The long, long, long document below is what we have been working on in preparation for the Transformative Justice: Our Movements and Our Struggle event on Saturday, June 7th. It is an attempt to talk through a lot of our collective ideas about how to move forward with making transformative justice a priority in organizing to fight oppression and exploitation. It is a very beginning attempt. Despite it’s length it is very incomplete. With your critique, input and collaboration, we will continue working on, expanding and practicing these ideas.
We are organizations that believe in an end to rape, to sexual assault, to queer-bashing, to the everyday micro-aggressions against women and gender non-conforming people; to the whole structures of patriarchy and gender oppression that these are daily violent manifestations of. We also want to see an end to bosses, to waged labor – we want to see the whole organized working class rise up, emancipate itself through anti-capitalist revolution and take power. For us, these goals are one and the same, fundamentally part of the same revolutionary process. Our task is to find practical ways to put these goals together in our daily organizing work, in a strategic practice that can put us on a path to the working class, feminist revolution that we need.
There has been a lot of inspiring work done on creating models for transformative justice work. We see ourselves as learning and following the lead of those who have done that work, but we also believe that we have something to add onto that experience. On top of what has already been accomplished, we want to add the perspective of using transformative justice as a method and practice within the process of building revolutionary social movements that will challenge gender oppression and capitalism. We want to go beyond looking at transformative justice as something that is carried out in small collectives within radical circles to something that engages the broadest possible number of people through struggles in workplaces, communities and schools, and brings them into the fight to destroy capitalism.
What we’ve come up with in this document is not an answer. It’s not a model. It’s only the written-down process of us asking ourselves questions. The best that we hope for is that it will point us in the right direction to come up with something better in the future. What we have in this document now is a very very rough draft that is still in flux and formation, and it’s missing a lot of content that we are still talking through (or probably more accurately, it’s missing because we’re slow writers). We look forward to the criticism and critical engagement with this document that will make it sharper and more inclusive.
This document focuses mainly on patriarchal violence and the fight against gender oppression because those were the specific questions and situations we were dealing with when we began doing this work together. However, we do not believe that the struggle against gender oppression is more important than the fight against any other oppression, nor do we think they can, in reality, be separated into separate fights. We think that the strategies and tools discussed in this document can and must be applied beyond fighting gender oppression – though we do think that they are tools that are limited to being used within the working class. We believe this approach to transformative justice can be used to challenge racist / white supremacist behavior, for example. Though the specific dynamics could in some cases could be vastly different than the limited situations that we have been considering while discussing this document.
1A) What is gender oppression? Why is it a systemic problem?
Gender oppression and even gendered violence, are not “individual” or “personal” problems. Rather gender oppression is the systemic social, political, and economic disempowerment and marginalization of women and gender non-conforming folks. In this document, we use the term ‘gender oppression’ as a broad word that includes a number of semi-distinct manifestations of oppression based on different gender identities. For example, within gender oppression we include patriarchy, which is the institutional and cultural practice of sexism, and we include transphobia, which is the systematic disempowerment and marginalization of transgender people. Gender oppression, and its corollary, gendered violence, are foundational to capitalism – to justifying and reproducing capitalist power relations and to ensuring capitalism’s bottom line – profit.
Gender oppression is reproduced at multiple levels, and when all else fails, it is enforced through violence – everything from daily sexist or transphobic micro-aggressions to partner abuse to sexual assault to the gendered nature of what programs get cut when austerity comes down to even sex trafficking. But we can’t adequately address any of these individual manifestations of gendered violence without addressing the systemic issues that encourage and allow for the violence to occur. Gender violence also does not act in isolation. It is compounded by oppression based on race, sexuality, ability, citizenship status, etc. Analysis of any one of these oppressions alone is insufficient; each reinforces the other.
Gender oppression, while it certainly pre-dates capitalism, is far from being eternal. Rather it is a way of ordering society that has a historical beginning, and – we hope – an end. Oppressive behaviors are part of an oppressive culture and ideology that can be best sustained in class society, that is to say a society that has a material structure of exploitation that benefits from reproducing and feeding the daily violence of oppression.
This also means that while gender oppression has become a part of everyday life within society that all of us participate in, none of us in the working class benefit from it. The working class did not create the ideologies and structures of sexism or transphobia. The working class and even oppressed communities have, however, adopted and internalized them. With patriarchy, there are a lot of individual benefits thrown to men who manage to fit into their prescribed gender roles, like much higher wages, guarantees of personal safety, etc. But overall, working class men have a lot to gain by joining the feminist struggle against gender oppression and destroying the oppressive gender roles that they are forced into (which, after all, would mean higher wages and greater personal safety for everyone regardless of gender). Patriarchy just isn’t worth it for anyone in the working class. So all of us need to join the fight against oppression!
2) What is transformative justice?
For us, transformative justice is working class justice. It’s a strategy and process that’s developed by our experiences of survival and daily struggle. To some extent we already use transformative justice as a process and tool in our fight against oppression: from addressing daily micro-aggressions like men talking over women in meetings to dealing with major traumatic events like sexual assault, while building the collective capacity and consciousness to challenge the broader structures of oppression. There are also plenty of experiences that come from our more intimate lives in which our families turn to particular people (often women) to bring the family together to seek a meaningful way to address seriously violent events. Using transformative justice in an intentional way allows for each of us and the movement to build our capacity and practice running things ourselves and to build up alternative, dual power structures to those imposed by the state.
The term ‘transformative justice’ (which sometimes overlaps with ‘restorative justice’) first evolved in the 1990s from the struggle against the rapid expansion of the prison industrial complex. With survivors, people of color and working class communities failed by a criminal justice system that offers only re-traumatization for survivors and punitive acts for perpetrators, organizations for survivors of physical and sexual abuse brought forward transformative justice as a real, living alternative to challenge the prison industrial complex. It is an alternative that seeks to support the survivors and directly halt abuse, while, as part of that process, transforming the conditions that led to abuse in the first place. This whole process is something that happens in and through the community, transforming, supporting and healing everyone involved, not just the survivors and perpetrators.
Some of the organizations that developed these ideas and that we are trying to build off of are groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, a national organization of radical feminists of color, Generation 5, a group that supports survivors and perpetrators of childhood sex abuse with the goal of ending child abuse in five generations, Philly Stands Up, which works with perpetrators of sexual assault in radical spaces, and Philly Survivor Collective, which supports survivors of sexual violence in directing their own healing.
The language that is now commonly used to describe transformative justice and restorative justice, for the most part, reflects the culture of the non-profit industry. It’s just the nature of philanthropic foundations to find buzz words that come out of social movement organizing and appropriate them in the competition for non-profit funding. We’ve also seen the concept re-used so widely that even Obama uses the term “restorative justice” to define some of his administration’s domestic policies. Since we know that neither non-profits, nor the Obama administration, nor any capitalist government, will ever put in place strategies that would challenge or dismantle the state, we view these efforts with suspicion. Therefore, its worth stressing that whenever transformative justice is taken out of the context of social movements, it looses its revolutionary, anti-capitalist potential.
When describing the approach to seeking survivor centered justice, we think it’s necessary to use frameworks that come from the experiences of daily struggles. This means being critical of language that reflects the interests other than that of our class by way of professionalizing and trivializing things we already practice or come to understand. Therefore, we think the language that best describes transformative justice comes from workers who are most affected by gender oppression – not from policy makers, lawyers, think tanks, foundations, or from the externalized standpoint of just servicing survivors.
Despite the concerns we’ve raised with the non-profit orientation of a lot of the existing work around transformative justice, we still find it useful to use some of those existing definitions as a jumping-off point. One of the most concise descriptions of existing transformative justice comes from the group Generation 5:
“Transformative justice responds to the lack of—and the critical need for—a liberatory approach to violence. A liberatory approach seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration and policing… Transformative Justice also seeks to transform inequality and power abuses within communities. Through building the capacity of communities to increase justice internally, Transformative Justice seeks to support collective action toward addressing larger issues of injustice and oppression.”
In addition, they add:
“The goals of Transformative Justice as a response to all forms of violence are:
· Survivor safety, healing and agency
· Accountability and transformation of those who abuse
· Community response and accountability
· Transformation of the community and social conditions that create and perpetuate violence, i.e. systems of oppression, exploitation, domination, and State violence”
2A) What does it mean & why is it important to have a survivor-centered process?
First, what does “survivor” mean and why do we use this term?
Survivors are people who have experienced gendered violence. Most of us are survivors in some way, and oppressive practices affect everyone within an organizing space on some level specifically because they harm and traumatize the community as a whole. But when we talk about a “survivor-centered process”, we mean centering the needs of the survivor(s) of a specific act of oppression. We use the term “survivor”, drawing on the history of transformative justice work that informs this proposal. Philly’s Pissed, an organization that has contributed greatly to elaborating a vision of transformative justice, explains their use of the term survivor in the following way, “We use the word survivor, instead of victim, because victim defines someone by what someone else has done to them. Survivor defines a person more by how they responded to the experience.”
We believe in an approach that is as centered on the needs, experiences, and desires of the survivor as possible. This means that the needs of the survivor(s) always come over those of the perpetrator(s). And the ongoing participation of the survivor(s) of course takes precedence over any effort to ensure the perpetrator(s) participation.
This may sound like common sense, but many of us have found that when movements are confronted with cases of gendered violence the opposite is what in fact occurs. Survivors are placed at a huge disadvantage in their capacity to participate in and control the collective response. Just the reality of their experience alone tends to result in survivors self-isolating, or in the movement participants making them feel shunned. Their capacities to self-advocate are already deeply impacted. And all too often, the perpetrators have deeper roots, or are seen as more indispensable to organizing spaces, than those affected by their actions. Plus, perpetrators often react to accusations of oppressive behaviors by digging in and dividing organizing spaces to the extent they can. The result of all of these dynamics? Survivors, if they care at all about their own mental health, are forced out, while perpetrators get to stay. Thus, it requires that we as organizers have a conscious, collective orientation to the contrary to avoid this dynamic. And that we incorporate organizing practices directly aimed at confronting oppressive dynamics, attitudes and practices at the ideological, political, and economic levels.
So, how DO we ensure that we are supporting and centering survivors??
To start with, as a principle, we always believe survivors.
This goes against most of our common sense. Where’s the ‘fair hearing’ and what about ‘due process’? some will ask.
We are not aiming to establish a court or trial, to investigate facts or give equal weight to competing accounts. And we are not particularly interested in the minute details of each case. Rather, we believe “the spirit” of survivors’ accounts and we honor their testimony to harm caused. We understand that everything in our society weighs against survivors coming forward with their experiences. We will not allow our movements and organizations to be spaces that replicate the practice of doubting, demeaning, blaming and ignoring survivors.
In addition, we recognize that one of the most fundamental tasks of any transformative justice process is to restore control and agency to survivors – which unfortunately is exactly the opposite function of the criminal justice system. This means that they must be the ones to set the terms and timeline for their involvement even in “achieving justice” in the specific case. And their choices should, to the maximum extent possible, be respected and supported, even if they are not the choices we would recommend – for example, filing criminal charges or seeking to resolve a case through the courts or declining to participate in accountability work.
None of the choices we make in how to respond as a movement to the cases should undermine this control.
2B) Why engage with perpetrators & how?
We are all products, to varying degrees, of an oppressive society. It’s not just the people who have been publicly called out as perpetrators whose behavior needs to be challenged. We need to recognize that all of us need to constantly challenge ourselves and push each other to better fight our own socialized oppressive behavior. Therefore, we can’t create a false binary between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ revolutionaries, and comfort ourselves by pointing our fingers at perpetrators while thinking this puts us safely on the good side. Given this fact, as well as the need to organize masses of the working class, we believe that we should not automatically reject or expel people whose behavior is oppressive, but engage with them and work with them to transform their behavior.
Some of those who try and pursue a solely exclusionary approach to dealing with perpetrators of gendered violence – demanding that those who have been called out for oppressive behavior be totally excluded from spaces forever – seem to be at least partially motivated by the goal of creating ‘safe spaces’. A safe space is a space that is free from oppressive behaviors and attitudes.
In our opinion, there is no such thing as safe spaces. The fact that our movements, and even our revolutionary organizations, are not islands separate from the rest of the society means that they can never be entirely free of the effects of gender oppression, or any other form of oppression for that matter. All of the oppression that exists in society comes into our movements, especially if we truly want to involve masses of people in struggle for the first time. Efforts to try and build pure safe spaces risk retreating into building comfortable radical subcultures instead of pushing outwards to build open mass movements to dismantle oppression. As an additional point, we believe that the fight against oppression within the movement is the same as the fight against oppression in our class as a whole and should be carried out with the same tools and strategies.
So how do we engage with perpetrators, with people who have committed oppressive behavior or acts of gendered violence? We’ve talked a bit about why we think this is necessary for challenging sexist behavior and building a movement against oppression and exploitation. But we understand that this comes with a lot of practical limits. For example, it’s more necessary to protect the immediate safety of survivors than it is to engage with perpetrators. Without that first established – without honest commitments from the perpetrator and an active support structure – then not much in the way of transformative justice can happen.
It can be very hard in real world situations to even get to that basic starting point. What can we do to be better at getting to the point where it’s realistically possible to engage with perpetrators? Many transformative justice processes are done with the assumption that there is some kind of “community” that is shared by the perpetrator and survivor. But these communities are usually so vague as to be mostly meaningless – activist networks, political subcultures, the ‘left’, etc. These are scenes that most people can sever ties with and walk away from at the first sign of being challenged for their oppressive behavior. Building movements that are more rooted in people’s daily lives and needs is one of the most important things we can do to change from situations where it’s easier for people to leave and avoid responsibility to situations where there are real material reasons for people to stay and be accountable. This is one reason why we believe in using transformative justice as a tool in building social movements, in struggles based in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.
Given that, it’s still going to be brutally hard to convince perpetrators to take responsibility and be accountable, especially given our current state where, in an absence of a movement, we are closer to being a vague community. So when someone who has been committing oppressive or violent behavior refuses to accept responsibility for their behavior, or accepts personal responsibility but doesn’t accept the demands of the survivors and organization, then there is only so much we can do. Without willing participation from the perpetrator, there will often be little more that we can do to address them besides excluding the perpetrator from whatever spaces are deemed appropriate. Even situations like this, despite often seeming like total failures of our organizations, can be opportunities for transformative justice when the process of supporting survivors and dealing with perpetrators politicizes, engages and transforms more militants into being personally committed to the fight against gender oppression. Our responsibilities in addressing the situation are not just limited to engaging with perpetrators and survivors. These cases are critical opportunities for deepening the political education of everyone in an organizing space around oppression, and the best way to do that is through open discussion, education, and debate where all can participate and where our capacity to address oppression can grow.
Another big limitation is that sometimes situations will simply be beyond our capacity to handle. The situation may become so immediately dangerous that the only responsible thing to do is to seek outside resources that will better ensure survivor safety. We need to be able to let go of our own control over a process if it is the only thing that will promote immediate safety. We need to develop lists and connections to outside resources for survivors and others affected, like therapists who have a good approach to helping people work through trauma.
Part of increasing our capacity to deal with severe situations of gendered violence and hold people accountable is to make sure that transformative justice is already present and valued as a process. By using transformative justice processes regularly as part of our daily organizing to address the ongoing and ever-present harassment and microaggressions of an oppressive society, we can create the structure, culture and experience for group accountability. We absolutely cannot save transformative justice processes only for extreme situations. Challenging each other, being self-critical, having honest open political debate, checking in with each other – this is all part of the logic of transformative justice that we need to incorporate into every aspect of our daily organizing in order to create a foundation of strong feminist practice the makes using transformative justice in the more extreme situations possible.
This is a practice we need to take to social movements as well as our own organizations. As one example, if a member of a revolutionary political organization (a group like La Voz de l@s Trabajadores, COiL or Black Rose Anarchist Federation) who is deeply involved in student organizing at their university has been called out by their partner for abusive behaviour in their relationship, we think that it’s important to not try to only handle the situation within the small circle of supposedly enlightened revolutionaries who are part of their political organization. It should be brought to the membership of the student organizations at the university and we should be organizing with them and pushing them to support the survivor and implement a transformative justice process with the perpetrator.
2C) Why use transformative justice as our organizing strategy?
If we are really going to make a working class, feminist practice in our organizations and movements, then this responsibility of carrying out transformative justice processes and engaging with perpetrators belongs to everyone. The more people who gain the experience of working together to challenge oppressive behavior, the stronger our organizations and movements become. This is part of the reason why we think that transformative justice processes need to be done as much as possible within the open, democratic spaces of mass organizations (by which we mean organizations that open to anyone involved in a certain struggle, not revolutionary political groups or collectives). This is one way of always expanding the struggle against gender oppression and pushing outwards to bring more people into the fight. Though it will often seem much harder to do than just working with our small circle of trusted political friends when the stakes are so high, it’s what we need to do if we want to go beyond a small-scale, individual, stop-gap approach to combating gendered violence and oppression.
In addition to everything already stated, it cannot be overemphasized that with each case of gender oppression that we address as a movement, we are setting a very public precedent for how we will address cases to follow, and it truly is a learning moment. One mis-step or mistake can have a disastrously chilling effect on other survivors who may consider coming forward in the future. There are countless examples where gender violence, sexual assault, rape, stalking, and harassment have broken up communities and workplaces we attempt to organize in. Failure to deal with gender violence has had devastating effects within our own unions, worker organizations, and social movement organizations. These are failures we simply can’t afford any more.
We don’t claim to have the answers, but, above all, there’s a need to provide better support for survivors of gender violence within our class and especially within our social movement organizations. Therefore, the question of an organization’s capacity to address gender violence should be about the willingness of support among comrades and not the perception of there being a clear “know how”. If someone possessed this “know how”, then perhaps we would have abolished patriarchy a long time ago.
However there are some things that are practical in the approach of transformative justice that offer hope when the long term vision seems a little hazy on the horizon. Transformative justice places a worker’s experience with gender violence at the center of organizing. We feel that seeking justice should start with the survivors’ stories. This is the compass that points us towards a direction – they are stories that come from the source and not from district attorneys, police reports, management or from human resources. Neither should the stories come from allies who speak on behalf of survivors without their consent. Militant allies, no matter how well intentioned, have the potential to cause harm to everyone when they put substitute their own voice and needs for that of the survivors.
In addition, a sound transformative justice approach can provide more options in the healing process of a survivor and the redemption of a community by placing a justice seeking process in the hands of those directly affected by a perpetrator. There are no illusions that perhaps complete healing may never be achieved or that a process can simply just break down. However given the alternative, we think that each lesson in seeking transformative justice builds our power as a class so that we can do better next time as issues come up. We’ve got more to gain with transformative justice than to follow a punitive response that assumes spaces need to be kept safe regardless of the needs of the survivor. Safe spaces do not exist but the power to push back oppression certainly does; and we believe in building that power.
The alternative to having an orientation towards transformative justice, the way we see it, means conceding power in the same way of putting faith in the ballot box or presidential candidates. Workers can and should run and operate all the necessary apparatus of our society. Our organizations have specific and varying views on how to get to that point. However we do agree that workers need to build counter power in a way that reduces dependency on the state before, during and after a revolutionary movement. Although we might be a lifetime away from such a political moment, we do believe that we should actively work towards it. Therefore, pushing people out of organizing spaces as the sole approach to seeking justice blindly reinforces reliance on the State and allows a broken system to decide what is best for the survivor. We must realize that we can do better. We must believe that we really can build the road by walking with workers, families, and community members at the center of deciding which bend the road should follow.
Ultimately, this document proposes only a sketch of a roadmap, not a program that can be put into practice immediately. It contains a lot of uncertainty, depends on social movements that haven’t been built yet, and is mostly untested. But we think it points us in the right direction towards creating the absolutely necessary capacity to combat gendered violence and oppression by bringing working class transformative justice into the everyday work of building mass movements against capitalism and oppression.
3. Why should this fight be made in social movements and working class organizations?
If we ever hope to conclusively deal with oppressive ideology and practices, we must make confronting such ideology and practices central to the broader struggle of the working class. Oppression cannot be overcome without winning the commitment of the working class to take up this fight. To confine or limit the fight against oppression to only small Left circles or “enlightened” radicals is to admit that such fights can not be waged among the broader working class. This is an attitude and pressure that we must overcome.
“But, we revolutionaries are so few and our capacities are so miniscule! We aren’t up to the task!It’s simply not possible!”
Fine, yes, its true. And just as we think it is not useful to slam our head into the wall thousands of times to see if one time we can break it, we do not think it is useful to attempt things that are IMPOSSIBLE only to arrive at disaster. We need to be real about our capacities and we of course need to subordinate our tactical choices to our current state. But we also need to change this situation. There is just no other way. We are not saying it will be easy. But what we are proposing is a step towards building our ability to make this fight.
“So then, how do we fight to change consciousness? “
We argue that this is ONLY possible through the broadest and most open discussion and debate, through direct, participatory democracy and through mass action. It is only possible through hard ideological and political struggle where ideas can be challenged and transformed and where the working class can make the experience of building a different kind of justice and safety from the one defined and created by the bourgeoisie. This is part of breaking our class’s dependence on the capitalist state and its racist, sexist, and transphobic justice system, and is a strategic task for us revolutionaries. And because of this, it is also an inherent part of the struggle to take back and transform, or to create, the social movements and workers organizations. Because bureaucratized unions, social movements, and workers organizations prevent rather than facilitate the fight against gender oppression.
And we also say that we need both an internal and an external struggle – internal to combat oppressive practices in our movements and external to mobilize our entire class push back systemic oppression within our society as a whole. Ultimately, we want to make social movement bodies the center for doing the work of fighting gendered violence, not peripheral or marginal bodies.
3A) What are the possible tensions between survivor-centered process & an organization/social movement?
We should have tactical flexibility, because there will often be contradictions between different goals and necessities, and we will need to make political decisions about what to prioritize. If there are times when the only reasonable option is to support a survivor taking a case to the police, then we will support that. If there are times when the safety of our community is at risk by a perpetrator and the survivor’s wish is to keep things quiet, then we may need to decide to go against the survivor’s wishes. Apart from ensuring the survivors’ most immediate need – safety – is met, our orientation is towards the tactics that will allow us to bring the fight against gender oppression to movement spaces in the most open and participatory way possible. However, recognizing this complexity and the limitations we face, we will do the best to consistently apply our principles as much as possible.
We have two potentially competing needs – one, to ensure that the survivor’s safety and needs are being honored and, two, to create spaces for mass democracy and working class justice to confront oppression. Tensions can, and often do, arise that makes one need contradictory to the other, although this does not necessarily mean they will always be counterposed.
For example, what if the survivor doesn’t want to involve anyone else and only wants to go to the police or their own lawyer? Clearly this contradicts the need to make an open experience with the broader movement or space. It’s important to understand that sometimes survivors do not want to work with us, or we don’t even have contact with survivors. This is okay, but it of course means we must move forward without survivor input. For example, if we find out that a comrade is abusing a romantic partner and rather than working with us, the survivor chooses to leave the situation and cut communication, of course we must respect this choice. But that does not mean that we do not need to act to address the oppressive behavior of our comrade. Quite the contrary!
We cannot create a formula for how to deal with these situations, ultimately all these must be dealt on a case-to-case basis. However, we feel it is important to emphasize the need to center around the survivor. In some cases, the survivor might be fine with the most open method.
Why do we feel it is necessary to center our approach towards the needs of the survivor? Well, if we disregard the needs of the survivor then what example are we setting for other survivors or potential survivors? Could this then not negatively harm the movement, for it would make a movement less comfortable or safe for a significant population?
Therefore, we need to be able to create and develop practices where survivors feel that their needs are being met while also allowing them to actively participate and even take leading roles in the process. Secondly, there needs to be space for a political fight to be waged among the broader class, since it is only through waging such an open battle that oppressive ideology and practices can be overcome. Sometimes the two may not be counterposed to one another. Regardless, tensions are likely to arise and we must be aware of them.
3B) Why does confronting gender oppression need to be part of a fight against capitalism?
“Just like a freezer can’t bake a cake, capitalism can’t produce equality.”
There are ample examples of workers movements and revs in the past that failed to account for gender violence and gender oppression and thought it would just get “fixed” in the process of addressing issues of class or race but they ended up perpetuating many of the same problems and recreating the same in the ‘new’ society. Capitalism is built upon many pillars, one is patriarchy/gender oppression, it needs to be confronted and eliminated as part of the fight against capitalism.
Our own experience is enough to see why the fight against gender oppression and capitalism absolutely need to be made inseparable. The simple fact that the majority of the working class is female and/or queer, and that the majority of women and queers are working class makes the unity of the fight against capitalism and gender oppression a practical fact. These are both facts of our daily lives, and we can’t split our life and experience up into separate ‘capitalism’ and ‘oppression’ boxes and deal with them separately.
The fight against gender oppression is a fight of all working people. Although it can be an almost insurmountable challenge, we believe that the whole working class together will be the ones who dismantle gendered violence, along with capitalism and all forms of oppression. The leadership must come from those who are most oppressed by gender oppression, but the whole class must be won over to actively joining the fight if we are going to really win.
Of course, these are two sides of the same process, since the surest guarantee of raising the political fight against oppression is the participation and leadership of working class women and transfolks, but the full participation of women and the trans community is impossible without a permanent fight against gender oppression.
Understanding how the fight against gender oppression needs to be part of the fight against capitalism means that we see the working class as the sole subject of transformative justice. We can’t fight capitalism by wasting time trying to transform the ruling class into being nicer, less oppressive capitalists. So we don’t think that transformative justice or accountability processes should be used with the bourgeoisie – for dealing with oppression from bosses and the rich, we go on the offensive to destroy them, not to transform.
To conclude this document, we, the three organizations involved in organizing the event (IWW, La Voz, COiL), thought it would be useful to reflect on our experience collaborating with one another to build this project. We don’t claim to have a grand theory or definitive practice on transformative justice. This document constantly brings up possible tensions, limitations, and uncertainties, which are also reflections of both common and differing experiences between the three groups.
Our organizations come from various traditions among the Left. We did not fool ourselves into thinking that the differences between our organizations were negligible or unimportant, and that in order to find ways to work together we needed to overlook or ignore these differences. In fact, we were very aware of our differences. For instance, we do not have the same ideas on how to bring an end to capitalism. We all do not have the same conception of where oppression comes from. Nor is there common agreement as to what extent it is possible to even transform people. The document itself is vague in many of these points, as a result.
The point of this project and this document, however, was not to engage in a theoretical debate. We came together to search for practical ways to confront gendered violence and oppression, which are not just theoretical ideas. People experience oppression on a daily basis and failures in dealing with oppression has and will continue to have debilitating effects in our movements and organizations. As a result, the “Left,” that vague and broad term encompassing a unique swathe of folks, must come up with very practical methods to combat oppression in said movements and organizations.
We hope that when people read this document they can come away with some of the guiding principles in which our organizations found common ground. To begin with, we realize that we can’t do more than we’re capable of, so folks are responsible for figuring out just what our capacity is for putting these principles fully into practice. With that said, we see transformative justice as an important means to combat oppression. It is a method that recognizes the fact that none of us are immune from the influences of our oppressive society, and as such, it is all of our responsibilities to make an active fight against oppression. We can’t rely on bureaucratic and alienating solutions from the capitalist state to solve our problems. Transformative justice provides a way for the working class to develop their own practices, independently of the capitalist state’s “justice” system. We can’t simply wait for capitalism to end before building an alternative society. We must practice alternatives in conjunction with the fight against capitalism. Therefore, we must make a conscious fight to implement transformative justice in our social movements and organizations in order to make as broad and democratic of an experience as possible among the working class. Only by experiencing and actively practicing alternatives, such as transformative justice, will the working class be able to concretely see alternatives to what exists under capitalism – an alternative that directly empowers workers. Lastly, if it hasn’t been made clear by now, the fight against oppression needs to be conjoined with the fight against capitalism, which can only occur through mass movements.
While all of this might sound nice, we also recognize that the actual practice of transformative justice is extremely complex. This is why we must center around the needs of the survivor. We won’t ever be able to create pure, safe spaces in our current society, but we can demonstrate that our movements and organizations take the task of combating oppression seriously through survivor-centered processes.
One last, but highly important lesson is the fact that this document was a product of collaboration between three different organizations. It took roughly two months to create this document of about 16 pages. We were not able to come together because we ignored our differences, but rather because we focused on whatever common ground we had. The revolutionary left is already on the fringe politically, and we don’t do ourselves any favors by operating in isolation from one another. We want our document to be an example of both the possibilities and necessity of finding principled ways for the organizations of the left to work together, especially when it comes to fighting oppression.
When we first came together there was, and still is, a level of uncertainty. Even now, we don’t quite know what to expect from the event we’re putting on or this document. Hell, the reality is that none of us can say for sure that we know what we’re doing when it comes to transformative justice. All of us are looking for examples to learn from. In this regard, we also hope that the example of our collaboration and attempt to engage in a broader discussion is a practice that becomes more common among the left.
Communities Organizing for Liberation, or LA COiL, is a collective working to end global oppression and create a just and humane world. Everyone in COiL works in a different sector or part of society, through our grassroots work we challenge the injustices we see every day and work together to build dual power to vision, create and practice building the world we want to live in. We study and discuss to learn from the mistakes and the victories of past and present social movements and the insights of many different radical political traditions. As a collective we support each other, hold each other accountable and learn, strategize and act together.
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow. We want our workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives. This document was written with the LA General Membership Branch of the IWW.
La Voz de L@s Trabajadores (Workers’ Voice) is a revolutionary socialist organization and the U.S. sympathizing section of the International Workers League (LIT-CI), which identifies with Trotskyism. We are fighting to build a revolutionary party with mass influence to advance the interests and elevate the political consciousness of exploited and oppressed communities. Our goal is to end capitalism by mobilizing the working class to take power and to fight for a classless, communist society.