Carla's Story

Because folks seem to be interested in hearing stories of how Shanti Sena deals with problems, I thought I'd offer the following example of how it can work to everyone's satisfaction. The incident was moderately serious, yet somehow it all worked out.

At the Oregon Gathering last summer, I was camped for awhile during Seed Camp at Welcome Home. There weren't too many folks there yet, and on this particular evening, most of them were hanging out quite a distance away in the kitchen. The few folks who were camped in my immediate area - all experienced Shanti Sena people - happened to not be around that night.

Bam Bam had just gotten in, and there was a righteous drum jam going on at the kitchen. I was hanging out in my tent enjoying the jam and only peripherally aware that at the camp behind me - which was at the edge of the riparian area we were keeping clear of camps and therefore in a pretty isolated area - a few folks were pretty noisy and sounding a bit agro. I wasn't too concerned, because it was all words and did not seem to be a problem, it was a small group, and there hadn't really been any alcohol energy in the Welcome Home area.

At one point, it sounded like the folks hanging out there were leaving, and I heard someone tromping down the hill right behind my tent in a really noisy way. My dog was startled and jumped up, barking at the "intruder." I heard cussing, more barking, a yelp, and then the guy really went off, yelling about how my dog had bitten him.

I left my tent to go mellow things out. The guy and the dog were behind my tent, she standing about a dozen feet from him barking, and he standing there swearing and threatening her life. While I did not believe Lacy had actually bitten him, I apologized anyway and put her on a leash. He bitched loudly about not being able to find all the dog food that he had just gone to town that day to get for his puppy. I offered to use my flashlight to help find it - seems he had several cans of dog food in a plastic bag, and when my dog jumped up to protect her camp, he had slung the whole bag at her. It had torn, and cans of food were all over the place. It looked like he had swung the bag as hard as he could.

Well, he was very drunk. And you know what, I'm one of the folks who works the front gate a lot. I like most of the A-campers, and for the most part we work with each other really well, with a lot of mutual respect. At times I have been mistaken for an A-camper or a drinker because I hang out with them at the gates, the road, and Bus Village. Most of the guys themselves think I am an ex-drinker (I never have cared for it much), which I consider a compliment. I also work with drunks a lot in my job, and know how to deal with them pretty well.

But this was not someone I knew, was not an A-camper at all, in fact. They are a pretty bonded clan, that's why they camp together. In case folks don't know, not all A-campers drink, and not everyone who abuses alcohol at the gathering is part of A-camp.

No matter what my efforts at making peace, though, this guy continued to rant and rave, making threats against me and my dog. I called for Shanti Sena and worked my way slowly back to the front of my tent, where I collected my other dog (who is pretty deaf and did not know what was going on). He mocked me for calling for Shanti Sena, saying he was Shanti Sena and he was going to cut both my dogs' throats.

A very cool bro named TJ came to my call and sat in front of my tent as I went in and settled both my dogs down. Both of them were on leashes at this point, and lay down quietly at my side. I got my pepper spray out in case the guy decided to rush the tent. Both TJ and I spent some more time trying to de-escalate the guy, to no avail. Several times, we thought he was done with his tirade and was going to leave to go back to his camp, which was at Cowboy Hummingbird's. But each time, he escalated again and kept on threatening. I noticed a few people standing by observing the scene, but no one else came to help, and really, it didn't seem that extreme. It was just one guy yelling, after all.

Suddenly, he called me a fucking cunt and threw a can of dog food at me. It hit me in the shoulder hard. That's when I got pissed off. I told my dogs to stay, and jumped up out of my tent, yelling at him to get out of my fucking camp. He seemed surprised, backed off, and settled down a bit. I shouted at him that I didn't believe my dog had bitten him at all and demanded to see the bite. He said well, maybe she didn't really bite him, she just got his pants leg. I told him to show me where the material was torn. When he couldn't show any sign of a bite anywhere, I kept on yelling at him. (You think Snarla is intense, you should see me when I *really* go off.) I demanded to know his name and where he was camped. He said his name was "Skunk," and he was camped at Cowboy Hummingbird's.

Other folks came running from the kitchen area then, including Bam Bam and Free Feather. Naturally, with an audience he was compelled to escalate again, and I didn't help because by this time I was pretty out of control myself.

So the sisters in the tent near mine mellowed me out. One of them was a first-time gatherer and was a natural at Shanti Sena. Other folks were dealing with Skunk. He'd get almost mellowed out, then go off again. At one point he said he was sorry he hit me with the can, he was aiming at the dogs because they were trying to attack him (not true - they were lying down inside the tent, not moving or barking). But then he'd start shouting again that he was going to come back the next day and kill my dogs.

It took another half-hour before he finally calmed down and went off to his camp. I fell apart and cried on TJs shoulder for awhile, then slowly unwound and hung out with folks. Before I went to bed, I made sure that folks knew that I wanted to deal with the matter in the morning with a Shanti Sena Council; that I didn't want to press charges, but that I wanted Skunk to leave camp. (The worst punishment, I feel, is banishment). I was aware that there might folks in camp who when they heard what happened would be tempted deal with Skunk on their own terms. I made sure people knew what I wanted: no vengeance.

By next morning, most of the old Shanti Sena family had heard what had happened, and we set a time to go confront Skunk at Hummingbird's camp with a Shanti Sena Council. One of my dearest brothers was really upset, and clearly wanted to take matters into his own hands. I sat him down and told him how I felt, that I wanted Skunk out of camp, but that I didn't want him hurt in any way. He gave me his word that he would not touch Skunk, and shook my hand on it. I also made sure that my A-camp brothers knew what I wanted.

About a dozen of us went together to Hummingbird's, and talked to the rest of the folks camped there. Skunk wasn't awake yet. Skunk's partners (all of them FTRA - Freight Train Riders of America) listened to what was going on and agreed that Skunk was nearly impossible when he was drunk, but that he had been working really hard at Seed Camp, this was the first time he had gotten drunk, and that he was a really wonderful brother when he was sober. Then we woke him up.

We told him this was a Shanti Sena Council and that this was a serious matter and we needed to figure out what to do about it. He listened, apologised again, saying that he had been trying to hit my dogs. One of the sisters who was standing by the night before repeated to him what she had already told me - that he was looking directly at me when he threw the can, that it was obvious he was trying to hit me. He said he was sorry again, that he didn't hold any anger and that he had no intention of hurting me or my dogs.

I believed him, and I told him so, but asked what was going to happen next time he got drunk. He obviously had no answer to that. By now it was obvious to me that what everyone had said about him was true, that he was a really sweet brother when he was sober, and I was feeling less insistent that he leave camp. But I was still concerned about my safety, and that of others, the next time he got drunk.

Other people spoke up, talking about the need for safety. Everyone sang their heart songs. It became more and more obvious that Skunk really loves the family and wanted to be part of the gathering. I said, well, how about moving to A-camp where he'd be with folks who could deal with it if he got out of line. He said he was really trying to stay sober, and that if he was at A-camp, it would be impossible for him not to drink.

So Free Feather said that in many tribes, if someone's behavior has endangered someone, if that person can find four people to stand up for him and guarantee his good behaviour, the tribe considers that sufficient. Plunker asked if there were four people who would stand up for him, His FTRA family stood up for him, and I told them, here's the deal.

Skunk can't be in the main camp drinking. He can't drink on the road, at the gates, or in bus village. If he wants to drink, he has to do it in A-camp, back in the woods where his agro bullshit would be kept under control. He agreed, and they agreed.

I said I was satisfied. Everyone else in the circle was also clearly satisfied, and most were really touched at the outcome. We all felt really good about how clear we all were about our limits, as well as about how we ended up with a win-win.

We all shared hugs, including Skunk. I met his puppy, and he made peace with my dogs. The bruise on my shoulder faded in a week or so, with no real damage done.

Everytime I saw Skunk after that, he was sober and shining, and we'd hug on the trail. When the permit issue heated up and it looked like we might end up being in a blockaded camp, he proudly told me that he had volunteered to run in supplies on his back over the ridges and through the woods if necessary. He was obviously proud to feel a part of the whole.

There's a lot of irony to this story. Dog protects me from Skunk. That didn't work, so I protect dog from Skunk. That didn't work, so TJ protects me from Skunk, then a whole crowd of people protects Skunk from me. That works. I protect Skunk from possible mayhem from those that love me. That works. Shanti Sena council agreements protect entire camp from effects of drunkenness. Skunk is protected from himself. It all works, in the end.

Interesting that I, who pride myself on doing excellent Shanti Sena with drunks, had no success in doing so when I was at the center of the conflict myself. Interesting that this did not happen in A-camp, and that I saw A-camp as the proper place for someone to be when they are drinking because that is the safest place for them to be. Ironic that I believe this because I know that when someone gets out of line in A-camp, they get thumped. Interesting that I see this as being okay - much like the mutual combat of the Saturday night brawl in the redneck bar - as well as a reasonable self-policing mechanism by the drinkers themselves. Interesting that I see a thumping as being okay when it is an immediate consequence of someone's actions but not okay when it is in vengeance for something that happened before.

WB may say that this story proves his point, but I think the opposite. How the incident was dealt with brought out the best in the Shanti Sena process, allowed the victim (me) to have the power to determine what would make me feel safe, and allowed Skunk to see the error of his ways, to feel valued and loved, and to stay at the gathering sober.

And a very important message was sent out: no violence, no vengeance. And even more importantly, we must work together, calmly and creatively and in love, to find a different way from mainstream society to handle our problems. Sadly, this is not always possible, but in this case we were fortunate enough to be able to work for what I think was the perfect solution.

What a creative solution for safety - his buddies guaranteeing his good behavior. I don't think we've ever used that particular technique before in a Shanti Sena process, and I think it's a good one. Of course, it takes agreement that someone has been out of line, and a committment on the part of those that love him most to follow through. The fact that we formalized it and set clear conditions helped. The four people included a sister, and they all physically stood up for him. It was very moving.

Does anyone think that any purpose would have been served by insisting that Skunk be removed from the Gathering? Does anyone think that any other kind of solution would have been more effective, more appropriate, or more in keeping with the spirit of love and healing at the gathering?

I was really proud to be a part of this Shanti Sena process. It was well worth the bruise. Do I have any after-effects? No permanent physical harm was done, but I do notice a bit of hyper-vigilance on my part at times. I don't feel quite as safe when I am walking alone. I feel a little more vulnerable than I did before. Realizing that the can was only inches away from hitting my face was a pretty traumatic thought, as I could have been seriously hurt if that had happened.

What would I do differently to protect myself if I found myself in a similar situation? I would call earlier and more loudly for Shanti Sena, not assuming (arrogance on my part, I guess) that I could handle it myself. There's safety in numbers, and there's no shame in asking for help. I think this was my big mistake.

In any case, all's well that ends well, and this one really did.

If anyone out there is interested in learning more about doing Shanti Sena on an intensive level (yes, we are all Shanti Sena, but some of us look at it as a way of life and immerse ourselves in it and work intensively with each other on a daily basis), it takes more than a radio. It takes lots and lots of hours working the gates, the road, being available to each other to talk about situations that are of concern to the health and safety of the community. It takes love and patience and a willingness to look at all sides of the question without prejudice. It takes a committment to use all the diplomatic skills you don't have but want to learn. It takes being able to see past appearance and look into the heart of our brothers and sisters. It even takes the ability to deal with law enforcement in a loving and accepting way but without any illusions that they are there to help us.

If anyone is interested, there's endless opportunity. Just start hanging out with those gnarly-looking folks at the gates, in the parking lot, at Welcome Home. If you are looking for sweetness and light twenty-four hours a day, don't bother. If you are looking for the fashionable people, for the glitter hips, for the names in the main circle, don't bother. If you are looking to avoid contacts with drunk or obnoxious people, don't bother. If you want a full night's sleep and a chance to eat regularly, don't bother. If you want to be a goon who muscles people around, *please* don't bother.

But if you want to serve your community, come find us. The rewards are incredible, and indescribable. We're waiting for you, and we want to teach you and learn from you.

Love and light,
Car and Snar