this weekend i was honored to cofacilitate a session on transformative justice with Jayeesha Dutta. it went so beautifully that we wanted to share it with others.
the format was simple.
1. definitions/elements (building common language)
we first asked people to tell us the elements of
a. punitive justice, then
b. restorative justice, then
c. transformative justice
here’s what came back from our folks (communities on frontlines of extreme energy extraction fights):
punitive justice is about blaming, shaming, punishing, disposing of, limiting the motion of, violence, right and wrong. punishment is a way of exerting power over others.
restorative justice is about getting back to how things were (after an action or statement causes harm), returning to wholeness, healing, learning. it can be a practice of power over or power with others.
transformative justice is about transforming the conditions in society, community, family and/or intimate relationships from the root, such that whatever is causing harm and tension becomes impossible. it accepts that we’re all learning, all have trauma, and all make mistakes. it is often about leadership of oppressed people moving into a power with dynamic.
we placed punitive justice on one end of the room, restorative about halfway down the room and transformative justice on the other end and had people cluster in the middle. we formed spectrums around the following questions:
a. which form of justice does our society primarily practice? (the group clustered down by punitive)
b. which form of justice do you primarily practice in your own life and relationships? (the group was mostly in restorative area with a few acknowledging they practice punitive [especially when we mentioned social media] and some in transformative, it’s where people wanted to be. we noted that a lot of times punitive is what feels most available in the short term, transformative takes more time.)
c. which form of justice does your organization/nwtwork/group/alliance primarily practice? We did make the distinction between internally and externally – these generally align. (the group mostly slid back to been restorative and punitive. folks shared some good and painful stories of what this looks and feels like.)
3. generating a path
we then had people cluster with people near them on the spectrum (forming groups of 4) and discuss what they could do to increase transformative justice in their organizations/groups/networks/alliances – in movement.
jayeesha offered the frame of will, skill, knowledge or capacity, asking people to reflect on which one they needed more of to practice this well.
4. making a commitment
to close, we had each person write a “note to self”, a commitment of one person or situation in which they were going to increase their practice of transformative justice.
the workshop was in response to the various processes of tension, conflict and justice that are rolling like waves through our movements. i can think of five different things in the past week where the collective move seemed punitive, though often expressed as punitive for the sake of transformation.
hearing folks process this in person in our meeting brought up questions for me that feel like useful self-assessments in the process of getting clear on what i’m building and how to proceed, where to learn:
is your goal liberation?
do you believe punitive justice can build movements for liberation? how?
do you have stories of changing your own deeply held beliefs (quickly) in response to punitive justice (particularly public calling out/shaming/exile)? i understand it as a tactic to use against corporations, political figures, or when we lack access to direct interventions…i want to understand more about where it fits into abolitionist/transformative justice tactics within groups of people explicitly working on justice and liberation.
do you have stories of increasing liberation in a group by practicing punitive justice together?
do you believe restorative justice can build movements for liberation? how?
what would make you more likely to practice transformative justice in your own life/work/relationships?