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.
About a week ago I saw a preview of the new film, “If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.” The film will begin playing in San Francisco this Friday, July 15 at Landmark Theaters in SF and Berkeley. I think everyone I know should see this film.
“If A Tree Falls” follows the story of the Earth Liberation Front, activists in the Northwest US who were responsible for property destruction, such as arsons and vandalism, against targets such as ski resorts or timber companies. Many of the people involved are now in jail, including Daniel McGowan. The complete promo description of the film(below, after the jump) does a good job of summarizing it (and the situation).
I like this film a lot for several reasons. First, they filmmakers did a great job of placing the ELF and the specific acts within a historical context – why did some people feel the need to escalate their activism to the point of burning down buildings? How did the actions of police and local governments increase tensions? The filmmakers use interviews with people who were active in the political and environmental scenes, particularly in Eugene, Oregon, to give us examples of what heightened tensions during that time. (One caveat – this section of the documentary includes footage of violence by police against protesters, including that f-ing crazy footage from 1997 Headwaters where police put pepper spray directly into the eyes of peaceful, nonviolent protesters with cotton swabs. I found this triggering, and you might too.)
Second, I really appreciated the emphasis on questioning how environmental activists have been labeled eco-terrorists, and the use of the word terrorism in general – something I also appreciated about Will Potter’s book, Green is the New Red. Since Daniel McGowan lives in New York, the filmmakers chose to illustrate this by juxtaposing the 9/11 attacks – which were intended to kill innocent people – with acts of property destruction where no person was injured. The film portrays the activists not as crazy extremists, but as individuals who felt moved by their beliefs.
Finally, the movie includes a lot of interviews with law enforcement at local and federal levels talking about how they investigated the crimes, how they gathered evidence, and how they built the case against the defendants. Every activist should watch the movie for this fact alone.
The government’s case relied heavily on the use of informants – in one interview, a man from the local police department says outright that they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute anyone, and goes on to explain how they selected and pursued someone to become an informant, and how they used that informant to gather evidence against the others. This is really important to see and understand.
I want to encourage everyone to go and buy a ticket and see this in a Landmark theater. When films like this are played in mainstream theaters, how much money they make/how many tickets they sell really influences the future choices made by the theater about what films to show – This is a well made documentary about activists, and a good showing will encourage Landmark and other theaters to book good documentaries in the future – and good showings in cities like San Francisco can help a movie get released in additional theaters in smaller towns.
This is important. I want you to go see it and take your friends. Let’s make sure that films like this will continue to be made, and will continue to be shown in theaters where they can be accessible to everyone.