Conscious Accountability: Moving from Theory to Action Part 1

Posted February 8, 2012 from United States

Conscious Accountability: Moving from Theory to Action Part 1 Published by Dayanara Marte 1/31/2012

The sustainability of social justice movements lead by people of color will depend on how committed we will be in having self awareness, creating self care action plans, hold personal and collective accountability for how we are showing up and have integrity with our word. A good way to measure where you are in this process is looking at your personal relationships. Being in relationship to another human being is collaboration in of itself. The challenges start to present themselves when our individual trauma starts showing up and we are not aware of it but our partner feels it, sees it and experiences it. With no tools to go through the journey we create co-dependent and un-healthy relationships and play out negative beliefs and attitudes. Ultimately recreating violence and dismantling what we are trying to build. Often times we meet people that mirror to us the things about ourselves that we need to work within ourselves. This holds true when we are creating coalitions, collectives, networks, organizations, campaigns, teams and movements.

When I think of creating another world free from violence, I think about myself, my sisters and the community that I collaborate with in social justice every day. I think about us, women on the frontlines, grass root workers and change makers. I call us warrior women because we often, are too from the very community that we are fighting for and with. We experience first hand the injustice, the poverty, the abuse and the neglect that our communities face every day. I think about us because even when we attempt to create them, we still feel like there are no systems in place, nowhere to go to talk about the trauma that we have witnessed or experienced in our personal lives and the ones we face every day while on the frontlines, leaving us with a few trusted friends. If we the warriors don’t take a good look at ourselves and see how we have internalized the very oppression that we are fighting against, if we don’t create systems of personal accountability for how we show up in the movement and in our lives, then we will surely replicate the same world.

We are dying! Our movements are dying, our coalitions or collective efforts don’t last, our organizations are not sustainable and our collective health is deteriorating. The political times are getting worse and we are getting confronted with police brutality and death of our community at an increasing rate. We are workers on the front lines transforming the world with a bag pack full of fear, guilt, shame, loneliness, resentment and anger that is killing us. In our life time many of us have experienced sexual assault, child abuse, rape, immigration, homelessness, and addiction. While there is a resiliency we bring to this work , we often feel powerless in the mist of the many wars we hear, see and experience in our own lives and we have mastered so many ways of dealing and surviving that we go home to do the very things that we are supporting our communities’ not to do. How many of us drink, self mutilate, eat, sleep , don’t eat, don’t sleep, have unsafe sex, are in abusive relationships, are the abusers, violent, or getting violated. We are dying from the various dis-eases that we are being diagnosed with, depression, chronic stress, anxiety disorders, drug use, mental illness, abusive relationships, self mutilation, disordered eating, smoking, STD’s/ HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, cancer, that render us powerless to create another world, to advocate, to organize and effectively lead.

I am writing this as blunt as possible because we no longer have the luxury to hide behind institutional rules that say that our personal story should be kept out of the office or that we can’t mix business with “pleasure”, what’s happening in our personal lives. The reality is that, that has never been and will never be possible. There is no way that a women, a person who is being abused at home can show up at work and be productive without someone noticing a change in her behavior or without an internal change happening that impacts their self esteem, their self worth, their dignity, their humanity and as a result the way the show up in the world. There is no way that our past doesn’t creep into the way we lead, the way we dream, the way we love, the way we create communities, families and the way we work with each other.

Have you ever wondered who is really sitting next to you at work, in your organization? Who are you really collaborating with, what is their story? Why is that they show up with great ideas to a meeting but never follow through, or why is it that they follow through on other people’s dreams but never have a dream of their own? Not too long ago we called that people with different strengths. You know the list we make to see if we have found people with all the skills we need to create a great team. How many of you have done that, created a great team based on peoples resume and still something falls short and a year later you are evaluating what happened that you didn’t reach your goal, or wasn’t effective or why that person didn’t show up they way they sounded on paper?

I call that trauma, trauma showing up disguised as people’s strengths rendering them powerless to show up in their full capacity.

Fort thirteen years I have provided trainings and organized healing circles for community wom(y)n, activists and organizers, locally, nationally and internationally using the model of emotional release. In a safe space we would use our tears as healing tools and walk through hard issues like how does power & violence and internalized oppression impact us and show up in our lives. We would create a safe space and used our culture & spirituality to support each other in breaking the pattern of individualism, isolation, guilt, self-blame, self -doubt and dis-ease.

Some of these womyn were the womyn I work with, build coalitions with, organize with, and dream with. But it wasn’t until we shared this space that I started to understand who they really were and what life experiences kept them from being the powerful women that they are. It was in sharing stories that we can mirror to each other the potential to strengths we didn’t think capable of having while also bringing awareness to the ways of being that didn’t let us build anything sustainable beyond the moment. It was in these moments that we shared why even though we were showing up to meetings, to our families, to our relationships, still at the very pit of our stomach what was determining our future in these spaces was that we didn’t trust anyone. It was in this space that I understood what were my own ways of self sabotage, of being afraid of success or where my own fears of failure where coming from.

It’s a new year 2012 and the conversation of violence against women, gender justice , sexual assault, domestic violence and all other institutional and interpersonal oppressions and violence’s are being weaved into the conversation of healing trauma. We have come a long way and our movements are incorporating meditation, yoga, health and wellness, natural medicine, acupuncture and deep conversations of how trauma is being replicated in our movements because there are no safe spaces to address it leaving us to address them alone or go through trial and error often times leading us into what feels like a hopeless cycle.

While there are papers of transformative justice, post traumatic slave syndrome, emotional justice, and self care we have yet to have people in our lives that can mirror to us what a healthy sustainable relationship looks like or what it looks like to disagree and still be connected?

In real life we are still struggling to live these theories and create healthy boundaries, practice self love and be in partnership without the other person feeling neglected? How do we ask community to disclose stories of rape, child abuse, and sexual assault when we have not set up another system of accountability? How do we create safe spaces for self awareness that supports us in disclosing our stories that bring us shame, that have grave impact on our families if we disclose them, or that we have not come to terms with and to some degree have buried far into our subconscious?

Unfortunately, the answer lies only in practice.

The Process of Conscious Accountability

  1. Build self awareness of behavior
    1. Contextualize it in personal and historical trauma
    2. Identify Impact on personal and collective relationships
  2. Take conscious accountability for behavior and impact
  3. Create self care action plan A, B and C to transform behavior

    1. Share and communicate with people who can hold you accountable
    2. Commit to a process of healing/transformation towards sustainable relationships
    3. Develop a system of evaluation and self reflection

    Conscious accountability depends on our commitment to take ourselves on first and others second. To create spaces and movements that have systems of accountability where you can show up in your past and trauma and it can be processed without punishment or gossip? We are so use to living in a world where we get punished for our actions or lack their of that we get addicted to punishment. How great would it be to create spaces where no one is going to punish you or let you punish yourself, instead, we have a great conversation of impact that leads to your healing and transformation.

Conscious accountability provides healing tools so that individuals and collectives can delegate, make decisions and share a common goal because everyone at the table is committed and responsible for the whole to win. When this process is excluded it leaves one person or a group of people exhausted and burnt out because they feel like they are doing all the work while at the same time being blamed for the lack of integrity the other members have.

Creating a structure with a system of personal and collective accountability that creates self discipline is about one of the hardest things to do because it requires being humble, listening, letting go of being right and truly practicing collective power and responsibility. Everyone wants power and no one wants the responsibility that comes with it. Currently in most organizations all meetings and workshops start off with laying out ground rules creating what I call a superficial safe space that sets people up for failure and that at best deals with people’s behaviors but does not address the trauma that impacts their decisions and actions during the meeting nor does it create a system of accountability when people don’t follow the rules.

Conscious accountability requires that we stop and take a look at ourselves, show our vulnerability and lay it all on the table. This is who I am, this is the self awareness I have about my life, how its impacted me and my behavior and this is what you can count on me to do when I show up in trauma or in my past. It requires us to be responsible for the future we are creating and the experiences people have of us along the way so we can say, if I for whatever reason don’t keep my word this is how you can hold me accountable; returning the power to the individual and the group at the same time.

How great would it be if we started coalitions, organizations and movements, relationships, families, collectives and communities with a simple question, who is in the room? With the process of conscious accountability we provide an opportunity for people to make informed decision on how to proceed but more importantly it lays a framework for us to create a system ,a plan of action that can help us plan to address trauma when it shows up and create plans a, b and c when we are out of integrity.

Self awareness and communication is the key to conscious accountability. Accountability without judgment looks like getting your work done, showing up and keeping your word no matter what is happening in your life. Its about communicating in time so that we can have a conversation about plan a, b or c. Once you have created these plans then its about sharing it with someone and being in communication about them. When there is no time to create alternative plans to get the work done then accountability holding comes with judgment and we are good at judging ourselves before anyone else does. If your trauma shows up as gossip, blaming, suffering and excuses then by default you can’t be in collective work and responsibility because these are the same self destructive patterns that destroy communities.

In addition, conscious accountability creates an internal check and balances system where no one else is responsible for you. It requires those of us on the front lines to rethink the culture of the organizations, coalitions, networks, and collectives that we are creating where we require folks to create self care action plans and quarterly evaluations of how they are being.

How great would it be if we had the tools to process folk if we knew that seven out of ten of us in our organization have experienced some form of sexual assault , or that we have been abandoned, don’t have money, had abortions, dealing with sexuality, child abuse, domestic violence, are addicts or live with addiction and violence in their homes. If we gave ourselves a chance to know those stories before hand, before dreaming, before committing, before setting goals then we would know what to expect. It would also give us time to know that those traumas will show up as fear, anger, people not keeping their word, lack of trust, not following through, people feeling like they are not good enough, silence, and not thinking they deserve to live in anything different, to be loved, heard or seen. If we knew that then we would be prepared to deal with a group of folk that might have the best intentions but will replicate their lives and all its dysfunctions within the group because they have lost their ability to dream anything different from what they know or change the way they want to be.

You would think that being a healer, an organizer and human rights activists for the past 13 years would save me from having to go within and look at who I had become and the past that shaped me but it didnt. In fact, the more I fought for justice the more I knew it was imperative for me to do the internal work necessary or it would get to the point where I could not stand for, by or with anyone not even myself. So for the past 5 years I have been on journey of self healing, self love, rebirth forgiving and letting go. It is from this space that I have created Conscious Accountability.

Most recently, I took the time to do my own evaluation of the experience of violence, sexual assault, racism, and oppression that where played out during the Occupy movement in New York. It got me to think about unspoken myths that drive organizers. For one we believe that movements unto themselves, coalitions and organizations will somehow automatically undo the racist, classist, sexist, trans/homophobia/, xenophobic, patriarchal ways of humanity by the mere value of good intentions or political unity. We believe that if we document, label it, write it, name it, publish it, create it into models that internalized oppression will get transformed on its own. We also believe that interpersonal oppression will magically disappear once people come together for any cause. But the most important myth is that we believe that the past and histories of trauma, women and people of color carry will hold their own when we have to experience and witness violence during rallies, protest and movement building. And because of this we enter relationships with so called like minded folks with our guards down, I mean after all isnt this suppose to be a safe space?, then why would men exercise patriarchy? Why would white folk be racist? Until we don’t get that people take themselves everywhere they go replicating the violence they know , until we do not create systems of accountability for peoples way of being and until we don’t create safe spaces of healing and self a people we will rise, over throw and recreate the same world , unjust and violent. Coalitions, campaigns, relationships, organizations and communities will not create sustainable change or relationships.

Conscious Accountability is the practice of self awareness, self healing, self love and self empowerment where one takes totally responsibility for our actions and contextualizes our behavior in our personal history of trauma and collective oppression towards building sustainable relationships. Dayanara Marte teaches, facilitates and consults with people and organizations about this model through IN BOLD REBIRTH @ Copyright © 2012 In Bold Rebirth, All rights reserved.

Comments 5

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Jade Frank
Feb 10, 2012
Feb 10, 2012

Dearest Dee,

Thank you for sharing this, as it has left me with so much to think about and I think can be such a powerful tool and conversation starter for women in the PulseWire community and grassroots leaders everywhere. I especially found this to be so powerful, "If we the warriors don’t take a good look at ourselves and see how we have internalized the very oppression that we are fighting against, if we don’t create systems of personal accountability for how we show up in the movement and in our lives, then we will surely replicate the same world." Agreed. Very much looking forward to Part II.

xoxo Jade

Feb 10, 2012
Feb 10, 2012

Jade, I missed you. Yes, I am working on part II now. Its funny as I write its kicking up all my stuff and has me thinking about my own contradictions and work that I need to do to really live into the model. I am writing the model based on relationships that i am in right now co-worker,friends in collectives etc that we are intentionally practicing this and using ourselves as examples. I am also writing this model because I have been interviewing grassroots leaders and women on the front lines and we all have been hurt and disappointed in what we have experienced,witness, and survived in the movement.

There is much to think about! Looking forward and its good to be back.

Feb 11, 2012
Feb 11, 2012

I found your post very stimulating. The content is a must read for everyone driven by by a passion for creating change, especially because change can never be created in isolation. Certainly, there is a wide gorge between theory and practice. While many may succeed in advancing theories, they fail in practice. With consistent practice of the listed Process of Conscious Accountability by individuals, powerful coalitions/collaborations will be inevitable. Thank you for sharing!

Warm Regards,


Tipo Mai
Feb 11, 2012
Feb 11, 2012

I can identify with your story and agree completely with your suggestion that as human rights defenders or practitioners helping communities find their feet we also need to find ours first. At the beginning of this year my colleagues and I had a 2 day retreat which we called the "women's circle." For two whole days, all we did was talk, eat, laugh, cry and share our life experiences as well as our experiences with gender in the workplace. The kinds of issues that came out of that circle were important. we opened up to each other in both our personal and professional capacities and since then we work so much better, understanding who we are, where we come from and where we are going. We are a team, supporting each other in the personal and professional and I think it has worked tremendously for us. So I agree with you when you say communication, self awareness and accountability (without judgement) are key to healing and increased self awareness.



Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Feb 12, 2012
Feb 12, 2012

Dear Taniadelsol,

A very important reminder for grassroots women leaders and human rights defenders. It is important to reflect as we continue to struggle for change. Thank you for the lessons.