This April we had the exciting opportunity to attend and present at the first ever Building Accountable Communities Conference co-sponsored by Project NIA and Barnard Center for Research on Women. The conference was exploring the topic of accountability including discussions and presentations from practitioners of Transformative Justice (TJ), Community Accountability (CA), and Restorative Justice (RJ). The event was led by Mariame Kaba of Project NIA and the creator of transformharm.org an incredible resource center for everything about TJ, CA, RJ, and prison abolition.
I will share more of our journey at the conference and practitioner skillshare below, but first I wanted to share the webinar we did with Mariame this October to share some of the core ideas and lessons from the convening. Together we discussed:
What do we mean when we talk about transformative justice and accountability?
What does a survivor-centered response look like in practice?
How can we support those who have caused harm without defaulting to punishment?
What does real accountability look like?
What has worked, and what obstacles have organizers and community members faced in building this difficult and necessary practice?
In this webinar we reference our Patreon a few times because that is where you can get copies of tools we use as well as join us for a monthly conversation about these topics. When you join now you can download our Transformative Justice Toolkit and depending on what level you join at we will mail you a copy of our Consent Workbook and book Millennial Sex Education.
Some highlights from our conversation in case you don’t have the time to watch the whole video include:
"The distinction between hurt and harm is about accountability. The question is how did you get that cut in the first place? What happened and how much hurt came from before? Am I intentionally activating a trigger?" - Stas
"I've been concerned about the liberal use of abuse. Abuse is a pattern and it's deliberate. We need to understand the differences in order to deal with accountability." - Mariame
"We're living in a world where harmful things are normalized and we need conflict to change things. In an ideal world, there would be no harm and abuse but a lot of conflict." - Stas
"Listen to your body and emotions. Your body wants boundaries to keep yourself safe. When boundaries are about what other people should do, that's when it gets tricky." - Lea
"This person who has done harm is much more likely to learn and be accountable while in community than feeling that the community abandoned them. But you can still ask for boundaries and express concerns and needs." - Stas
"You need to actually have conversations and determine what's important to you in your individual relationships. We can't make assumptions about the entire community. Get specific and less vague." - Stas
"Transformative justice is not an alternative to incarceration. It's its own framework. It's not a catch-all like prisons. We can't dismantle the prison system with processes. It transforms our relationships." - Mariame
"A circle is not what an accountability process is. Also people need time to transform. 80% is the personal work and you can't do the work for them. There are tools for that process but realistically there are no alternative to months of work." - Stas
"There's always going to be mistakes. We just hope there will be different mistakes. We all make mistakes and we're all going to be human in this process." - Stas
"Anything that we can do to shift the normalization of violence. The more that we can do to be resilient and prevent things that harm us. We can do transformative organizing which is included under transformative justice framework." - Stas
"It's so empowering for everyone to know that there are ways to behave without doing harm on other people. In empowering education spaces, people won't be as defensive." - Lea
"What does remorse mean? I want to be the kind of person who understands not to do it again and do what it takes to repair. Focus less on why, more validating it, not wanting to do that again, and show what they'll do so doesn't happen again, thats the main pieces." - Stas
"We can't hold people accountable. People take accountability." - Mariame
"Be visionary. Go deep into your imagination. Do a 20 year visioning for the society you want to live in. Do transformative visioning and find ways within your locus of control to make that happen." - Lea
"Cite practitioners in academic work!" - Stas
"What we think of harm and what triggers us is not the same. The spectrum of harm is wide and vast." - Mariame
"All groups have unhealthy behaviors, that's normal. Find what you can live with and make sure it's reciprocal, which can change at times. But at a certain time, you have to ask yourself what's best for you." - Lea
"What gives people power in this community? There's always a dark side to that. What are the ways people enforce 'you are less powerful'? In activist spaces, there's a power in the role of victim, but we can create power in working through pain." - Stas
"Part of what we're doing is that we also harm people. We have to hold both things with intention in how to create a culture where's it's the norm to take accountability." - Mariame
We landed in NYC for the conference and immediately upon arriving at the hotel we ran into two of our favorite humans and RJ practitioners from the Ahimsa Collective - Sonya Shah & Nuri Nusrat. We knew we were in the right place and couldn’t wait to meet more amazing people and learn from their experiences.
Before the conference officially started many of us who currently practice conflict intervention and harm response came together for a day of sharing tools and discussing strategies. This was like a dream come true for Lea and I (Stas) because we were able to meet or reconnect with many facilitators from organizations we are inspired by and authors of essays and toolkits we use in our practice - like Mimi Kim of Creative Interventions, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, adrienne maree brown, Mia Mingus, Dean Spade, Ann Russo and so many more. Topics we learned about include conflict communication styles and strategies to work with them; disability justice and care labor; locating your work within geographic knowledge; when not to do an accountability process; and incorporating restorative practices in organizations.
The conference itself was a wealth of information in addition to plenaries on “What is Accountability?” and “Addressing Harm” there were dozens of workshops - up to 10 at a time making it almost impossible to choose which one to attend! Our workshop was on how to integrate consent education into TJ processes, including our unique approach to power mapping and analyzing fictional scenarios to identify choice points and strategies for intervention. April was also when we launched our Consent Workbook so we were able to share that with participants in our workshop as well as other practitioners we connected with throughout the weekend and activities.
While we were there Mariame informed us that the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) was making a video series with the presenters. With the event being sold out this (as well as the webinar we featured above) was a strategy to make information and resources from this unique event more accessible to folks who were interested. We were happy to support! We loved meeting Hope from BCRW and really enjoyed filming the interview. The videos from that interview series are included below - more should be coming out in the coming months, so sign up for our newsletter to hear when they are released!
While we were in NYC we also got to facilitate two trainings with Girls for Gender Equity. Our first training was with the staff on best practices to integrate trans* and nonbinary youth into programs originally designed for girls. Our second training was a story based training on navigating power dynamics in relationships with their Sisters in Strength program.
Overall, we had a great time in NYC and are happy to share some of what we learned and resources for you to integrate into your practice! Remember to join our Patreon for even more resources and a chance to chat directly with us and other practitioners about these topics and more.