Letter from Dominic Barter as events unfolded in Rocinha

Letter from Dominic Barter:
As events unfolded in Rocinha – Rio de Janeiro

Sent: Saturday, November 12, 2011 10:10 PM
Subject: [Restorative-Circles] Tonight

Dear all,
With Clayton’s permission, here are some questions he sent me tonight, and my responses.

C: Perhaps u can share with the larger rc list how you respond, systemically and as a facilitator, seeing restoratively, with anticipated police invasion in favelas?

D: Tonight – as my Twitter and Facebook messages have been describing – there is a massive police operation under way here in Rio. In the next few hours they will invade and attempt to occupy the largest favela in Brazil – Rocinha. I spent time there about 10 years ago, invited initially to listen to tentative conversations between residents associations and the police, and slowly accompanying their visions of what could be in the direction of increasingly restorative responses.

The first thing is the simplest and most direct. I am concerned people will die. I have seen that it is often those who care most passionately about justice who will put themselves in positions where lives will be lost, theirs or those they oppose. These are the people I need at the table, the people who will find the way through this, who will dismantle the dynamics that are suffocating the expression of a world that works for all. They can’t do that nearly as well if they are dead. I want all of them – indiscriminately – alive and well. Because any one of us can become one of them at any moment I want everyone alive and well.

This is where my seeing restoratively begins – with seeing the world I want into reality. No mind tricks – I know they are shooting each other out there.

And I know that there is a sequence of moments of decision in every conflict, and an underlying logic to the choices made – and that the interruption of that underlying logic is the basis of the choice to put down the (metaphorical and actual) gun.

I want to approach those carrying the (metaphorical and actual) weapons as early as possible. The closer they are to ‘hanging out’ the better. I want them when they are on holiday (see above) – when they have space to reflect, to ponder, to dream and remember. In the conference or training or whatever-official-event-I’m-at we’ll do the real stuff in the breaks. In the meeting we’ll do it as we leave the room, in the corridor, on the stairs, in the elevator…. This is where I’ve found the most effective response comes.

(How did I get invited to keynote at the International Conference on Restorative Practices? Hanging out in the corridor at 1am after lending someone a cable for their laptop. How did the work I’m doing now with the Military Police occupying the favelas begin? Listening to the person who held the keys until she cried about a murdered loved one. How did I begin in Rocinha all those years ago? Listening to someone sounding off at a party……. all the examples are like that…..)

When something big is going down – like tonight – I keep listening. It’s almost 4am now and I’m just here, alone, keeping my ears open. It’s not tiredness I’m feeling, because this brings it’s own energy. I will need to sleep in the next day or two – my body knows when and I do not argue – but there is a alertness that comes with the care. I have given everyone I think knows, or will need to know, my phone number. I could be in the favela, I could be on the street outside, I could be with the police, with the press, in a nearby middle class apartment. The more I do this the less I experience that it matters where I am geographically – it is the engagement that matters, where my attention is focused, the readiness. After all, the systems we are replacing are everywhere. And the action is where ever they are being replaced. It can feel awful to me – agonising – not to be close enough to go where I’m called. So I might take considerable time finding out where I can be in a place that gives me most agility.

Hanging from window in Rocinha "Peace with social justice"

Lastly, the invasion is a change in many respects, including in the experience of justice for residents. And it is not a change in the fundamental basis of how the community sees its own safety. It is a change of command – and of political, but not of social, logic. So, who ever is in charge, the possibility of shared power is still implicit, marginalized (even at the margins of material wealth) and welcoming of our flame-keeping, flame-feeding, flame-seeding attention.

Did I speak to your question?

C: guessing such perspectives are relevant for many of us who live in war zones or are anticipating various varieties of police invasion which we are unaware of, perpetuating even, are becoming increasingly aware of, or directly impacted by?

D: I hope we all get increasingly wise to this. At present, it is ‘coming home’ to Europe and Northern America. This provides an increased chance to see what’s happening – a window. For much of the last few decades it has been less visible to some.

I’ll want to know those cops as well as I can by the time things get rougher. I’ll want to know the folks they are pushing against. I’ll want to be on ‘first-name terms’ (metaphorically, maybe) with everyone involved in the fight, and ready to question what the act is, what needs saying, what was said, what the acts done and words said meant, and what happens next.

I spoke to a friend last night. She put her hand up on the end of a drawn gun. Not touching, not pushing, but very close. “Put the hand down, bitch”, she heard several times, until the person saying it could see she was as concerned about his life as that of anyone else. That it was life she was in favour of, indiscriminately. Like someone on a permanent holiday.

D xx

An Introduction to Restorative Circles with Dominic Barter from Restorative Circles on Vimeo.

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