On Returning from Michigan


I spent this past week in Michigan.

Four cities – Detroit, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Grand Rapids. Sixteen meetings, presentations, mini-workshops, small group discussions; speaking to, with and listening to – law students, public policy students, under grads studying social work and criminal justice, young people drawn to activism, elders engaged in activism, professors, judges, prosecutors, police, defense attorneys, court watchers, parents whose children are imprisoned, the formerly imprisoned now on the streets trying to make sense of it all, mediators, facilitators, the wounded and the healers.

I’ve returned humbled – by the hospitality, the generosity, the kindness, the fervor for justice, the cry for change.

The week was four months in the planning, but I had to do nothing. Teams in each city took care of everything – lodging, meals, transportation, scheduling. I’ve returned amazed at the work done by many hands.

I started the week anxious, excited, questioning. Where would this state be, these Spartans and Wolverines that voted red, less than a week after? For the most part the formal conversations were not about the state of the nation, they were about the need for and the viability of community.

But privately, people spoke of and from their aching hearts. They looked into the future and saw uncertainty, an uncertainty of a different kind than the one they’d felt in the weeks, months, and years before. There was also a sense of urgency. And a recognition that, yes, it really is up to us.

That, as Annie Dillard has written:

“There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth—only us… unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

I woke this morning convinced that Restorative Justice is the antidote. It is both the medium and the message. The way we are with people – in mediations, dialogues, conferences, circles – is the way out of this polarized culture we have created for ourselves. I am not alone in this conviction. The pioneers in the movement, now elders, have spread the message to thousands – in this country and abroad. The people I met in Michigan are among these. They know we can’t go on doing business as usual – whether it be the way we do justice or the way we relate to our neighbors. It is now a matter of our survival.

Restorative Justice has been around for over forty years. Community organizing for many years more. They have met each other and joined hands. This new union is the only chance we have.