most difficult of times.

It is especially important that during difficult times it’s important to ask questions like: Why do I feel like I have to face my problems alone? Why do I want to cover up my actions when I hurt someone else? Why can’t I accept that I hurt someone as much as they hurt me? Who am I if I am harmed and have harmed? I think that in order for us to strengthen our movements we must begin to look at the cultural norms we have unconsciously accepted that limit our ability, time and space to feel.

Healing and Justice, Together and Apart: Accountability Beyond the “Process”

Healing and Justice, Together and Apart: Accountability Beyond the “Process”

By Alix Johnson

In five years with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, I have seen folks reaching toward accountability in different ways. We haven’t put out a definition or set of criteria for an “accountability process,” so people come asking for what it is they really want. It might be expressing their hurt to a parent who failed to protect them. It might be a safety plan for a vulnerable child. It might be a space to reflect on and try to make amends for violence they have done in the past. It is rare, in fact, for it to be an “accountability process” in the way many of us imagine in our heads: everyone in the same room, talking to and hearing each other, expressing their own and meeting each others’ needs.

That’s the romantic image some of us have, anyway. On the other hand, folks who’ve been through such a process – as survivors, bystanders, or people who have harmed – often feel burned or exhausted by this ideal. What if I’m ready to meet before you are? What if you and I need different things? Even if we are both ready and willing, what if we trigger one another again? What if everything goes as expected and at the end we still don’t feel good, or “done”? It can be immensely powerful for a survivor of violence and the person who harmed them to be in relationship, communicate, and share space. But it is not the only way people want accountability, and make it for themselves.

When we distinguish “transformative” from “restorative” justice, we say that restorative justice is about “restoring” relationships and transformative justice is about transforming them – often it’s not enough to restore the relationship to what it was when violence happened, because that relationship allowed the violence to occur. “Restoring” a relationship implies a coming together. Transforming one doesn’t have to. I believe it’s useful to see coming together not as the end goal, but as a tool, among others, that might serve along the way.

When it comes to crafting community responses to violence, we are in such an exciting and terrifying time: our options are not neatly laid out in front of us, but scattered around in second-hand stories, half-forgotten memories, and the occasional zine. Holding onto this ideal of a meeting between the person who did violence and the person they harmed can make us feel like if we can’t make that happen (we can’t organize it, can’t tolerate it, or can’t hold it well) then we can’t do anything at all. But we can, and we have to. We do, all the time.

We might start from questions like: What does accountability mean? What does accountability look like? How does accountability feel? This is not to say that accountability can be anything – we push folks to think about their actions and impact, the amends they owe, and the changes they need to make. We ask people to consider what they need for their safety and healing, and what it would take for lasting transformation to take place. We ask them what might get in the way of accountability – what experiences or memories they might need to revisit, what beliefs or messaging they might need to unlearn. But it is to acknowledge that accountability means different things to different people, and those specificities should shape the process and its goals.

For example: I have heard survivors of violence express that accountability would mean having their experiences validated; feeling a shift in their community spaces; having a coherent narrative of what happened to them. Sometimes, it is important for these things to work in relation to the person who did the violence; other times, it’s not. Sometimes it is, but that isn’t possible – or at least not in the way they envision, right now. But sometimes there are other ways to get a piece of what they need. Having supported or facilitated conversations with loved ones might feel validating. Having a meeting at their work, school, or organizing space might start to shift dynamics that allowed violence to take place. Exchanging letters or other mediated communication with the person who did violence might allow a survivor to articulate their experience in a helpful way. These are actions all of us are capable of supporting right now.

I have heard people who bore witness to violence describe accountability as expressing support for survivors; holding clear and consistent boundaries amongst themselves; learning the skills they need to better intervene. An organization might show their support for survivors through a collective statement, or simply through daily actions of interdependent care. A family might learn to express and respect boundaries by practicing open communication and consent. A group of friends might prepare themselves to prevent and stop violence by taking a course in mediation, de-escalation, or medical care. These, too, are things that many of us can do

This doesn’t mean that everyone is always satisfied – sometimes folks don’t get what they want – or what they want changes – and it can be painful and unfair. But starting from a contextual, not a prescriptive understanding of what accountability means and looks like gets us closer to making it in real, if imperfect ways.

The thing about opening up accountability – seeing it as specific asks and actions we can all pursue and seek support in (not as one predetermined course) – is that it allows us to practice outside of intense moments of violence. What does accountability mean in your workplace? What does it look like with your friends? How do you ask for it when you don’t have it? What does it look like when you’re not showing up? How can you get support to do better? I am learning, slowly, to ask these questions in my life. We try hard to practice them in the BATJC. Because we’ve found that flexing these muscles – taking accountability beyond the “process” – helps us prepare to meet the more intense moments of violence with creativity, alignment, and heart.

Radio Program on Love, Transformative Justice, and Child Sexual Abuse

BATJC member Mia Mingus was interviewed by radio program In Plain Sight about love, transformative justice, and the work of the BATJC responding to child sexual abuse. In Plain Sight is a podcast that features stories of everyday activism from Asian and Asian American women.

Download or stream the podcast on Soundcloud:

Transcript of interview after the jump…

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Six Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Their Partner

This is a great article written by some folks over at Everyday Feminism.  We thought we would share this because there are so few useful resources for this aspect of interventions — working with the person who has done abuse.  Read on:

(Content warning: Intimate partner violence, physical assault)

I, too, have heard endless rumors that he’s been a bad date, and have heard stories of shadiness and strange behavior. […] I have heard about his ridiculous pick-up lines and have (to my shame) tittered about them with my friends […]  Jian Ghomeshi is my friend, and Jian Ghomeshi beats women. How our friendship will continue remains to be seen.” —Musician Owen Pallett on Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged assault of several women

In my second year of university, I learned what I had suspected for a while but refused to investigate: One of my close friends had been regularly beating up his boyfriend.

He knew that this was wrong, but he didn’t know how to stop – his boyfriend “was making him do it,” he said, by constantly flirting with other people and “acting slutty” in public. My friend’s defensive attitude overlay a deep insecurity: Thanks to long conversations and many nights spent texting, I knew that he often worried about being sexy or lovable enough for his partner.

And as much as I knew that I had to confront him, I also didn’t want to see him get in trouble or hurt. Not to mention the fact that I was completely in over my head and had absolutely zero idea what to do.

In marginalized communities, there are vast risks associated with “calling out” or naming abuse between ourselves. The reality is that there are already far too many racialized and queer and trans people imprisoned for life or killed by cops for (often unproven) allegations of crimes far smaller than abuse and assault. And men of color, in particular, are already stigmatized and stereotyped as being “savage,” brutal, and violent. 

The external violence of an oppressive society makes any attempt to stand up to abuse inside our communities feel not only difficult and dangerous, but also treacherous – as though we are betraying our own. How many times have I heard that calling the police on their boyfriends is something that only rich, white cis women do?

Clearly, we have to find ways to tackle abuse on our own terms –in ways that combine both love and justice. 

The following eleven steps form a strategy (which I encourage folks to adapt to their specific needs) for confronting a close friend who is abusing their romantic or sexual partner.I use it in both my personal life, and as a social worker with my clients. It’s divided into two halves: first, reacting to finding out that your friend is abusive; and second, what to do about it.

Continue reading at Everyday Feminism…

An Interview with Mia Mingus, Oakland Champion of Change, on transformative justice

An Interview with Mia Mingus, Oakland Champion of Change, on transformative justice

Published May 27th, 2013

Oakland activist Mia Mingus is named a Champion of Change by the White House. Oakland Local interviews Mia Mingus about disability rights, ending child sexual abuse, and transformative justice.

Mia Mingus describes herself as a queer physically disabled woman of color transracial/transnational adoptee — an identity that only begins to explain the personal background that informs Mingus’ cross-sectional social change work.

Mingus was adopted from Korea at the age of six months and grew up on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she was raised by a “strong feminist community” that taught her the foundations of the critical analysis she would carry into her life’s work. She then lived in Atlanta for 13 years, serving as co-Executive Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, among many other movement-building roles. She moved to the Bay Area two and a half years ago to live out a dream: to create a household with another queer disabled woman of color activist, thereby putting disability justice into practice, building interdependent and loving community, and both expanding and learning the limits of what disability advocacy might look like.

Now, at 32, Mingus is an Oakland-based, nationally-recognized organizer and writer who has traveled the country speaking about myriad frameworks for dismantling oppression, from racial justice to reproductive justice to queer liberation. Her current work centers around disability justice and child sexual abuse, which she addresses as a member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC).

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Can Transformative Justice Stop Rape?

Can Transformative Justice Stop Rape?

Opponents of the traditional justice system argue for a replacement that focuses on healing the community — and even the criminal. But does this approach give victims short shrift?

Posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:00pm EDT
Bridget Todd, BuzzFeed Contributor

Back in September, fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott took her own life after she was allegedly sexually assaulted while passed out at a party. According to her family’s attorney, Pott “had no idea what occurred until she woke up the following morning and had some drawings on her body and in some private areas.” Allegedly, one of her attackers wrote “I was here” on her breasts in black marker. Right before her death, Pott posted on Facebook: “I can’t do anything to fix it. I just want this to go away. The whole school knows. My life is ruined and I don’t even remember how.”

Pott’s story is eerily similar to the Steubenville rape earlier this year, where teenagers Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were sentenced to juvenile detention after being found guilty of the rape of a classmate.

Most would probably agree that if found guilty, Pott’s attackers, along with Mays and Richmond, deserve to be punished for their crimes. But while everyone wants rapists to face justice, not everyone agrees that our current system of punishment is just. Some argue that it isn’t prison sentences that sexual attackers need, but sympathy, compassion and a chance at real healing. They propose what they call transformative justice as a better way to deal with sexual offenders and violent criminals — and some say it might even be more effective at curbing crime than more traditional methods.

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