Grievance Process

PART 1: POLICY

This section is intended to provide an overview of the thought process behind the proposed grievance process and the values that inform it. Concrete steps for addressing grievances appear in Part 2.

TCDSA Grievance Process Proposal

Introduction

At the time of the writing of this document, there is a prison strike taking place across the nation. Coordinated by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), the strike is calling attention to abysmal conditions in prisons, and laying out ten concrete demands including an end to prison slavery, a change to racist policies and practices within the criminal justice system, and “[immediate] improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.”1

As democratic socialists, we know that the carceral state is both an instigator and a benefactor of the capitalist, racist, colonialist, patriarchal, xenophobic, transphobic, and homophobic systems designed to benefit the ruling class at an incredible cost to the rest of us: the cost of our lives and our humanity. While other political organizations offer reform as the solution, we understand that the only true solution to the carceral state is its abolition. We call for an end to the prison system, and the disbanding of the police.

But if we are to dream of abolition, we must take on the important task of building alternatives to the carceral state. In place of police, we must have community networks trained in de-escalation and intervention. In place of prisons, we must have processes to demand accountability from people who cause harm, and to provide support to people who experience harm. Every 98 seconds another person is sexually assaulted in what we refer to post-colonization as the United States.2 On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.3 People will continue to cause serious harm as we work to dismantle systems of oppression, particularly in a nation without universal access to health care, widely accessible mental health services, or comprehensive sexual health and other forms of relational education.

We must pair our activism with careful self-criticism. We know these acts of violence are occurring in our communities, and still the targets of abuse tend to be Black, Indigenous, and people of color; women; and working class people. Kyra, a survivor and harmed party who engaged in restorative justice practices when she was sexually assaulted by a leader in her organizing community (Black Youth Project 100, Chicago), wrote this in a statement on Facebook:

When I came forward this week, there were activists who messaged my friends saying that sharing my story was damaging to the community, and that I needed to be quiet until Malcolm was released because it was inconvenient timing. But liberation isn’t convenient, or easy. We don’t get to say “Hold up while we free these people real quick and then we’ll come back for the rest of you,” which is in essence what Black women have been told throughout history. Solidarity is for Black men and white women, not us.

As a Black woman, the idea of a “safe space” is currently a fallacy for me. I am not safe out in the world, I am not safe in my own community, and I am not even safe in activist spaces around people who claim to be working towards my liberation. You can’t fight for me while I’m awake then rape me while I’m asleep.4

It was with Kyra’s words that TCDSA began a grievance process workshop on Saturday, September 1st, 2018. Seeking to create something collaborative, comprehensive, and meaningful to all members of our organization, workshop participants invested time, energy, and love into a process that would reflect our values and meet the needs of survivors like Kyra. We started by asking ourselves, “If we could abolish the carceral state and replace it with something better, what would that look like?” We sat in Circle to have hard conversations, reviewed a chapter-wide survey about what members wanted to see in a grievance process, and studied Kyra’s experience with BYP100. Since then, we have convened two more public meetings, inviting the general membership to participate, and have come up with this rough draft of a policy.

We present this grievance process as a beginning. We recognize and embrace that there will be a need for ongoing evaluation and changes in the policy. In the spirit of the Combahee River Collective, “[we] are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice.”5 That said, we think this is a pretty good place to start.

A better world is possible. Let’s build it together.

Written September 1st, 2018, by Julia Tindell, the grievance process workshop facilitator. Updated December 29, 2018

Foundations of the TCDSA Grievance Process

Definitions

Community accountability (CA): Community accountability is a strategy of responding to violence that centers community responsibility rather than prison/police-based strategies. According to INCITE!, community accountability is a process by which communities work to do the following:

  • “Create and affirm values & practices that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability
  • Develop sustainable strategies to address community members’ abusive behavior, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior
  • Commit to ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to transform the political conditions that reinforce oppression and violence
  • Provide safety & support to community members who are violently targeted that respects their self-determination6

Restorative practices (RP)7: Restorative practices are alternatives to engagement with law enforcement or the criminal justice system. These processes engage people who cause harm, people who experienced harm, and impacted community members in dialogues designed to hold responsible parties accountable for harm done and offer holistic support to survivors. Instead of isolating the people at the center of an incident, restorative practices recognize that we are part of a larger community, that our well-being is tied to one another, and that we have the resources we need to challenge and uplift one another.

Person who caused harm: Words such as “abuser,” “offender,” and “perpetrator” are rooted in the carceral state and have a dehumanizing effect. It’s not helpful to see people who cause harm as “monsters” or “inhuman,” both because this sort of framing can justify harmful intervention strategies, and because it prevents us from understanding that the people around us are capable of causing harm because we don’t think of our friends or comrades as “monsters.” The reality is that harm is caused by people, not monsters. Inspired by generationFIVE’s Transformative Justice Handbook, we have decided to use the phrase “person who caused harm.”8

Person who experienced harm, victim, or survivor: People who experience harm choose to self-identify in a variety of different ways for a number of reasons, and so these phrases will be used interchangeably throughout this text. It is our hope that this will be validating and affirming, and will reflect back the individual choices of victims/survivors without creating a prescribed expectation for self identification.

Support Team: A small group of people (3-5) supportive of the survivor, can be made up of both TCDSA members and non-members. They should be trained in Restorative Practices if possible, and may be trained in preparation for the process.

Accountability Team: This team is tasked with working with the person who caused harm to ensure that they will follow through on the accountability process as outlined by the Survivor Support team. At least two core members of the Accountability Team who are trained in restorative practices should be selected by the Survivor Support Team. The person who has caused harm may invite a friend or comrade to participate as well, pending approval from the Survivor Support Team.

Grievances and Conflict: The grievance process is designed to respond to cases of harassment such as (but not limited to) physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or financial abuse. We acknowledge that many situations will not warrant a grievance process, and may be better categorized as conflict. Conflict is unavoidable in an organization such as TCDSA. Though the grievance process itself does not as of yet outline a strategy for conflict resolution, we believe a foundational component of community accountability is equipping community members to develop healthy strategies for responding to conflict. This will be explored in greater detail in the Education section of this document.

No Wrong Door: The “No Wrong Door” Model is designed to give victims and survivors multiple avenues through which they may seek support or trigger a grievance process. This protects people who experience harm in case the harm was done by a person on the Grievance Committee or with other conflicting relationships that may make reporting difficult for the survivor.

Victim/Survivor/People Who Experienced Harm Centered Processes

Harmful acts can have a devastating, often traumatizing impact on victims. A common experience of survivors is feeling out of control, because people who cause harm often do so by silencing a victim or ignoring them when it is clear that something is hurting them. One important way anybody can support a victim during a grievance process is to give the victim control. In this process, people responding to a grievance should listen to a victim and respect their wishes regarding how their story is shared (if it is shared at all) and what steps will be taken to respond to the harm caused. These steps include demands for accountability from the person who caused harm, support the community may offer to a victim, and steps for changes the community may need to take in order to root out oppression and build safety. Though people involved in a grievance response have a duty to help promote the safety of all members of TCDSA, the first priority in a grievance process must be centering the needs of the person who experienced harm.

Grievance Committee

One significant feature of a police/prison framework for responding to violence is the appointment of one person with a great deal of decision making power and responsibility to manage all grievance accusations. We believe that this hierarchical structure is harmful to people directly impacted by harm, as well as the appointed person. Thus, we propose the creation of a Grievance Committee composed of volunteer members who are dedicated to the grievance process and have the capacity to do meaningful work in these roles. The committee may develop internal structures and administrative roles that are responsive to their needs and those of TCDSA. Participation in the Grievance Committee will require comprehensive training in subjects such as the dynamics of abuse and violence; trauma and its impact on survivors; and the details of the grievance response. The committee should be made up of a variety of members, including both elected leadership and rank-and-file members.

Political Education

The goal of this process is not merely to implement a successful socialist harassment policy. It is equally important that we deliberately seek out opportunities to change the culture of TCDSA to make it safer for all people. Thus, we believe education must happen at all levels of DSA.

  • Grievance committee members: Because these members will be responsible for providing direct responses to survivors, it is essential that they are trained to recognize and understand the complex dynamics and impacts of trauma. Therefore, all Grievance Committee members will be required to complete a training before beginning their service on this committee. This training will minimize the chances of re-victimization when talking to a survivor about harm done, and maximize the potential benefits of the grievance process. A comprehensive training will have to be sought out and/or thoughtfully developed and updated over time to reflect an ever-evolving understanding of trauma and victimization. Grievance Committee members are encouraged to seek outside trainings from organizations not associated with DSA in order to develop in-depth knowledge of trauma and victim-centered responses.
  • Leadership: Leadership can play a major role in helping to prevent, identify, and respond effectively to conflict and/or grievances, and dedication to this process demonstrates an investment in the health and well-being of the chapter as a whole. Leadership can also play a major role in hindering this process by protecting themselves, their friends, and/or the reputation of the chapter over members who have experienced harm. Therefore, it is vital that leaders understand power dynamics inherent when stepping into a leadership role.  
  • Rank-and-file members: Rank-and-file members are the most significant parties in the conflict and grievance response. The largest group of people, the group with the power to truly change the community, providing political education related to conflict and grievances to rank-and-file members will have the furthest reach and the biggest impact. To accomplish this, we recommend that the Grievance Committee, the Political Education Committee, branch chairs, and the steering committee integrate opportunities for political education on this subject into general meetings, branch meetings, inreach material development, onboarding practices, and other areas of TCDSA.

Education has the potential not only to help us resolve, but also address, the root causes of conflict. We recommend seeking out opportunities for political education on the following subjects:

  • Historical trauma, including dissecting and analyzing the first harms (colonization and chattel slavery) and exploring ways we can hold one another responsible for repairing those harms
  • Oppression rooted in sex, race, and class
  • Circle keeping, pods, and other restorative practices methods
  • Dynamics of abuse, how to recognize abuse and respond to it
  • Trauma: symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); how victims and survivors experience trauma; and how to support people coping with trauma
  • Safety planning tools
  • Foundations of healthy relationships, including enthusiastic consent
  • Toxic masculinity and its effects on individuals and communities
  • White supremacy and its effects on individuals and communities
  • Other various subjects related to conflict and grievance, including but not limited to: varying communication styles, effective self care practices

Ongoing Evaluation

The Grievance Committee may adopt internal rules and procedures consistent with the goals of this policy and with the DSA Harassment Policy (Resolution 33). Any internal rules or procedures adopted by the Grievance Committee shall be publicly available for review by members. The Grievance Committee will be responsible for reviewing the process at least once a year to ensure that it is rooted in democratic socialist values and responsive to the needs of members. If they should determine that changes are needed, the changes will be presented to the membership for a vote.

Grievance Process

Important Note Regarding Victim Options & Restorative Practices

No two situations are the same, no two victims experience harm in the same way, and no one response will be ideal, safe, or even possible for all victims. The TCDSA grievance process is rooted in restorative practices. However, for some victims, restorative practices might feel unsafe, or even unrealistic. In fact, many people believe that certain aspects of restorative practices should never be used when the harm caused involves systematic manipulation, as in cases involving domestic violence. It is vital that survivors never feel threatened or pressured into choosing one response over another.

Remember, even if you yourself have experienced similar harm under similar circumstances, no two situations will ever be the same, and the expert on the situation will always be the survivor who is making the report, not the person taking the report.

What if a victim wants to report to law enforcement?

Survivors are the experts of their own situations, and if someone who has experienced harm believes the appropriate next step is to contact law enforcement, it is not our responsibility to talk them out of it. In fact, trying to talk a victim into one action or out of another can be manipulative and further disenfranchise victims who already may be feeling out of control because of the harm done.

If you can, try to make the connection directly and minimize the number of steps the survivor has to take. For example, instead of telling the victim to “Call the Day One Crisis Line,” you can offer to call the crisis line for them, explain the situation, and find the direct contact of an advocate who you know will be willing and able to provide support in this situation. Other great ways to show solidarity may be offering to drive a victim to an appointment with an advocate, or to offer your phone to make a call in case they’re worried that someone who has caused them harm may be suspicious of a crisis line number in their phone history.

Confidentiality

When a victim/survivor makes a report to a person trained in grievance response, it is the responsibility of the person taking the report to respect the confidentiality of the person who experienced harm. This means not sharing their name or any personally identifying information with anybody without explicit permission from the victim/survivor. This is an essential part of building trust, helps to minimize the potential for gossip, and most importantly, allows the victim to maintain control of their own story. If you think it would be helpful to share some part of a survivor’s story with someone, such as another Grievance Committee member, get permission from the victim first, and understand what information they are okay with you sharing and what information they may ask to keep private.

It is also essential to maintain confidentiality with information about the person who caused harm. While the process of restorative practice focuses on healing and resolution for the victim/survivor, the person who caused harm has a obligation to make amends and demonstrate personal growth. It is essential to the process that a person who has caused harm has the space and time to work through culpability and learn from their mistakes. Redress will not often be instant; it is process and takes time. Accountable parties must be afforded time away from public discourse to correct their actions and make amends. This will mean the confidentiality of both the victim/survivor and the person who has done harm must be respected.

  • The next steps should be tailored to meet the needs of the victim/survivor, but steps may be taken independent of the victim or survivor’s wishes if they are deemed necessary for the safety of members of the chapter. If the committee decides to take steps that the victim may not want, they are obligated to discuss these steps with the victim and take the victim’s wishes and insights into consideration before taking action. Where appropriate, it may be necessary to refer the person who experienced harm to an advocate to offer support and/or safety planning.

PART 2: PROCESS

This section is intended to provide a rough framework for what happens when a member of TCDSA experiences harm within the chapter or by a member of the chapter.

Framework of the TCDSA Grievance Process

The process outlined below is designed to address grievances in TCDSA. It is important to note that not all grievances will rise to the level where a formal restorative process is necessary. In fact, most grievances will not require extreme action, like revoking membership, or even include all of the steps described here. Most grievances will be resolved through a mediated conversation between the parties with one or more Grievance Committee members. There are many paths to restorative justice; the grievance process exists to find the best one for each situation.

Step 0: Formation of the Grievance Committee and Training for Leadership

We propose that the Grievance Committee (GC) members will be nominated by the Grievance Process Advocate(s) and/or the Grievance Committee following completion of TCDSA’s Grievance Training or a local 40-hour Sexual/Domestic Violence Advocacy Training resulting in a certificate of completion. The GC must be voted in by the chapter. Initially, all members of the GC will be elected in 2019. 5 of these members will complete a full two-year term, and the other 5 will complete a one-year term. Moving forward, 5 new GC members will be elected each year to complete a two-year term.

We propose the GC be comprised of a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 10 TCDSA members in good standing, including the GPA. There can be a maximum of 4 members from the Steering Committee and there must be at least 6 Rank and File members. The GC should contain no more than 4 cisgender men. Upon election, the Committee must develop a mandatory grievance and conflict related training for chapter leadership to complete within 16 weeks. The GC is also responsible for developing, updating, and holding regular trainings for future GC members and interested Rank and File members. The GC must also document their actions, and are responsible for secure storage of documents generated by the grievance process, training materials, and a list of who has received trainings.

TCDSA leaders are required to complete a mandatory 2-hour grievance and conflict related training to be provided by the GC and completed within 12 weeks of election to a role on the steering committee or leadership of a working group. (Upon election of the GC, currently serving leadership shall have 16 weeks to complete trainings.)

Given the possibility of burnout in such a high-responsibility role, GC members should take hiatus for up to six months from the committee when they feel they cannot give the role the time or attention it requires. The committee must never fall below eight active members in size, and the demographic requirements do not include committee members on hiatus.

When a GC member decides to leave the committee before completion of their term, they must notify the rest of the committee and the Steering Committee. If any GC member does not respond to contact for a duration of one month, they will become inactive and the remainder of the committee will determine whether they will be removed from the committee.

If any GC member is a party in a grievance or recall petition, they will immediately become inactive on the committee until the grievance process is complete. Any chapter member may petition for the removal of a GC member. When such a petition is received, the Steering Committee and the Grievance Committee will have a joint meeting as soon as possible (no more than one month) and the GC will decide on the next steps. A record of a removal vote or consensus decision, if held, will be included in the Steering Committee minutes available to chapter members, and the member petitioner will be immediately notified of the outcome.

If the number of active committee members falls below 8, an election will be held to elect replacements for the remainder of the term at the next scheduled General Meeting. The Recording Secretary must maintain an up-to-date list of GC members and their status, which must be available to the membership at all times.

GC members are limited to nonconsecutive terms, not including any partial terms where the GC member has served for 5 months or less.

The Grievance Committee members shall be considered “Harassment Grievance Officers” for the purposes of DSA Resolution 33 (Harassment Policy).

Step 1:

In the majority of cases, it will be up to a survivor to identify a grievance and request that TCDSA begin the official grievance process. If a leader in the community or a member of the Grievance Committee is made aware of harassment, they should do outreach to a victim to identify whether or not the TCDSA grievance process is an appropriate next step.

There is “no wrong door” for reporting harm: victims can report to leaders in the chapter who are trained to respond, as well as to members of the Grievance Committee. Ideally, rank-and-file members, who are neither on the committee nor in leadership, will also be trained to be a first point of contact, and can also trigger the grievance process. Victims also have the option of sending an e-mail to the TCDSA grievance policy e-mail requesting support.

Step 2:

Regardless of the method of contact, it is expected that a Grievance Committee member will be in touch with a victim within 24 hours of being made aware of an abusive situation.

It is the responsibility of the person taking the report to respect the confidentiality of the person who experienced harm. It is also essential for the Grievance Committee to maintain confidentiality with information about the person who caused harm. The victim/survivor will have the option to review the details that will be presented and determine a) if there are any details they would like to keep confidential and not share with the grievance committee, and b) if there are any members of the grievance committee they believe ought to be excluded from the deliberation. Survivor wishes must be fulfilled in regards to confidentiality and participants in the internal deliberation process.

The Grievance Committee will:

  • Offer emotional support to the person who experienced harm.
  • Safety plan with the victim to assist with harm reduction and offer support.
  • Explain the options and the grievance process clearly to the survivor when they’re ready, carefully walking through it in a way that is digestible to them and answering questions where needed. Focus on immediate next steps. Meet the victim where they’re at.
  • Deliberate internally regarding the next steps of the process. Deliberation may include determining whether the reported issue will be treated as a grievance or a conflict.

Step 3:

  • Meetings with both parties, separately, to hear their respective accounts, will be conducted by members of the Grievance Committee.

Step 4:

  • If the deliberating parties believe they need more or different people to successfully review the situation and come to a consensus-based decision, they may propose alternative deliberating parties to the victim for approval of their involvement in the process. As per DSA Resolution 33 (the national harassment policy), the grievance committee may collect evidence from both parties and anyone with knowledge of the situation, while respecting the confidentiality of both parties
  • The Grievance Committee may suspend membership or participation if they determine it is necessary for the safety of the membership or the parties involved, especially in cases where the grievance committee believes participation may put the victim or other members of TCDSA at risk. This includes:
  • Revoking membership
    • In this case, the GC will notify DSA’s national office of the decision. If the party whose membership was revoked desires to appeal the process, they can do so by contacting the national office as per resolution 33, section 3b: Appeals process. The appeal form can be found in DSA’s National Expulsion and Appeals Procedure.
  • Barring person who caused harm from participation in all TCDSA sponsored events, general meetings, and branch meetings
  • Removing a person from a position of leadership and calling for a special election and/or appointing an interim leader
  • Arranging the facilitation of a restorative practices session facilitated by a professional from outside TCDSA trained in restorative practices (if agreed to by both/all parties involved)
  • Launching an internal accountability process with all parties requiring admission of harm and agreement to atone as a condition of membership reinstatement
  • The Grievance Committee will communicate with the Operations Coordinator, the Recording Secretary, and the marshal team as deemed necessary according to the outcomes determined above.
  • The Grievance Committee may also conduct an assessment of community needs, and facilitate community restorative processes, including but not limited to a community healing circle and/or political education on a particular subject.

Step 5:

General membership may be updated with information decided by the Grievance Committee, balancing the wishes of the victim with the need to keep general membership informed. If the victim/survivor approaches leadership with a request for a statement to membership or a public-facing statement to be issued, or the Grievance Committee deems it necessary, then a statement may be developed for distribution on social media and/or in e-mail form. This statement should make every effort to conceal the identities of the parties involved unless they give explicit consent. It should be vetted by people with relevant expertise, and shared consistently across platforms by parties deemed appropriate by the victim/survivor and the Grievance Committee. Note: this is not a standard practice, but rather an exception that may be necessary under certain unique circumstances.

If someone who has experienced harm wants to make a report to law enforcement, we recommend making a referral to a local organization with advocates on staff who are trained to support victims through that process.

Starting a Formal Restorative Process (Optional)

  1. Identify at least one practitioner from outside of TCDSA trained and experienced in restorative practices to work with the person who experienced harm. The victim should be involved in every part of this process. The top priority is that the victim and restorative practitioner have a good rapport and are able to build trust. Until the practitioner is selected, one member of the grievance committee will act as support for the survivor and ensure that their needs are being met in the interim.
  2. Expand the Support Team according to the victim’s wishes. This can include people from within and outside of TCDSA. Ideally, participants should be trained in restorative practices. If they are not, clearly lay out expectations for participation in the Support Team and seek out appropriate training to equip them for participation.
    1. The formation of support teams is based on the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective’s Pod Model.9
  3. The Survivor Support Team is the lead committee to determine the implementation and evaluation of the consequences, reparations, and restorative practices process. They meet with and talk regularly with the victim.

Formation of Accountability Team for the Person Who Caused Harm:

  1. This team is tasked with working with the person who caused harm to ensure that they will follow through on the accountability process as outlined by the Survivor Support team.
  2. At least two core members of the Accountability Team who are trained in restorative practices should be selected by the Survivor Support Team. The person who has caused harm may invite a friend or comrade to participate as well, pending approval from the Survivor Support Team.

Relationship Between the Survivor Support Team and the Accountability Team:

  1. The Survivor Support Team will be tasked with the following:
    1. Focused on the survivor’s needs and desires throughout the restorative practices process
    2. Support the survivor’s healing process as an individual and within the restorative practices process
    3. Define the scope and outline steps that the person who caused harm needs to undertake to repair harm and demonstrate accountability.
    4. Initiate, monitor and evaluate accountability according to the survivor’s guidelines
    5. Define scope and to do steps for organizational accountability
  2. The Accountability Team will the tasked with the following:
    1. Commit to a survivor centered process at all times through written and signed agreement by person who caused harm
    2. Work directly with person who caused harm to achieve accountability and transformation as dictated by survivor team.
    3. Implement steps for organizational accountability
    4. Report to survivor team on implementation of steps laid out by the survivor team.

Footnotes

  1. “Strike Statement to the Press; August 28, 2018”: https://incarceratedworkers.org/news/strike-statement-press-august-28-2018
  2. “Scope of the Problem: Statistics,” RAINN: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem
  3. “Statistics,” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://ncadv.org/statistics
  4. “Black Youth Project (BYP 100) Community Accountability Process (Chicago, 2015-2016)”: https://transformativejusticeinitiative.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/byp100-survivor-statement.pdf
  5. “The Combahee River Collective Statement”: http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html
  6. “Community Accountability,” INCITE!: https://incite-national.org/community-accountability
  7. Sometimes referred to as Transformative Justice (TJ) or Restorative Justice (RJ)
  8. Ending Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Transformative Justice Handbook, generationFIVE: http://www.generationfive.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Transformative-Justice-Handbook.pdf
  9. https://batjc.wordpress.com