Restorative Circles Conference a Success!
by Diana Leafe Christian
Over a hundred people from all over the US gathered at Earthaven, June 4-7, for “Restorative Circles in Our Communities,” a conference with Restorative Circles (RC) founder Dominic Barter and facilitator/trainers Karl Stayaert and “Duke” Duchscherer. All three, as well as others at the event, have shared Restorative Circles and other ways to come to dialog in conflict situations, some internationally, including Brazil, Nepal and the Ukraine. The conference was sponsored by Earthaven’s affiliate non-profit, Culture’s Edge, and hosted by members Steve Torma and Arjuna da Silva.
RC is a “restorative justice” approach to addressing conflict within the context of the wider community. Used in schools, court systems and other organizations and agencies in more than 25 countries, it was developed by Dominic Barter in the 1990s in Brazil to help resolve conflicts in the high crime-burdened favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
The first two days included a focus on the importance of setting up conscious restorative justice systems in our communities, and an in-depth exploration of the three phases: pre-Circles, Circle, post-Circle. ‘Semi-simulated circles’ serve as practice sessions and are a key component in the learning process. On Friday night, Dominic spoke to over 120 people in Asheville about walking toward conflict. The last two days of the conference were filled with Open Space session organized by participants.
One highlight of the conference for many was the final “Financial Co-Responsibility” meeting, called “money
piles.” While people paid fees for food and lodging, there was no fixed conference fee. Instead, sitting in a large circle in the Council Hall, surrounded by a good half of the participants, Arjuna, Steve, Dominic, Karl and Duke, as hosts and presenters, candidly described their financial situations and how much it had cost them to put on and participate in the conference. Participants were asked to contribute as much as they could toward the
expenses, given the benefit they’d each received being part of the conference —a radically transparent experience which was quite emotionally moving for many in the room.
As the total of contributions made up to that point was matched to the total costs and requests, an ever-increasing pile of cash-filled envelopes and IOUs was placed in the “money pile” in the middle of the floor. Additional online contributions via computer were also being made, as the group began allocating the “pile” to the various expenses and organizational and presentation services on the list.
As it turned out, everyone received more than they had asked for!
Dom said one of the best things about the conference was his opportunity to be a listener and a learner.
Steve, Arjuna and the conference Staff, including Jerry, Abdullah, Sara, Gaspar, NikiAnne and several others in minor roles, reported some serious levels of satisfaction at their debriefing meeting.
Comments and evaluations from participants were delightfully positive: folks felt well cared for, well nourished, and saturated with possibilities for a more just world of restorative communities. Arjuna also reports the spread of interest in RC locally, in Asheville.