After a grueling ten days in budget hotels, air mattresses and couches I have just come back to the bay from the Syracuse Peacemaking Project kick off and two very inspirational conferences the Peace and Justice Studies Conference(PJSA) in Waterloo Canada and the International Institute of Restorative Practices Conference(IIRP) in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.
In Syracuse I met for the time our project team including the illustrious members of UPSTATE , Stephanie Minor,the major of Syracuse, and a lot of the University’s architecture faculty over plates of barbecue after an amazing talk by Kate Orff of SCAPE (who I hadn’t seen since we were sorority sisters at UVA). Her work was thought provoking; in particular her graphics on how our bodies are becoming deposit sites for toxins in her book and exhibition with Richard Misrach, Petrochemical America. I was also excited about her distribution of pamphlet toolkits that bring awareness of our urban ecology and design to the general public in her Safari 7 Project. I was inspired by her approach to keep moving with our design tool kit for working with Restorative Justice Practitioners and incarcerated folks. Barb Toews and I were about to test two new tools at these conferences and the democratization of design was being mirrored to me by Kate.
After a train ride and a pick up from Barb in Buffalo we took off for Canada and had a nice dinner at a friend’s house with the Grandfather of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr. He is always an amazing person to spend time with and has been very supportive of our efforts to apply design to the movement he helped to ignite in this country. The Peace and Justice Studies Conference( PJSA) was held at Laurier University the next day. I was privileged to see James Orbinski the former president from Doctors Without Borders and George Roter the CE0 of Engineers without Borders speaking about how we facilitate systemic change. The most memorable approach from Dr Orbinski being to listen, speak, think then act. George Roter helpfully reminded me of the role that designers can play in mass social change when we follow these practices and that we have to fail a lot in order to succeed. His organization even has a yearly failure report that they all fight to get into.
I tried to remember that as my partner Barb and I had our session canceled due to a double booked room and then got rescheduled to replace a session on hip hop and restorative justice. We stood at the door and tried to convince people to come to our session on Design as a Restorative Practice and most of those who came were unwitting participants that thought they were there for the hip-hop session. I have to say that initially it was a hard sell. How does design impact peacemaking or have anything to do with it at all? We proposed to answer that question from both a research and design perspective and in the end those that came to sessions walked away as true believers. We tested our design engagement tools with attendees and it was exciting to see basic design tools help people to relax and share their thoughts about creating restorative space for peacemaking. One of our attendees commented that what we were doing was a little crazy. So be it.
At the International Institute for Restorative Practices Conference we had a few more people. I saw some colleagues from a restorative justice conference I went to in a medium security prison last year where they are trying to set up a permanent RJ program. Sadly I cannot promote their efforts here as politically it is being fought by their Department of Corrections.
I was excited to meet two leaders from Umoja who were using design strategies to create safe spaces in dedicated rooms of the schools where they work. The embedded nature of the design in their curriculum spanned a variety of scales from mapping safe spaces in the city to the creation of business cards for the program and location of the peacemaking room in their schools. I left both conferences realizing that what is needed is a booklet on Designing Restorative Spaces in Schools. It’s a good thing I have been commissioned by Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth to write the first installment for them as part of their grant deliverables. Funding for peacemaking is always welcome.
However today I found out we didn’t get the HDR grant to begin planning for a restorative justice center in Oakland. It’s the first one I have lost and I am trying to remember George Roter’s message that failure is a normal and healthy part of the road to innovation and systemic change. With renewed inspiration from my trip I am undeterred and will keep looking for funding for an infrastructure that I believe will change the face of criminal justice.