“Our Justice System Will Speak For Us”
a letter from Dominic Barter about responding to conflict
In recent weeks I have been at Occupy Chicago and was present at the set up of – and have been back regularly to – Occupy Rio, and the New Earth festival that involved many of the same people last weekend and is preparing to co-occupy the spaces around the Rio+20 Conference next June. I’m also following as closely as I can the two camps in London, and anywhere else where I know of people and can get on the ground news. (Miki Kashtan is blogging about her visits to Occupy Oakland – where Pancho was arrested.)
What I see is very similar to what I have seen in schools, neighbourhoods, organisations and formal justice systems: that we who are acting in concert in these ways will be defined – by ourselves as much as by others – by the way we respond to conflict.
This means: our justice system will speak for us.
From what I have seen since I started asking these questions, justice systems – that is, organised responses to conflict – are not optional.
Since conflict is too important – too valuable a resource – to be squandered, we seek to create dedicated spaces for it. And since our culture fears it (in a self-sustaining cycle of confusion about its function, which leads to violence) we attempt to create safety in such spaces.
Democracy is a form for conflict. As a political form it is unusual in that it – in it’s purer, living examples – seeks not to suppress conflict but presumes it is generally ongoing and seeks to create a container for it.
The current occupations are already a response to conflict – that of the emptying of meaning of the word ‘democracy’ and of those political and economic mechanisms that govern our lives, with the almost silent but ever present specter of ecological collapse in the background. They recognise that we do not live in economic democracies – and, presently, few people actually say they want to. Some possibilities are hard to even imagine before we begin to step outside of the comfort zone.
I’m impressed that mediation and empathy are terms used with frequency in several of the camps, and that there are now a critical mass of folks who do not need convincing of their relevance and value – (though the depth of real presence of both is sometimes less than the words promise). I think this adds to their congruency and thus to their strength.
I’m concerned when I hear of deaths from overdose at camps, or that some women were choosing not to sleep overnight at Occupy Wall Street before it’s eviction this week. This is, in part, feedback about the growing edges of our response to conflict and the huge habits that any group of people will bring with them, unless they’re questioned.
As ever, as I see it, it’s not about ‘setting up Restorative systems and using Restorative Circles’.
It’s about engaging communities in dialogue around the question of how conflict is responded to, and then developing forms which give breadth to the fullest expression of creativity, compassion and restoration in each case. Those will then be what we later call our Restorative system and practices.
Learn RC – as deeply and as fully as you can, by practicing it with your own conflicts, in the systems you are part of, made up of people who want to do the same. Then bring to others not what you do, but your open curiosity to engage with, learn from and co-create with them what they are seeking to do, which your experience can inspire, without molding. That’s how I keep young, anyway.
Grateful for the conversation,