Using Conflict Mediation as a Tool for Abolition

As our political world shifts towards the possibilities of the abolition of police and imprisonment, it seems individual communities are also leaning in to all the ways they can and will need to address harm and conflict without relying on the police or court system going forward. When I was first introduced to the principles of Abolition and Transformative Justice, I immediately aligned with the idea that we are ALL responsible for changing the conditions around us that make harm possible. This kind of abolition is in our hands and our control. We don’t need to wait for anyone in an elected and/or assigned role of power to make these changes. We only need brave, committed, and loving community members willing to get messy and real about the hardest shit: healing and preventing conflict, harm, and violence.

There are various tools communities have been using for millenia to respond to and address conflict, harm, and violence. On occupied Turtle Island, many indigenous and First Nations communities relied on (and continue to rely on) community-wide processes which often include talking and peace circles, decisions on reparations for those harmed, and utilizing family and friends to hold harm do-ers accountable. This is sometimes referred to as Indigenous Justice. In settler communities, some of these processes and lessons have been adapted and are sometimes used in Transformative Justice and Restorative Justice as elements of larger processes. While there is a difference between Indigenous Justice and Transformative Justice, there are shared principles and values and both reject use of the white-settler criminal justice system as appropriate responses to these real human issues.

One of the shared values and principles of both Indigenous Justice and Transformative Justice is creating and holding space for those involved in the harm to come together and talk in a structured space held by loving community members. As we vision and imagine bringing these lessons into the many communities currently ravaged by police and imprisonment, we must acknowledge that currently we are very far from feeling equipped and resourced to respond to the real conflict, harm, and violence happening. It’s imperative to identify what skills are useful NOW and will support prevention and healing NOW.

Conflict Mediation is one such tool in the large toolbox of healing and responding to harm, conflict, and violence. Often it is a tool best used when the conflict or harm exists between a small number of people and impact has had minimal community impact. Sometimes it can be used as a supplementary tool in larger processes that are addressing bigger impact situations but require some unpacking of interpersonal conflict within a larger community and pattern of harm. And certainly this tool can be expanded and adapted for use in larger situations involving many people, but generally when doing group work this tool is best used in a supporting role with other interventions and practices in motion as well.

As a society, we are very afraid to “get involved” when there is drama and disagreement. There is a deep rooted belief that we should mind our own business and go deep into our individualism and handle our problems on our own. It is considered a weakness if others are aware of your personal problems and it’s even worse if you are someone who asks for support.

There is also the fear in some communities that getting involved in someone else’s conflict makes them a new target for the conflict and could negatively impact their lives and interpersonal connections. I think this is a very valid concern and must be considered when determining whether or not someone is the best person to engage an intervention or response to conflict.

But what if getting involved did not put you at an immediate risk for harm and violence, could it be seen instead as an act of love to intervene? What if we invited trusted loved ones in when we were struggling with others? It would mean allowing our loved ones to deeply witness us at our messiest points, and conversely it means we would be asked to hold space for those unflattering and sometimes scary moments for our friends and family. It would mean admitting we aren’t perfect, and that in fact, sometimes we’re awful people who do awful things. We would also be invited to hold one another accountable to behavior change that we often agree to and struggle with actually implementing. This would also mean that we can no longer check out and look away when we see conflict, harm, and violence. No longer relying on outsiders to handle the neighborhood drama means we must address it or else it will start to harm bystanders and our families as well.

Conflict mediators are those who are willing and able to hold space for those in conflict to talk through the elements of the conflict as well as move towards resolution. Mediators are not magicians and they are not the bosses. They are often excellent listeners, enjoy facilitation, deeply love people, and can practice objectivity. They are also people willing to be uncomfortable, say and ask hard things, and point out patterns or behaviors contributing to conflict. It is very difficult to be a mediator if you are experiencing instability and crisis in your own life. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect or have everything figured out in order to show up to support your community. But as a mediator, it is important that you are able to show up for the people involved without making it about your own struggles and trauma.

In every conflict between people, it is important to remember that there is both trauma and power/oppression dynamics that inform the situation. This means that who is right and who is wrong is going to be complicated by these dynamics. We are often taught that there is a wrong and right person in conflict. But when we account for all the layers at play, that binary isn’t clear in all situations. One role of a mediator is to hold space for ALL the truths in a situation in order to truly hold the whole picture of the conflict, including the conditions that are underlying and made the conflict possible in the first place. Was there a previous conflict between these people? What else was going on in their personal lives at the time of the conflict? Is it possible there was some racism/classism/misogyny/homophobia/ableism at the root of some of the interactions and to what degree can folks admit this? Oftentimes, all parties have contributed to the conflict and harm in some ways and to some degree thus requiring all to recognize and acknowledge not just the negative impact on themselves, but also their complicity in perpetuating the harm.

Healing happens many different ways. One of the more powerful moments of healing in a conflict are when responsibility is authentically taken and/or generosity and forgiveness are authentically extended. I know from personal experience that getting to my most generous and authentic self in terms of taking responsibility and/or offering forgiveness requires some steps.

First, a space for safe story-telling and talking must be made. This looks like allowing everyone equal amounts of time to be heard, naming micro-aggressions and power dynamics, and allowing each individual to process how their own histories and trauma were present in the conflict. With enough time and space for this type of story-telling and understanding, the resolution develops itself and generosity is built by hearing each other’s truths. It doesn’t always get there on its own and mediating sometimes means asking the hard questions and offering options for continuing to move forward. Sometimes this space is created on the fly, in the moment, and/or on the spot. Other times this space is agreed to ahead of time, at a special location, and with agreed upon terms. Bottom-line is the logistics are less important than the actual ability for a container of trust to be built. This will be different depending on the existing relationships and/or circumstances of the situation – sometimes trust building takes time and may not happen immediately.

Behavior change and practicing new ways of being are often the scariest parts of resolving a conflict for those involved. This is the most vulnerable part – where each person is asked to say out loud how they will prevent harm from coming from this conflict. Saying it out loud, with a third party present, is an important part of the accountability. Behavior change, while (usually) physically painless, can feel emotionally wrought and mentally confusing. It often requires unlearning an instinct or habit. It often means integrating new information and a new perspective. This takes time and practice and we mess up along the way. We need people holding us in our mistakes and sharing with us how they’ve seen us change and grow. This reflected back to us is one of the most exciting parts of conflict resolution for those who have caused harm. It’s important to note that when one becomes aware of how they have caused, perpetuated, or benefitted from harm, this realization on its own can cause its own special kind of distress, which can manifest as physical symptoms such as anxiety, cognitive dissonance, dissociation, etc. And some of these feelings may continue to be present or come up as we work toward behavior change and actionable accountability.

Mediation is not a guaranteed happy experience and end of the conflict. Sometimes it takes weeks and multiple mediations for things to feel “better.” We’ve also seen mediation co-opted by the state and used in place of legal proceedings but ultimately utilizing the same players of legal proceedings and similar punitive and punishment-based resolutions. Also, people can erupt and act out during mediations, sometimes bringing violence into the mediation. This also means that if someone is in complete denial about their contribution to the conflict, you may only be able to go so far in the mediation. This is all to say that mediation is not a replacement or alternative for our current systems of judgement. But rather it’s a tool that if implemented with care could be incredibly supportive to communities and provide healing opportunities and resolution options when conflict and harm are present.

Overall, mediation is one piece in a larger puzzle of how we will transform society away from punitivity and punishment and towards healing and transformation. There is not one way to do it, and it can be formal or informal. It is deeply nourishing to have a community member hold you and your conflict with a belief in your transformation and a commitment to your healing. What a beautiful gift to be able to share with your beloved community. Sometimes the best way to learn about mediation is by experiencing one. Next time you find yourself knee deep in conflict with someone you care about, seek out a mediator for support!


**Much of my analysis on Transformative Justice was inspired by INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, Transformative Justice Law Project in Chicago, the SF Coalition on Homelessness, and all of the organizations/communities/individuals that have trusted in me for mediation support.

Trauma Informed Facilitation

A trauma informed framework is an approach that understands, recognizes, and responds to the effects of all types of trauma. In any work that is aimed at ending oppression and advancing social justice, trauma will be present in the room. While we are building up our wealth of science about trauma, a larger body of evidence, the lived experiences of trauma, is certainly pervasively all around us.

From the book “Trauma and Recovery” trauma is defined as an extraordinary event, “not because it occurs rarely, but rather because it overwhelms the ordinary human adaptations to life.” This means that our lived experiences in a society built on institutional oppression has the potential to be overwhelming our bodies and selves everyday. There are serious physiological effects of trauma, including deficient immune systems and the inability to experience necessary bodily functions regularly due to overstimulation.

So get a bunch of people who are surviving trauma everyday and/or have experienced acute traumatic events in a room together to talk about oppression and social justice – you can bet that the ever disruptive agent named trauma will be in the room as well.

Over the past 2 decades, I have had the honor of working alongside many survivors of the various layers of violence that ills our society. I have worked as a case manager, a community organizer, a policy advocate, and a professor. Each of these roles has demanded a holistic understanding of trauma and survivorship in order to build trusting relationships with my clients, colleagues, and students. These relationships, and the incredible ways I have benefited from knowing these people, are what have inspired and pushed me to be a better organizer and teacher. Lately many folks have been asking about my facilitation style and “how I do it.” I think the first step in being a trauma-informed facilitator starts with a deep respect and reverence for the survivors of trauma that you will be facilitating. Knowing that you are lucky to be in the room with such geniuses, knowing that you are moving with power and privilege, and knowing that your facilitation can mean revolutionary things can happen is exciting and a huge responsibility. If you are not starting here, the rest of what I have to share will be difficult for you.

A trauma informed meeting is a meeting that accounts for this ahead of time, ensures the meeting is developed in a way to prevent as many triggers as possible, and utilizes a flexible structure to hold moments when the trauma is present. While this level of preparedness can feel overwhelming, it is actually a rhythm that is easy to pick-up. Like any new muscle, it requires practice and discipline. And once you integrate the practices, it really does become second nature.

Setting Up The Meeting

From the topic to the agenda to the space to the facilitator – intentional choices and moving deliberately can go a looooooooong way on the prevention tip.

1)    Know the audience and make sure that basic needs will not get in the way of anyone’s full participation. Ask yourself/team:

  • Are you meeting in an accessible space?
  • Are you close to public transit?
  • Do people know where to park?
  • Are their elevators in the building?
  • Will people need translation?
  • Will people need food?  What types of dietary restrictions need to be considered (allergies, vegan, gluten free, halal, etc.)?
  • Is there enough seating for everyone?
  • Should we consider being scent free?
  • Do we need childcare or translation services?

2)    Create an agenda that includes activities that engage multiple learning styles and offer choices to the participants, space the activities to allow for full absorption and flexibility in case stuff comes up, and include breaks/self-care as much as possible, including time for deep breaths or embodiment activities. Ask yourself/team:

  • Are materials written down or copied for all?
  • Do we have a need for tech or projection for easier viewing?
  • Is there a way to integrate multimedia? Like videos or sound?
  • Can we include movement?
  • Do we have opportunities in the agenda for processing and debriefing?

3)    Choose a facilitator(s) who will help create open’ness and safety in the space – be cognizant of both the audience and the facilitator’s race/class/gender/disability/education makeup and make sure they are reflected back to one another. Also ensure that the facilitator is best positioned to incorporate the most voices – for example it’s not ideal to have the person who “knows the most information” or has the most “reporting back” to do also be the facilitator.

During The Meeting

Each person can be responsible for their meeting participation and managing their triggers. As a facilitator, your role is often to remind people of this responsibility in ways that don’t embarrass, shame, or harm participants. Instead, there are a number of strategies to ensure that this is possible for each participant and create authentic opportunities to remind participants of this responsibility.

1)    Open up the meeting with intention – welcoming people as they enter the space and helping them get oriented (bathrooms, where to put their things, letting them know if you’ve started or if you are waiting for a few more people etc.). It’s also important to utilize an icebreaker or opening questions that helps create inclusivity (i.e.: preferred pronouns, if people have access needs, emotional check-ins on scales of 1-5).

2)    Utilize group agreements that setup the space that you need – use the group agreements as an opportunity to name the traumas that might show up and what the plan is to address them. Sometimes it can be helpful to have agreements around electronics (i.e.: no cell phones, if video mtg – use camera, etc.) inviting people to be present with each other. Here are some other examples of group agreements you could use (adapted from Southern Law Project and Training for Change):

  • Stay Engaged – Whatever that looks like- drawing, stretching, leaving room so you can be more present. We are going to trust that everyone is doing the best they can and know best what they need.
  • Expect to experience discomfort – We embody violent histories and generations of power, abuse, genocide, struggle – it is an uncomfortable journey of un/re/learning. Discomfort is distinct from unsafe: if your comfort zone (green zone) is familiar/comfortable, try to stay in the yellow zone (new thinking/behaviors, steepest learning curve), but not the red zone of over-risking. Each person’s risks look different than the next.
  • Expect a lack of closure – Integrating new info takes time. Honoring the learning that happens beyond these walls & taking things back to your communities. If you leave with more questions than answers, we think that is a great thing!
  • Speak (through) your truth – I am not the same I was 2 years ago nor 2 hours ago. full selves now. Honor the process. Allowing others to speak (through) their truths, we are collectively creating a space for all to be growing/transforming. Speak from I, Think from We.
  • Trying on is not taking on – We might ask you to think about something in a new way or try on some new language during the workshop. You don’t have to keep using that after this workshop.

3)    When vulnerable or difficult moments happen, do not ignore them or gloss over. Take the time necessary to address the situation and redirect. It is great when the facilitator is able to catch this, but participants can also ask for it and help hold that space.

4)    Listen to one another and make sure to pause/slow down and make space for different participation. Feeling invisibilized and talked over are very quick ways to trigger survivors of trauma – each participant can be responsible for holding sacred space for one another.

Facilitation Tips

As the facilitator, there are specific strategies that you can implement to hold the space and create the container necessary for a successful meeting. Some very basic ideas for creating that container include:

  • Memorizing or writing down everyone’s name and asking them direct questions.
  • Doing a go-around where everyone has an equal opportunity to talk.
  • When you ask a question and no one answers, wait 60 seconds before moving on.
  • Inviting a specific group to speak up, especially if others are dominating: “I’d love to hear from any one in the room who has personal experience, or hasn’t spoken yet or is new.”
  • Utilizing small groups and “pair and shares” when the group needs more processing time but the large group is creating dynamics of who speaks and who doesn’t.
  • Looking for and naming patterns and points of alignment, especially when navigating any conflict or escalated feelings.

Part of holding this space will include being able to notice when trauma is impacting participation and doing your best to offer options for moving forward. This can be tricky, as the facilitators are often holding so much, but here are some ideas for this element of trauma informed facilitation.

1)    Watch for non-verbal signs that participants are feeling triggered: side convo’s unrelated, people shutting down/going to sleep, people repeating themselves or getting escalated, people not making eye contact or body language that is closed off, etc.

2)    Sometimes when a person is triggered, they will attack the first person they can rather than attack the inequity. As a facilitator, it can be important to watch for this and re-direct if this happens, holding space for anger as well as healing. This includes intervening if there is an oppressive moment, even if not directed at someone.

3)    Frame questions and content in ways that transform trauma experiences into a politicized/empowered learning moment: instead of directly storytelling about a traumatic experience, ask about ways they showed strength in that experience. For example: “What are some of the skills and strengths you discovered about yourself through that experience?” or “How did you cultivate support during that time?” or “It’s incredible how you can share this story – how did you heal to this point of being able to share?”

4)    During high moments of escalation or when many folks are triggered, it can be helpful to take a time-out/break and utilize some embodied activity to bring people back to the room. Naming the tension and allowing space for naming what people are feeling can be an important intervention. If you can, check in with the person/people who experienced escalation to see what they may need to be able to remain in the space. Take and integrate feedback if it is offered!

While this is by no means an exhaustive overview of centering a trauma informed framework for your meetings and facilitation, it is an introduction to a very useful tool in our work to end oppression and further social justice. There is much to say about the role of harm reduction in meetings and facilitation, participant self-determination, and challenging white supremacy in our spaces. I hope some of these tools are helpful to you as you hold space and facilitate meetings with survivors!

**Much of my analysis was developed through hands-on experience. Some of the materials I share here were inspired by the Broadway Youth Center in Chicago, The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, and the Rhizome Consulting Project.

 

 

Round 2: From Drama to Calma

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Our first session of this workshop series was so successful, we have decided to offer a second round of From Drama to Calma: Transformative Tools for Conflict Medication. If you are someone who is naturally called on to support conflict or if you are someone who runs in the other direction when there is conflict, this series can help you develop new strategies for responding to and transforming conflict. See previous blogpost for more workshop details or click here to register!

  • When: Saturdays June 30 and July 7, 10am-1pm pacific // 12p-3pm central // 1pm-4pm eastern
  • Access: This series will be conducted through Zoom and will require computer/internet access as well as a software download. Please indicate in registration if you need any access supports that will increase your participation.
  • Payment: Suggested fee of $100, please pay what you can, no one turned away for lack of funds. Making a payment higher than the suggested fee, if you are able, supports our commitment to make our workshops accessible for anyone who wants to join. Details for payment sent upon registration.

Register by June 23!!

 

It doesn’t have to be this way: Transforming Internalized Oppression

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A NEW WEBINAR SERIES! JUNE 3rd and June 10th, 2018

It doesn’t have to be this way: Transforming Internalized Oppression

When our oppression becomes internalized, we experience a wide variety of harmful thought patterns that impact not only our self-image but also how we connect and build with others. When we collectively disregard our internalized oppression, it further fuels harm on every scale. In this two part webinar series, Lisa Marie and Fatima will guide a cohort through understanding internalized oppression, recognizing its impacts on ourselves, our relationships, and on institutional and cultural norms.  Participants will learn tools for dismantling this insidious form of oppression, that are based in compassion, creativity, and accountability. Through interactive activities and exercises, we will develop the content for a zine that Lisa Marie and Fatima will compile to share as a resource for ourselves and others in our processes of transforming internalized oppression into connection, art, and healing.

This series is interactive, innovative, and will help participants in their own journeys of healing internalized oppression while providing opportunities to share and build with one another.  This series is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, including Mixed people) only.

  • When: The series will take place Sunday’s June 3rd and June 10th from 10am-1pm pst // 12p-3pm cst // 1pm-4pm est
  • How much: The suggested fee for this series is $100. Please pay what you can, and be assured that no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Making a payment higher than the suggested fee, if you are able, supports our commitment to make our workshop(s) accessible to anyone who wants to join.
  • How to register: Register by May 27, 2018! Follow this link: https://goo.gl/forms/nVnR3nELEybRIqEG3
  • Access: This series is for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, including Mixed people) only. It will be conducted through Zoom and will require computer/internet access as well as a software download. Please indicate in registration if you need any access supports that will increase your participation.

Announcing A New Webinar Series!

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Registration is now open! Register by March 9, 2018 –  https://goo.gl/forms/MpPGPMTSZ4DMx5g02

From Drama to Calma: Transformative Tools for Conflict Mediation

Through our various community work over the last 15 years, we have seen time and time again that radical, social justice-oriented spaces struggle deeply with addressing conflict and harmful power dynamics within their spaces.  Existing within a police state teaches us that we must address these behaviors in either a dismissive or punitive manner, and that the skills that our communities hold are not “enough” to adequately address the harms that might occur.  In this current political climate, it is increasingly urgent that we continue to build strategies for addressing violence and harm in our own communities without relying on the state, or the methods that it has taught us.  We believe in the power to change our communities and to live within the values that we fight for.

This two-part webinar series will guide a cohort of participants through understanding oppression and intersectionality and how these concepts impact conflict and conflict resolution. Together we will build a shared language on these topics, in order to confront the ways that power and oppression impact how we hold space for ourselves and others in our communities. The cohort will learn the transformative potential of conflict and how to lean-in towards community resilience and away from state reliance. Participants will learn concrete skills in conflict mediation for both smaller mediations as well as larger community-based processes.

When: The series will take place Saturdays March 17th and 24th from 10am-1pm pst // 12p-3pm cst // 1pm-4pm est

How much: Suggested fee of $100, please pay what you can, no one turned away for lack of funds, and paying on the higher end means more room for folks unable to pay. Details for payment sent upon registration.

How to register: Register by March 9, 2018! Follow this link: https://goo.gl/forms/MpPGPMTSZ4DMx5g02

Access: The webinars will be conducted through Zoom and will require computer/internet access as well as a software download. Closed captioning available, please indicate in registration if this would increase your participation. And please share any additional access needs in registration.

What is Social Justice Consulting?!

Social Justice Consulting is bringing skilled facilitators and trainers to your organization and community to support the deepening and broadening of the social justice impact your work has to end oppression and the suffering attached to it. Oftentimes the work of ending racism, gender-based discrimination, and fighting for the rights of oppressed people comes at the peril of healthy organizations and relationships. The work to end the outward suffering requires a deep commitment to also ensuring that the oppressive structures don’t also impact the internal functioning of organizations and communities. Social Justice Consulting can help to not only strengthen the outcomes of your work, but to also address tensions and struggles that exist within organizations and communities. Working with a social justice consultant also allows for necessary outside perspective and support towards addressing what can feel insurmountable. Unlike corporate consulting, this work is not meant to create a dependent relationship but rather values interdependence and skill building from within.

 

“Lisa Marie’s co-facilitation was critical to the success of our first ever national gathering of people in the sex trade from criminalized communities. She was responsive to our changing needs and resources, grounded in our concrete realities while always helping us stay focused on the bigger picture. She skillfully employed a warm sense of humour and careful planning to invite people to engage in difficult conversations with candidness, lightness and respect. Lisa Marie’s facilitation helped guide us into doing effective work together despite enormous differences in our group members’ experiences and backgrounds.This is why we brought her in all the way to Toronto–she has that unusual combination of facilitation experience and social justice grounding that we needed–and she’s a pleasure to work with!”  –Past Client Testimonial