Tarot for Transformative Justice

I think like many people, I first engaged with the concept of transformative justice as primarily an alternative model to the police. It is an alternative, but it is more than this, and in a different way than you might think. It is not something that the state can pick up and start a program and next year operate from a transformative justice model instead of a punitive model. It is based in relationships, and on centering interdependence instead of individuality. At its core is the idea that no one is disposable and that we are all capable of harm and capable of change. This is the opposite of what we are told every day in the dominant culture of capitalism over caring for others, competition over collaboration in community, white supremacy over seeing the humanity in all people.

The work of repair when something is broken must be transformative at both the systemic and individual level so the cycle of violence is interrupted. I learned from an introduction to transformative justice with Mia Mingus about how critical it is to start to practice on an individual, interpersonal basis while we also look to it as an alternative to the punitive police state. We cannot build the bigger system without practicing in the here and now. Tarot is a tool that can be readily integrated and leveraged for such a practice.

It’s nothing new that tarot can be personally transformative. I have experienced this after reading for myself and others for the past four years and found it to be one of the best tools for mirroring ourselves and presenting options for change. What I’m offering here is an exploration of a few key concepts and tarot spreads to encourage personal growth that will help us build transformative justice projects, whether in one family, one organization, or one community.

The first area of individual practice for this collective project is how we ourselves respond to hurt or harm. Rather than respond in an unconscious way, the goal is to try to do the following:

  • Be conscious about when you hurt/harm someone else or someone hurts you. To not let things slide.
  • Take steps to try to heal & repair the harm and
  • Make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

It might sound overly simple, but at every step there is so much work to do and trauma responses to unpack. It can be impossible to be present when harm is happening and we have a trauma response to forget, to disassociate, to fight, to appease. Healing and repair means something different to everyone, and communicating that you need help can feel like an impossible barrier. New habits or structural changes to keep harm from happening are easier said than done. How many times have you had a goal to sleep earlier, drink alcohol less, or exercise, and found it hard to change your behavior?

I developed a tarot spread to help process moments when we could be practicing a conscious response, even on a small scale, rather than getting stuck in avoidance. It can be healing to shape how you want to move in the world, in a way that is more present and responsive, rather than be led by a trauma response. It’s also OK to get stuck there sometimes. The intention is to practice more when you can. This is for addressing the first part of practice, in naming the hurt/harm, and working through how I wish to respond. For those who’ve regularly had their feelings dismissed, their reality questioned, this is powerful.

  1. The event – what triggered you
  2. My trauma response – how to understand & work with it
  3. Preferred conscious response – how you’d like to respond instead
  4. Support I need – who/what can help you in responding
  5. How I may grow – what are the advantages in addressing this head-on

Next, a critical part of developing a transformative justice practice is doing this practice with others. In Mariame Kaba’s “We Do This Til We Get Free,” she writes, “everything worthwhile is done with other people.” And yet, people are difficult to say the least, and most of us were raised with few skills to work through conflict.

Among the many things I am, I am a community organizer. We are trained that relationship-building is important–talking to people is the core of organizing–but it is usually for a goal-driven purpose, a campaign, a policy objective. You can get by for a long while without really being vulnerable. When things go wrong, how many relationships of deep trust and mutual understanding do you have? What part do you have in extending and building trust?

We are terrible at relationships because we are told they don’t matter other than a few placeholders where we are supposed to care for parents, children, and significant others. Our worlds are small compared to cultures where a person’s very existence is triangulated by a myriad of other beings, human and nonhuman, where being alone is impossible, where interdependence is a strength. It will take regular, intentional practice to shift our mindset into believing that all relationships, not just a few ones, are essential.

We find it difficult to show up for relationships because it is difficult to trust other people. There is good reason for this, from personal experience, generational trauma, to pervasive societal nihilism, but because we are social animals, an inability to trust will hinder our growth. Building up the muscle of trusting others, and resilience in the face of how difficult people can be, is a key area of practice. It is worth it to do the work to open up more and see who may show up for you. It is important to be able to show up as your full self in working with others to birth the new world we need truly centered on justice.

  1. Root of what challenges me about trusting others
  2. Impact this has had on my life
  3. The next level of open-heartedness I’d like to grow
  4. The next right step to get there
  5. Outcome of my efforts

These two spreads and the areas of practice they focus on are just a beginning. As I continue to learn more about transformative justice and practice myself I look forward to developing and sharing out what I know in service of the community and the long road ahead of us.

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