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.