It has been both a beautiful and overwhelming process to witness and hold all that has been moving in the Recess Community and for the remaining organizers after the public split and subsequent online critiques. I have been involved for about a month now in the community process of integration and, the organizational process of responding to the conflict. I have been working most closely with Justin. And, also, witnessing and facilitating the conversations that were happening formally and informally at the campout. I offer you my personal perspective on what is happening in response to the situation:
In the community:
The folks who showed up to the camp out were as mixed and diverse as you can imagine. There were some people there who were deeply concerned and invested in the conversations that were happening and seeking evidence of accountability by Recess, there were people there who knew almost nothing about the conflict, there were voices who were devoutly supportive of Recess and/or Justin, there were some who were devoutly skeptical, concerned and critical of Recess and Justin.
About half of the people who were there throughout the weekend engaged in conversations about the situation - informally and at the official times set aside for that.
All of the remaining organizers (David, Ely, and Justin) were heavily invested in conversations throughout the entire event. I would say that the conversations, and explorations of the conflict/response to it, took a lot of time and energy. There were three folks present who were all “on crew” to help hold space and make decisions at the event: Agate, Rocky and myself. Many community members stepped-in to hold various pieces of the exploratory process.
What I witnessed, almost universally, among folks participating in conversations, was a personal process of discerning their own personal values/ethics and what actions were “right” for themselves based on those values/ethics. I also noticed a very strong thread in many people’s contributions and processes of trying to discern what they felt was the “right” response for Recess Events, Recess Productions, Justin (personally). And, there in, was were I saw much divergence in the group - some people exploring what they want/need Recess and Justin to do based on their personal values/ethics while others seemed to be centering more around “what is the appropriate response by Recess based on the values/ethics they claim to organize around.” Here is where I found the richest terrain of the conversations: in the discernment between these two approaches to what “accountability” is in such conflict situations.
In my opinion, I witness a community torn a bit between trying to do “right” and trying to figure out from where to source their understanding of what they believe is “right” response. As well as, torn between personal ethos and collective ethos set-forth at Recess events. And, also, torn between their own sense of agency over their personal response to this conflict, and, asserting of authority of how others (Justin, for example, or, Recess Organizers) respond to this situation.
I heard concerns raised around how Recess has designed and implemented it’s organizational structure, specifically around 1) distribution of labor and labor expectations of Recess organizing crew when onsite at events 2) Effects of Justin’s leadership on the organizer team, participants and community 3) Safety at events 4) Trust 5) What the Recess Community members feel owed (or entitled to) from Justin, from remaining Recess organizers as far as being “accountable” to the critiques and concerns raised by by those who left and in subsequent online conversations.
In the organizational team:
From my perspective, David, Justin and Ely are struggling to find unity around 1) what is the appropriate response to the conflict - as a group of organizers. 2) what is the future of Recess events 3) how to move forward/ next steps.
I hear a deep commitment in Justin to look at the critiques and implement necessary changes to how he holds leadership of Recess. And, a strong desire to respond appropriately and address concerns/critiques in a way that allows Recess to continue to put on events in a healthy, responsive and respectful way that acknowledges concerns. I see David and Ely forming ideas, solutions and responses from a place that is informed by care, compassion, commitment to honor and take care of themselves, and to have integrity to their values and their relationships. I see a complex and changing landscape in the conversations between the three of them - full of emotion, intellectual analysis, and, care and concern - at times frustration, sadness, apathy - at times hope, passion and creativity.
I see and hear a lot of pain, frustration and hurt in Ely, David and Justin around the loss of their connection, friendship and relationship with Leah (specifically).
I see Justin engaged and working hard to problem-solve and come up with creative solutions.
The remaining organizers are in a bit of a bind - organizationally - because what was a breach of trust within the team (an intra-organizational conflict) has become a public critique of the process/structure of Recess. This is understandable and valid. It also creates a complicated dynamic to which the organizers are being asked to respond. Because, in some of the calls for change, the community is asking for accountability to itself (and to individuals within the community) rather than accountability to those who left. I see a lot of complexity in designing a “community accountability process” for Recess that doesn’t involve the organizers who left because the “Recess community” is hard to define and is a collection of many individual ethos that are varied and sometimes contradictory to the values of Recess itself. I am curious to see what can be created, and, skeptical that what is designed can be satisfactory to everyone - but I can see the potential for a creative response that addresses concerns and honors the current critiques as best as possible. I can see that there is a way to create change that is responsive, and progresses Recess in to more accountability to patterns of patriarchy and power-imbalances with in its design (some unavoidable, some experienced and some systemic).
A Restorative Justice process would design the perimeters for accountability that are not punitive but rather relational/responsive. For example, “Recess agrees to stop putting on events until it has been thoroughly audited by an outside party around issues of safety, labor practices and XYZ for its organizers and its participants.” When the community, or for the former organizers, make fixed demands of Recess without conditions for restructuring and re-engaging in its work, it threatens progress and growth within community, and, walks a dangerous line that is closely linked to punitive justice principles; principles that myself, and many of us in the larger community, actively work to undo. Recess has a long history of using restorative justice models to inform their internal conflicts as well as the conflicts and accountability processes they have been asked to facilitate in the larger community. In restorative justice, the work is not focused on what was “right”, what was “wrong”, and how to punish the “guilty” parties. Restorative Justice focuses on relationships, needs for change that are embedded in appropriate responses to mitigate harm/hurt and potential for further harm and hurt. I know that many people out there - with concerns - do not agree with and support Restorative Justice Processes as a tool for the current conflict. I understand the critiques being voiced and the concerns. Though I do not see a way for Recess to be accountable to all of them, as some are actually in direct contradiction to the Recess values, ethics and protocols.
I will support Recess in creating a response to this situation that models what responsive and healthy communities can do in tough places as they work through conflict: to respond to current critiques with a plan for mitigating harm/hurt done and implementing changes to patterns, organizational structures, culturally created “norms” and specific actions/behaviors that hold potential for further and similar harm/hurt while being accountable to the values and ethics Recess espouses.
At this point, the community holds countless conflicting and different ideas about what is the “right” thing for Recess and Justin to do. And, it is a hard to reconcile situation for the organizers to attempt to be accountable to every concern, question, hurt and conflict with each individual in the community. The remaining organizers also have different and unclear ideas about how they would like to design a response.
I see a lot of questions in the organizers about who/what they want/should be accountable to. I believe that the desire to find reconciliation with the organizers who left is there. I would even say, they are committed to conflict resolution and reconciliation with the departing members. From the information I have gotten from Justin, over the past six months David, Ely, and Justin have made attempts to process the interpersonal conflict with Dig, Cat, and Leah. Only Cat responded willingly, of which it sounds, was very productive and healing for everyone involved. I can not confirm that beyond what I have heard from David, Ely and Justin.
In the circumstance of not having access to the majority of the organizers who left, I think it makes sense to move forward with a process of accountability that holds Recess, Justin, Ely and David accountable to the values/ethics that they have laid out as their foundational ethos, rather than as defined by the amorphous community of people who come to Recess events.