Are We There Yet?

Maybe you remember family car trips with the periodic chorus from the backseat “Are we there yet?” The answer was always “Almost,” and somehow you knew that wasn’t true. And yes, you squirmed and asked many more times before the car pulled into the motel, your aunt’s house, a state park, whatever the destination of this trip.

This chorus has been running through my head for the past few weeks as the major project I have been working on draws to a close. On November 1 the final report from the Not Invisible Act Commission was submitted to congress and the Departments of the Interior and Justice. The report addressed the crisis of murdered, missing and trafficked Indigenous people and offered dozens of recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of government.  

“So, Lucy,” I tell myself, “the answer is yes, we are there. Your work is done, your contract complete, the final deliverable delivered.” As facilitator I have reached the destination, but the question “are we there yet?” still hangs over me.

The problem is that the report is only one step on a long journey and the real destination is taking action, implementing those recommendations, making significant change that will reduce dramatically the numbers of suffering Indigenous people and families who are impacted by this epidemic of murdered, kidnapped and trafficked Indigenous people. Until that happens I don’t think we’re there yet.

I’ve had this worry before in my decades of mediating and facilitating all kinds of disputes. I’m hired to do a discrete task – hold a listening session, mediate a negotiation, bring adversaries together to draft a plan for moving forward. The outcome may be good, citizens’ voices heard, an agreement reached, relationships built for future work together. But these are just beginnings; they are not the destination. The problem, the need that brought them to the table is still there. Without a monitor, someone responsible for seeing that the agreements become reality, the parties may be left with little or no progress. And in the case of Indigenous and other groups they may simply chalk this up as another broken promise, eroding whatever trust might have been built.

I would like to see the mediator/facilitator be able to take on a follow-through function. With authority to monitor the implementation of the agreement, they could check on progress and help get past obstacles. They could communicate regularly with the parties, reminding them of where they’ve been and where they’re heading, maybe even bring them back together to review, or modify, or celebrate. It’s possible that some participants don’t want to be reminded, are overwhelmed by the newest crisis, or have moved on in another direction. That’s understandable but the work they put in on these processes deserves a careful and caring follow-up. Someone needs to check the road map and ask “Are we there yet?”

From the cover of the Not Invisible Act Report, “Not One More.” This is a picture of a small part of the Honoring our Medicine Paddle Blanket, created by Pacific Northwest Tribes to remember and honor murdered and missing loved ones. The Puyallup Tribe cares for the blanket, which travels throughout the country. It was hung at the MMIP hearing in Billings, Montana, and family members were invited to add their own paddles in honor of lost loved ones. The blanket has many hundreds of paddles, each sewed on with care by a member of the Puyallup Tribe’s Domestic Violence Program.

8 thoughts on “Are We There Yet?”

  1. Lucy – Thank you for articulating a concern that many of us mediators and facilitators have and have had over our careers. Sometimes we get so “process” oriented that we forget to focus on being “outcome” driven. Your case in particular requires tangible action and results. How many times have I submitted proposals to agencies or conveners that focus on making things happen, only to misread the client’s intentions of merely making the conflict go away, instead of generating tangible results.

    When we are lucky enough to find a client who is not afraid to take risks and embrace the adaptive learning that underpins our role and their responsibility, only then will tangible results emerge. Too many want plausible deniability if the process is not a sure thing. Sometimes they only want the job half done because the implementation piece is exponentially more difficult and more personal. Sometimes we’re hired because a client or agency has run out of ideas and we’re the last resort. In the words of one former client, “I don’t care how much it costs, just solve the damn problem”.

    It’s hard enough to define the wicked problems that are the source of our “being of service” , much less give our clients, our collaborative partners the support they need to lean over the cliff of uncertainty and trust in the power of collaborative action. Nice piece of writing, Lucy. Perseverance furthers…..

    1. Elegant, John! Thank you, and so true. Maybe the first step is an honest conversation with the client — what they think they want and what we think they need. We may walk away without a contract, but they may walk away with something to think about…

  2. Your words speak volumes my sweet friend. In my world of public involvement, I’m always left wondering: “Did the agency follow through on what the public said? If we couldn’t change our plans, did we tell them why?” It’s rare that I get the answers that I want and that the public deserves. But we keep on keeping on. Please do have that honest conversation with your client – this incredible work just can’t end here – there has to be action and progress behind these promises.

    1. Thank you, Susan. You and I go way back! I can remember this conversation with you decades ago, which is kind of depressing, but maybe as you say we just have to keep on keeping on. Thanks for all you do!

  3. Hi Lucy, Congratulations! Only you knew to make a case for the obvious that everyone else overlooks. Thank you so much! And a deep bow to you for the success of the Not Invisible Act you helped navigate with your partners.

    I abandoned the mediation model when we shifted to global warming and the “threat multiplier” of active conflict emerging from the unstoppable pace of our civilizational tragedy. If you haven’t visited our website lately, you’ll note that we now support and facilitate local grassroots projects on the ground tackling how to survive PEACEFULLY an unknown future on a much-altered planet. I also teach courses at the Professional Development Institute, U. of Ottawa, on how to help those surviving climate trauma by facilitating a new Dialogue model. Teaching is something else I consider “action” that those of us who have been around peace building for so long should also be doing. We have always learned from you, dear Lucy, and you have so much to share.

    1. Merle — wonderful to hear from you and get your news. “The unstoppable pace of our civilizational tragedy” — what a phrase, what a reality. And good for you for stepping up and taking action in your typical pushing the envelope way! I agree about teaching as an important act, and find that my greatest satisfaction these days is zooming with university classes around the country in conflict resolution, etc. And of course mentoring, which is so good for the soul. A big dose of young people gives me hope.Take care, dear friend and thanks for all you do.

  4. Lucy –
    I so admire your dedication.
    Is there anything I or friends can do to help facilitate adoption of your “follow-through” function and have it be implemented?

    You are an amazing woman

    1. Thank you, Dotty. The admiration is mutual, as I hope you know. Your heartfelt struggle for peace, internal and external, has inspired and moved me so much. As for help with follow through, I think being aware, spreading the word helps a lot, and letting congresspeople know that you are expecting action on the “Not One More” findings and recommendations from the Not Invisible Act Commission, to address the crisis of missing, murdered and trafficked Indigenous people in the US. Secretary Deb Haaland and Attorney General Merrick Garland, commission chairs, could use support, too. There ! I’ve cut out a day’s work for you! Thank you, dear friend, for your generosity and deep caring.

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