Last weekend, I attended “Building Accountable Communities: A National Gathering.” I had been eagerly counting down the days until April 27th.
As folks arrived, there was an assembly line set up at the registration table. Name tags, markers, stickers with various pronouns, rectangular stickers in three different colors to indicate your preference for meeting new people, staying with the people you came with, or simply not interacting with others at all. This was so thoughtful and I’d like to hold myself accountable for operating in this manner the next time I host an event.
The day was structured around two plenary sessions and two workshop sessions. The first plenary, moderated by Piper Anderson, was on “What is Accountability” and featured panelists Shannon Perez-Darby, Esteban Kelly, RJ Maccani, Mia Mingus, Sonia Shah, and Leah Todd.
There was so much juicy content in this discussion, but here are some of the notes I jotted down…
“Accountability is a radical way of saying I choose you. We are going to hurt each other, but I still choose to be in community with you.”-Sonya Shah
Some of the ideas were not necessarily new to me, but it was helpful to be reminded of them nonetheless. For example, of the importance of checking in with yourself to ask “are my behaviors and actions aligned with my values? Personally? Professionally?”
And also “am I being accountable to the people with whom I share intimate, immediate space on a daily basis (e.g.—my partner or roommate)? Am I carrying my share of the load? Doing my part to make sure our home/community/organization, etc. can operate in a relatively peaceful and efficient manner?”
Accountability starts at home. The revolution starts at home.
Mia Mingus discussed how child sexual abuse is a strategic site for healing, for transformative justice—as it is one of the first times the most vulnerable members of our communities (children with disabilities, especially) are harmed.
Accountability is both relational and a personal practice
There is a false binary between the causer of harm and the harmed—we’ve ALL got to be accountable.
“Most of us are in an abusive relationship with ourselves and it sets the groundwork for an abusive world. What if we looked at self care as accountability?” —Mia Mingus
“COMFORT and TRANSFORMATION do not live on the same block.”—also Mia Mingus
There is no script for restorative justice.
The second plenary touched on “Addressing Harm” and featured panelists: adrienne maree brown (!!!!!!), Shira Hassan, Mimi Kim, Priya Rai, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha, Amita Swadhin, and was moderated by Ejeris Dixon.
I managed to capture a few strings of words from adrienne maree brown’s incredible speech that somehow had me feeling grounded *and* like I was floating in the stars simultaneously—on addressing harm, but I was so happy to see it posted—in its entirety—on AMB’s website. Here it is:
“Harm is an external wound to your wholeness. More than a bump, an accident.
Harm is what convinces us that in this abundant world, we only deserve to survive. Convinces us that material and emotional scarcity is our lot.
My work is very much about returning people to the truth of miraculous abundance. I’m bleeding as I write this – a reminder that miracles are messy, that I am alive and not in charge. Life is a bloody, magical, messy, beautiful gift.
I play with scale – instead of impossibly wide, go satisfyingly deep. Instead of focusing on the whole, getting stagnant in your insignificance, get close in, get dirty. Operate at your OWN scale. and MAYBE grow. If everyone was practicing transformative justice in their own lives, we’d have enough.
The natural world gives us some clues: abundance is healthy. It’s normal to have plenty. But! And! Plenty is relative!
Each species is programmed for the precise amount of sunlight it needs, and how to swallow light. How do we balance between the rich fertility and terror of darkness, the abundant life and dangerous fire of light?
Divergence and balance.
And emergence. The complex systems and patterns we long for – the justice and accountability that allows for our whole humanity – it all comes from, is built from, relatively simple interactions.
Calling Black liberation workers into support. Sitting at a kitchen table. Drinking tea. That’s where I invite people into accountability. Not to be friends, not to share joy, not even to be comrades necessarily – but accountable. Accountable to something larger than ourselves.
And nature says: enjoy this. We’ve been given bodies so brilliant that some of us have even reclaimed the pleasure of the whip! in just a few generations. We long to feel satisfied and content. Belonging and dignity.
We are born into another’s hands, we are a species meant to hold and be held. We live on an orgasmic planet, fecund and perfect.
But! can we see ourselves home again after all this harm?
My work is to remind us to imagine, to remind us that we are responsible for shaping the future. And to point us down and all around at our teacher-parent-planet. And to remind us not to sleep through the sensational experience of being alive, the heaven here on earth, the blessing of having a body – an individual and collective body – that can recover, can learn, can remember to love.
Kitchen table mediation.
Boundaries are better than disposal.
That is all the miracle I know.”
Wow, wow, wow!
I’m going to meditate on this some more…
Every session offered on this day seemed dynamic, exceedingly important. Alas, I had to choose only one at a time…
Ultimately, I went with adrienne’s workshop on “mediation tools” for Block I and “Anxious as F*ck and Trying to Make the Rev: Disability Is Everywhere in Transformative Justice/ Centering Anti Ableism and Rich Disabled and Mad Wisdom in TJ Work” by the brilliant Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha for Block II.
I’m still processing what I learned during these sessions and what feelings and ideas these conversations stirred up in me. I can’t wait to share some of my thoughts with you once I do.
Finally, forgive me for fangirling, for participating in the utterly toxic celebrity culture that exists in justice communities, but…I met adrienne maree brown AND she signed my copy of her new book Pleasure Activism.
The day was magical, difficult, thought-provoking, and affirming.
Thank you to the organizers of this incredible gathering!
May we build accountable communities, together.