Marta is advocating for IP, she came and asked me to describe the role to her.

And as with a number of things i think i hold this set of ideas in a different way than most people.  I remember recently being asked to advocate for a member who had run afoul of our agreements and thinking to myself  “I am not sure it is best for the community for them to stay, and i am convinced if i advocate for them, they will be able to keep living here.”

My cousin lives in Ithaca and is a public defender.  He is eloquent about why he feels good about “putting criminals back out on the street.”  He views part of his job as fine tuning the police force and the courts, making sure that these carefully designed systems protect individuals against rogue states or their agents.  He points out that it is far more important to keep the power of the police in check, than it is to keep these mostly minor criminals incarcerated.

It seems intellectually less desirable to need these types of services in a small group of self selecting people who have virtually no crime.  But it turns out to be even more important, if you ask me.  The commune is a bureaucracy and a culture.  Especially members who are doing things which press on our rules or our sense of the rules need to be aided in their navigation thru our internal harmonizing processes.

The first question an advocate asks is “What do you want from the community in this situation?”  Often the answer will be as simple as “i want to keep living here” and if this is true the advocates best strategy is to slam on the brakes and try to slow everything down.  The commune is institutionally inclined towards second chances.  If you can own up to your mistakes and demonstrate better behavior, usually we will let you stay around.  And our policies and agreements are designed to protect the member from the collective moving too rashly.

A feedback is a group process in which the focus person hears what other members are concerned about.  The focus person then reflects back to the concerned member the essence of what they are worried about.  Between 20 and 40 people show up at these events and while we try not to make feedbacks into trials, there is often a background feeling that this is what is going on.

Before the feedback, it is good practice for the advocate to work with the focus person on predictable concerns, polishing the focus person’s responses.  It is also important that the advocate, as much as she can, keep a low profile during the feedback, letting the focus person hear the concerns and work directly with community members.  The focus person should be able to demonstrate a capability and an openness to this communication.

The advocate may “retell” concerns raised if the response are weak or insufficient.  And instead of simply parroting back the content, I advised Marta that it is more effective to extrapolate.  Take what’s been said and test the community’s assumptions, expose the hidden truths and let the community sit with how those truths and assumptions impact their concerns.

And more often than not, the community will create some flavor of contract between itself and the focus person, allowing them to stay and addressing the concerns raised.  The role of the advocate is to support the focus person through the process and remind them throughout that they are still a part of the community, someone worth supporting.

Despite not having police, courts or jails – we need tools to hear each other when our communication is out of whack.  It pleases me that this is all the “justice system” we really need.