How do restorative and transformative justice processes work in practice?
In April, the anarchist collective CrimethInc published a new pamphlet critiquing accountability processes and suggesting ways forward. “Accounting for Ourselves” is not an introduction to accountability processes, nor to the concepts of restorative or transformative justice, but an attempt to evaluate the current implementation of these concepts in political subcultures.
My interest in this topic has come from participating and supporting friends and comrades in this work over the last ten or so years. Accountability processes attempt to put many of my values into practice—mutual aid, respect, direct action, a DIY ethic, an acknowledgement that “crime,” safety, harm, and support are complex. Accountability processes haven’t been a perfect solution, however, and many of the participants I know have left these processes frustrated. At the same time, a lot of the collective knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work is scattered, unwritten, and lost as ad-hoc groups come and go around particular crises.
I started thinking about doing a writing or research project on accountability processes, motivated by the urgent feeling that we must do this better. After I began talking with friends and comrades about collecting best practices, I discovered that a friend had already done a lot of good thinking in this area, and I read some early drafts of this pamphlet.
“Accounting for Ourselves” is a necessary critique done in an effort to move us toward a better process. Though written as a reflection of the practice of accountability processes in Anarchist circles, the writing offers accessible insights to anyone interested in these issues. I find this type of honest self-reflection both rare and urgently important.
If you are unfamiliar with accountability processes, the following Q & A with Nikita, one of the primary authors of the pamphlet, is an introduction to these ideas and to the pamphlet. The pamphlet itself (available for free) also gives historical context for how these concepts have developed over time and how they have been put into practice. It includes an excellent (and thorough) list of articles, books, ‘zines, and organizations. We recommend starting with these five resources:
- For theoretical background, read “Toward Transformative Justice” by Generation Five (PDF)
- For detailed models and examples, consult the Creative Interventions Toolkit
- For info and FAQs from a collective that facilitates community accountability processes, check out Philly Stands Up
- For articles on responding to gender violence in activist communities, read The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Andrea Smith
- For a thoughtful discussion of a specific community accountability effort and how it played out, read “Beautiful, Difficult, Powerful: Ending Sexual Assault Through Transformative Justice” by the Chrysalis Collective (PDF)
“Accounting for Ourselves – Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes” and is available for free online here: http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/accounting.php
This interview was conducted in May 2013.
Q: Could you give us an idea of what an “accountability process” is?
A: “Accountability process” is a broad term for alternative methods for responding to harm on a community level. Instead of focusing on punishment through the criminal legal system, these processes try to actually address the harm that was done, on the terms of the person harmed rather than those of the state. These processes can be as simple as a few friends coming together to support someone and confronting a person who’s hurt them, or can involve more complex mediation between collectives of people who support and intervene.
“Accounting For Ourselves” focuses on these alternative processes as they’re applied in situations of sexual assault and abuse. We chose this focus because these are some of the primary forms of harm that folks have attempted to address through accountability processes, in part because the criminal legal system is notoriously ineffective at providing resolution and preventing harm in these situations.
Q: How do accountability processes fit into your political framework? How did you come to be involved with this work?
A: I first got involved in men’s anti-violence education and rape crisis support work because so many of my friends and loved ones had experienced sexual violence. I was also getting involved in anarchist organizing and prison abolition work, and community accountability brought together these visions on an intimate level.
Accountability processes attempt to put anti-authoritarian ideals into action. If we’re struggling against police violence and the prison industrial complex, but we don’t have tools to address harm in our own circles, we’re unlikely to dismantle this society or successfully create alternatives.
I first came across JJ Tiziou’s photography through his work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (you can see some of the photos here). I found his style, and of course his subject matter, compelling.
Recently I was able to interview JJ for Shareable about how financing social justice work – particularly media work – is a challenge, despite how vital this work is. Telling our stories, celebrating our victories, and analyzing our defeats are some of the most important things we can do to strengthen social movements. We need people like JJ to continue doing this work, just like we need magazines and websites as vehicles to tell these stories.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Jen: JJ, maybe you can start by talking about how digital technologies and online content sharing sites have changed photography?
JJ: The advent of digital photography opened up the possibility of a new practice of photography as public art. Digital makes it easier for photographers to invest in personal community projects, and easier to share images directly with the communities that are being photographed. And millions of hobbyists are now practicing photography as public art through Flickr, Facebook, etc.
This is great, but this practice of sharing images online is also directly at odds with the ways that photographers have traditionally earned a living. Photographers have been able to survive as professional imagemakers through strict enforcement of copyright, by licensing images on a pay-per-use model. In other words, to survive as a photographer, you’re supposed to practice the opposite of sharing.
Hey – so my friend Scott does this really fascinating website called Sheepless - it’s like for activisty / socially responsible small business people and entrepreneurs. I have lots of thoughts about the subject and how activism, money, capitalism, and sustainability are all related, and I’d really love to explore all those issues in the future. Maybe that will be some conversations with Scott, or other people who I’ve had really fascinating discussions with on the topic.
But, in the meantime, I was featured in an interview on Sheepless today, focusing on the work I’ve been doing over at Aid & Abet. We talk about how publicity is really about building relationships, what it means to run a business as an activist, and what is important about how you do your publicity, and some stuff about how Aid & Abet started. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
You’ve written about your experiences as co-founder and editor of the radical activist magazine Clamor from 1999-2006 in Becoming the Media: A Critical History Of Clamor Magazine. In what ways have those successes and failures shaped the way you run your business today?
I still struggle with a lot of the issues that I brought up in the pamphlet, like the general resistance by radical and progressive left individuals to really grasp and deal with issues of money, finance, and sustainability. I think it’s really important for those critical of the system to be able to understand how to live and thrive within capitalism without compromising too much – and not subverting our own needs for stability and security either.
I first met David Solnit in 1996, during the Active Resistance conference in Chicago. We became close after I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and I’ve really learned a lot from him.
He’s spent the last 25 years organizing in a variety of movements, from anti-nuclear to anti-war, and I’ve come to really respect him as someone who has a wide and long-term vision for how change happens, directly influencing the nature and style of social change organizing in the U.S.
I interviewed him in November 2008. Because David was involved in the organizing of the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, I had originally conceived of this interview as a reflection to be published in the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of that moment. But the interview is much more wide ranging than that, covering, more generally, art and protest in the United States.
Here are a couple of excerpts:
JA: Seattle was such a flashpoint for a lot of people, but it didn’t happen over night. Can you talk about the process of leading up to the ’99 WTO protests and battling the myths that have come up about that organizing?
DS: Seattle brought together many of the movements that had been simmering; forest activism, sweat shop organizing, housing and homeless, environmental, workers, solidarity–all different kinds of movements– and it created a systemic framework in which people could converge and act in concert. There is a widespread activist myth that It was a spontaneous rebellion, which has led to a lot of badly organized mass mobilizations where people think that the Seattle recipe is you put out a call to action, set up a website, rent a convergence center, you know and people will miraculously come. Instead it was six months of creating organizational structures and building and strengthening networks, doing mobilizing which means face to face meetings and events, getting lists of people who are going, helping them get on busses and carpools, training people and preparing them for direct action and massive infrastructure, mass trainings and building alliances between movements. The mobilizations this year around the Democratic and Republican Conventions, while amazingly audacious and courageous, they lacked broad-based organizing and basic what and why strategy and the hardcore of activists who did step up got pretty beaten up.
Folk is the new Punk: An Interview with members of the Riot-Folk collective
I first heard Ryan Harvey and Evan Greer in April 2006, in a crowded living room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was there for the Counter Recruitment Conference organized by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group. My friend had been telling me about Riot-Folk for months, but I just never got around to checking them out. But after seeing them in the living room, I went immediately to their website and started downloading all the music they had posted there. I was in love.
Riot-Folk is a collective of nine radical musicians who live all around the United States. They each have their own identities and sounds and styles, but they often play or tour together and sometimes record songs together. More than that, they are forging a new way of making music, combining anti-capitalist and ant-authoritarian politics with art and culture. By working together to promote their music, book tours, share contacts, and share equipment, they are setting an example of innovation and creativity, putting their politics into their actions. From their website: “We are an anti-profit mutual-aid collective of radical artists and musicians. We make music to provoke, educate, heal and inspire.”