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.


EVENT 10/5 – Beyond the Registry: How Youth Registration Undermines Healing and Justice

Join the BATJC for an event with Nicole Pittman!

EVENT:  Beyond the Registry: How Youth Registration Undermines Healing and Justice

WHEN: October 5, 2016 at 6:30pm

WHERE: Fuller Hall, Downs Memorial United Methodist Church, 6026 Idaho St., Oakland 94608 

This event is free and open to the public, please RSVP HERE

Nicole will share about her work on youth registration and child-on-child sexual harm. If you haven’t heard of Nicole’s work, you can check-out a recent article from The New Yorker as well as Raised on the Registry.

Beyond the Registry: How Youth Registration Undermines Healing and Justice

It’s tempting, especially in sexual harm situations involving children, to cast a perpetrator and a victim; but this false binary fails to capture a complete story and contributes to punitive state responses that instead of disrupting cycles of trauma only cause more damage. Forty states include children — some as young as 8 years old — on sex-offense registries, labeling them for decades or life. In this discussion, we will explore the destructive impact of placing children on sex-offense registries as well as how to evolve beyond flawed conceptions of child-on-child sexual harm and toward transformative responses that can prevent further suffering.

This event aims to:

– Understand the current legal responses to child-on-child sexual harm in California and nationwide, and the impact of registration on children, survivors and families

– Discuss flawed narratives about registries and youth who cause sexual harm along with strategies for disrupting those narratives

– Brainstorm alternative responses to support survivors, those who have harmed, and their families

Nicole Pittman: Director, Center on Youth Registration Reform at Impact Justice  (@NicoleNPittman)

Nicole Pittman founded the Center on Youth Registration Reform at Impact Justice, an organization dedicated to eliminating the widespread practice of placing kids on sex-offense registries. A Stoneleigh and Rosenberg Leading Edge Fund fellow (and 2011 Senior Soros Justice Advocacy fellow), Pittman, began documenting the harms of labeling young people more than a decade ago as a juvenile public defender. She later collected more than 500 stories for a Human Rights Watch report titled Raised on the Registry. Ending youth registration is part of a larger desire to change the narrative around child sexual behavior, which will ultimately allow the country to move beyond punitive responses and toward lasting child sexual abuse prevention and healing.

PARKING: The church has a large parking lot and lots of street parking as well.

BART AND BUS:  The nearest bart station is Ashby BART, one mile away (here is a map). The closest bus stations are #12 and the F, and the 72M/72R/77 and 88 bus lines are about a 10 minute walk.

ACCESSIBILITY: The space is wheelchair accessible (including bathrooms) and there are several disabled spaces in the parking lot, where the accessible entrance is. Please refrain from wearing perfume/scents to support folks with chemical sensitivitiesIf you have other access needs, please note them in the RSVP form.

CHILDCARE: Due to the content of this event (i.e. child sexual abuse, sex offender registry and child-on-child sexual harm), there will be no childcare.

SELF/GROUP CARE: We encourage all attendees to take care of themselves before, during and after this event. Caring for ourselves and others is important in this work and we want to make sure everyone takes some time to think about what they might need. We will be talking about violence/abuse and it may bring up unexpected things for you. Below are some suggestions that may be useful, especially if you think some of the content may be triggering for you:

– Attend the event with a friend and/or support person. Or have at least one person who knows you will be attending this event that you can reach out to if you need support. 

– Think about what might be best for you before, during and after this event. Some examples might be: Planning to do things that bring you resilience, joy, reflection or nourishment.  Planning down time or to be around people who support you in taking care of yourself. Bringing a meaningful object with you that will help ground/comfort you during the event  (something you can wear, hold in your hand and/or look at are often helpful).

Hope to see you there! Please share and help us spread the word!




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.

Pod write-up and Pod Mapping Worksheet now on our website!

Over the next year, we will be updating our website to better reflect our work. It is a much-needed update and we are excited to reorganize and edit what’s there, as well as add lots of new content.

We are excited to share with you our first new section about pods and our pod mapping worksheet (which you can now download from our website). It is a write-up about why we came up with the concept of “pods” and some of the things we have learned along the way. We hope it is useful and look forward to staying in conversation as we continue to build our pods together!

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…

Continue reading

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…

BATJC Community Report Out, August 23rd in Oakland

Join the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC)* for a
Community Report-Out on Sunday, August 23 from 12pm-2pm

Come hear what we’ve been up to and connect with folks

  • Learn about the BATJC
  • Projects we’ve been working on
  • What’s ahead for 2016

We actively support the participation of people with children in this work. Because content may not be appropriate for children, we will happily provide free childcare upon request on site, in a separate room. Please give us at least a week’s notice if you need childcare.

We will have food for lunch; please email us if you’d like to contribute in any way.

This is a free public event, but please RSVP to so we can plan accordingly.

Where: Qulture Collective
1714 Franklin Street
Oakland, CA 94607

This space is wheelchair accessible (including bathrooms) and is located two blocks from 19th St. BART in downtown Oakland, free street parking available.

For all questions, please email

*The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective works to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse in the Bay Area. To learn more about the BATJC, visit our website: