Werner Petterson

3/25/00

Topics Addressed in this interview

Question:
When did you begin working as a mediator at CRS?

Answer:
In October of 1969. I was a Methodist minister in Alexandria, Virginia and left that position. CRS interviewed me in Washington and I took it. It's home for me so I was happy to go back. I had been a minister for about six years and I had been wanting to go in a new direction. I had been active locally in civil rights issues at the time and we had an incident in Alexander, Virginia. It's kind of apropos today because the person who was at the center of the controversy was Mr. H. Rat Brown. He had been arrested at a national airport. He was accused of inciting difficulties in Maryland and Alexandria and was in the jail or holding area for the Federal court. He was brought to Alexander, Virginia and held there in the jail which was right across the street from the Alexander, Virginia Housing Project. That became a rather heated environment for a while because the black residents of the housing project started demonstrating in front of the jail. I went down there to see what was going on and met some people from CRS who were there. In fact, one of the persons was a member of my church and after watching what they did I became interested. I spoke with this fellow member of my church and ended up getting some interviews at CRS and was offered the job in Chicago.

Question:
What was the time period that you were involved with CRS?

Answer:
From October 1969 to June of 1973. 1973 was the point where we had a RIF (reduction in force) at CRS. I chose to leave, I didn't have to leave. I chose to leave and was gone for about a year and a half and then came back to CRS in February of 1975 and stayed with the agency until June of 1997 when I retired.

Question:
Is there anything else that you want to say about what attracted you to CRS? What invited you to work there?

Answer:
Well, I guess it was the times. It was kind of the hype of the Civil Rights Issues and that was what I was interested in. The particular church that I was in was very conservative. I decided it was time for me to be in another environment and CRS looked like the place to be. Within the Methodist Church, we had a thing that's called a reconciliation, and there was some of that going on in the church, but I felt that work with CRS was much more concentrated and focused.

Question:
We know there's no such thing as a typical case, but can you think of one that typifies your work and might be particularly instructive in helping new mediators understand how you did what you did?

Answer:
I'm thinking about this and, I have a case in mind. I'll just say it was a school desegregation case and I was appointed by a federal court judge to work as a mediator in the case to help resolve the case which had been brought by plaintiffs in the city. The other side was the school district.

Question:
Would you start by telling us how you became involved, what types of things you did, how they came?

Answer:
I had read about the case for some time in the local newspaper and there was something in the articles that gave me the indication that the judge handling the case was trying to find a way to mediate it. The words were not in the article, but there was a clear indication that he wanted to find a way short of going to trial to resolve it. So I called the judge's clerk, we don't call the judge directly, but it's really a way of testing to see whether the judge was open. That way also you didn't jeopardize the judge by talking to somebody about the case without the parties being present. I called up the judge's clerk and told the clerk about CRS and asked him to share with the judge on the case the service of CRS. It seemed like less than a day when I received a call from the judge and we spoke more about it. He invited me down to the city to meet with him and with the parties' attorneys. He had made up his mind by the time I got there that he was going to appoint me to the case. So, even though there was some reluctance upon the part of the attorney for the school board about my being involved as a mediator in the case, the judge had made up his mind and he just announced that he wanted the parties to meet with me to try to mediate the case. So after we introduced ourselves, I explained to the attorneys of the parties about CRS and how we operate and about our ground rules. Then I set up a time to meet up with the parties separately at a different time.

Question:
How did you overcome the school board attorney's resistance?

Answer:
Got rid of him.

Question:
How so?

Answer:
There are times that attorneys can be very helpful in a case. At other times they can be more interested in protecting their own turf rather than working for the interest of their parties and it became clear after a while that was the case here. There were indications from the school board that they wanted to work this thing out. The attorney was being very obstinate about it and pretty hard-nosed and he'd say, "No, you should not do this." I asked the school board to select some representatives for the school district and they selected a school board member who was an attorney so that it didn't become necessary for the school board's original attorney to be involved in the mediation. This got the school board involved with a lawyer who could represent the interest of the school district and who was also a prominent lawyer in the city.

Question:
And that was okay that this new representative would replace the old one?

Answer:
No, I don't think anybody knew that's how it happened.

Question:
Well, how did the lawyer know that he was no longer part of the process?

Answer:
All I know is that he was no longer a part of the process.

Question:
Okay, because you spoke to some influential people.

Answer:
An influential person. I don't know what happened along the way, but all I know is that when it came time for the parties to be present that particular individual was no longer there.

Question:
So can you talk about your initial meetings during that intervention? Who did you decide to meet with, and how did you decide to meet with whomever you met with?

Answer:
As I said, I started meeting with the plaintiff's side. Initially it was two lawyers who were handling the case for the NAACP. So they were the people I went to talk to. On the other side with the defendants with the school district; they selected the school superintendent, who was a board member and an attorney. That was basically the team, 2 lawyers on one side, and a lawyer and a school superintendent on the other. I made it clear in these initial meetings that I was going to be talking early on with many parties and people in this community about the issue of school desegregation. I would also ask people where to begin to build some information about where the sentiments and the attitudes of the larger public were around the school desegregation issue. We needed to find a way to involve them in the deliberations. There was no reluctance; they were quite willing to have opportunities for representatives from the community to come before this negotiating team and share their opinions about the school system and what they thought were some answers to desegregating the schools.

Question:
When you say, they were quite willing, who is "they"?

Answer:
These four individuals, two attorneys and the...

Question:
Okay, the teams.

Answer:
The two attorneys and the two negotiating teams, that at times has been a problem, in some situations attorneys like to handle it and they don't like to muddy the waters by having parties enter into the negotiations. Not in that case but in other court cases that I was involved in it got a little heated at times about whether or not clients should be involved in the mediation. My position all along is they've got to be a part of the negotiations. So, in this case they were open to hear from organizations and individuals in the community about their thoughts. There had also been some organizations in this community that had spent some time developing position papers and solutions. In fact one organization actually became the one who had the idea that finally turned the corner on the case.

Question:
So, you had people from the community come and speak to both sides of the issue?

Answer:
Yes, right.

Question:
And when you say enter into the negotiation do you mean that the community people were actually participating in the negotiating itself or were they just sharing information?

Answer:
No, no they were just sharing information with the negotiating team about their thoughts on some solutions.

Question:
Would you talk about how you designed a plan to handle this case? What did you do at what point? Did it work as you had planned?

Answer:
That's a good question. Once I had the parties' acceptance to enter into mediation, in that case hearing from them in these separate meetings and then later jointly, it was clear that we were kind of locked into boilerplate solutions, which is not acceptable to either side. Once I saw that, then I began to talk with people about what some other solutions might be. My approach to mediation is I feel some responsibility as a mediator to be part of finding solutions. I think some would say, no it's really the burden of the parties, but I think at times a mediator has to come up with some ideas to help flush out possibilities. In fact in this situation later on when we were close to finishing the case one of the attorneys before the plaintiffs said that one of the things that they were never sure of was when I would make suggestions, were they coming from the community, maybe they were coming from the other side? As a mediator making a suggestion, I don't mean to cloud or muddy the waters by one side wondering about whether or not what's being suggested is something the other side wants.

Question:
In your mind are these solutions or suggestions different from goals?

Answer:
Well, early on we tried to set goals. To me it was always like finding a common interest so I guess the common interest then becomes your goal. Finding the solutions to those common goals, that's where you're going to deal with a lot of work. Usually a goal is a common interest or can be understood or agreed to. It's the process of how you get to the common interest which really becomes a problem. In this case it was trying to find a plan that would demonstrate that the schools within the city had been integrated. The solution came from an organization within the community. They came up with a plan for how you could determine whether or not there had been a change in the population and the teaching staff of the school district. So the difference was that it shifted away from the school district and it gave the school district more flexibility instead of having to implement specific plans or specific programs. It gave them flexibility on a school-by-school basis. Students ended up selecting some of the schools, and these became special kinds of schools, like magnet schools. Initially they were fighting sides, we're going to chop the school district up this was and that way. We're going to send these kids from this place over to that place. At that point magnet schools had a good track record. By using this system of determining numbers it was given some flexibility but at the same time the school district would be held to some marker on how they were going to bring change and for some reason that solution was what changed the discussion.

Question:
Let me back up a second, how did you determine what your role would be and how was that influenced by the parties?

Answer:
This case was I don't know how many years old. It had been hanging around the courts probably for 12 years or more so there was a lot of history there. Things going nowhere and people fighting back-and-forth in the courts about it and nothing happening. But I think the four people that came together in this negotiating team, two from the plaintiffs and two from the defendants, just clicked and there was not a lot of mistrust. I think they were really sincerely interested in working with each other and felt that they were all sincerely committed to finding a solution.

Question:
And actually that's my next question, how important was it for you to gain the trust of the parties?

Answer:
Oh well, you know probably in almost all cases there's an outsider and you're always faced with that because in most cases people don't know you. At this particular time, and at any time over the history of CRS being a representative of the Justice Department, you were always suspect by somebody and it would depend on the community, depend on the times that would shift, who was particularly suspicious about who you were. The way that you overcome that is just by sitting down and talking with people and demonstrating to them you're committed, you're involved in helping them find a solution. You can be answering questions people have concerns about, if they have any, what they see as leniency on one side or the other. If you try to clear that up they will come to trust you, but it takes some work and preparation. I think over time as they see that you're there to be of help, there are no suspicions about where your commitments are. It's only over a period of time that as people get to know you, those sorts of suspicions get to be set aside.

Question:
What were some specific trust- building strategies or activities that you used when either race, ethnicity, gender, or CRS affiliation was an issue?

Answer:
I would find someone from whatever the community it might be and in this particular situation it was in the black and the white community. I knew that if I would involve the community in this process it would be helpful to have people within the community who knew me, to introduce me to people and become a bridge and to be a patron of what was happening. And in that particular case there was a prominent State Legislator that I had known for many years and he was well loved in the community and became my bridge into that community. There were parts of the community that I needed to have some access to. It was also true on the other side that we were going to want the business community leaders in particular cities to be committed because in this particular city nothing happened unless a "blue book business" leader was being alarmed. So again, it was through someone I had met in the city, in another case, that became the bridge into that organization where I could go over there and speak and talk about what I was trying to do. I could win their support that if we could reach an agreement it was going to be something the business community was going to support.

Question:
In this particular case, this wasn't a community that you lived in. How did you cultivate those networks of people that you could call?

Answer:
I had other cases in this community before so I knew individuals here and there, and that's one of the real things. In that case it was a blessing because so many times you may go into a city and you have no context at all. That really makes it even more difficult.

Question:
In those instances where you don't have any networks or any people to intervene for you how do you build networks, or find them? How do you identify the resources?

Answer:
Well, I think mediation is a lot of work. I think you have to be willing to just talk to a lot of people and as you do, you're not only introducing yourself to people in the community, but you're receiving information that might help find a solution. And so it's just a lot of work and talking to people. I think by helping parts of the community become involved in finding solutions, sometimes what CRS has done is understanding the problem. For some reason the parties never seem to come together, or when they do come together it never goes anywhere and CRS, when it works well, helps things come together and if you can do that, then that in itself gives you a new standing and gives you a credibility that you are able to do something. You were able to bring talks together and just by being able to do that, it adds something to your name. Then you have to continue and show the parties that you're committed to helping them find a solution.

Question:
Going back to this particular case, it sounds like you found it necessary at times to help the parties prioritize their issues.

Answer:
No, in this particular situation because of the people involved they knew more about the priorities that I could possibly bring and I think the priorities were clear. The difficulty was where both sides had their positions, because this had been out there for so long and it had been argued and argued to the point that everybody had their answers. So generally the priorities were in alignment, but they had very different positions about how that priority should be addressed. It became clear that this was getting us nowhere and they realized it. Every time we got into these discussions everything would just freeze up and go nowhere, so it was time to look at other possibilities.

Question:
So they felt that they were at an impasse?

Answer:
Oh, oh yeah.

Question:
Can you describe in this situation how the impasse looked? How did they know that they were at impasse, and how did you know that they were at impasse?

Answer:
Well, when we got into talking about how you were going to change the student population in the school, both sides had their positions about that. I think a lot of it revolved around bussing, and on the part of the plaintiffs that was their solution. The school district was responding negatively to that idea. We just kept rehashing all these old solutions and it became clear that their positions weren't going to get them out of the impasse. At this point there was this idea that had floated around the community and had been proposed by a community organization so one day in a meeting I said, "Well what about this idea?" They said they wanted to talk about it, so both sides and myself just started looking into how this would work, and by the next time we came together they had, on their own, come to see that this would probably be a possibility. So, we set aside all these old positions and started looking and seeing how this would work.

Question:
So the combination of the new idea and your making this suggestion kind of brought that impact?

Answer:
I think so.

Question:
In general in this case, when parties would make demands that you felt or they felt were intractable, how were those resolved? How did you deal with those?

Answer:
We had them because as we tried to apply this solution or this approach, there were many times we came to real impasses because we had to reach a goal that took awhile to get and the point got pretty close and this approach really became a mathematical solution. We got arguing about numbers. Finally we went back-and-forth, back-and-forth, and it wasn't going anywhere -- I finally became an arbitrator. I said, "okay, we've been going back-and-forth on this and I'm going to suggest that you decide to think about this and let me know." Well, one side accepted this and the other rejected it. I said, "I guess we can't get anywhere, so I'm going home."

Question:
Were you really going to go home?

Answer:
Oh, yes I was headed to the airport. Maybe it was like a Friday or something, I don't know, but I had called and left messages at their office. I think it was at the airport that I got a call from one of the sides that panicked when they saw that I was going home. We got together again and after some more discussions we reached an agreement. For that I give to credit to my boss. He always impressed on me that sometimes as a mediator people get to the point that they so rely on you for answers. I guess in this situation by getting involved as an arbitrator I had really taken on that role. So when it appeared that I was walking out it fell back on them. I think what had happened is the two negotiating teams had talked and said we can't just let this collapse and that's why the one fellow called me and said we need to talk some more. I think that something had been said between the parties before the call came to me. They realized that they weren't going to allow a number or two to get in the way of coming up with a solution. That made the difference in breaking an impasse.

Question:
In this case did you ever decide to meet with the parties separately?

Answer:
Yeah. Off and on. This probably went off and on over at least six months so there were times when I would have separate meetings. If there was an issue that we were still arguing over and it didn't seem to be moving anywhere, I would caucus. Sometimes I did it over breakfast to just look at other possibilities. Some of the other things I would do would be to use our resources in Washington and see what other school districts were doing around this particular problem. Or I was talking to other people or organizations that I knew, and this is where I said, "what if we were to try this?" That's where this fellow later on said he never knew about these ideas, we would just talk through the possibility. That would be the only time we met separately was when we were trying to find a solution.

Question:
And you felt that they could not say what they needed to say in the presence of the other party or you felt that you needed to give them some additional information privately?

Answer:
I guess it was a way to just test ideas without the other side being there. They didn't have to second-guess their response. If I say this am I going to be saying something that I'm later going to regret? So by throwing an idea on the table and talking it over, and then giving them more time to think about it, and I would have done that with the other side, by the time we sat down and talked about it together I would know that it was going to go somewhere.

Question:
And in this case, what where the cues that you looked for to say that it was time to caucus?

Answer:
Generally when we were at some sort of impasse and it just didn't seem to be going anywhere around the particular issue. We had so many issues that we were trying to resolve. Some issues were working okay, but then there was always this other piece hanging out there that we were having trouble finding a solution to. Usually it was around trying to find ways to find an answer.

Question:
How about diminishing tension between the parties, what were some of the things that you did to help them feel less tense?

Answer:
I usually try to find a way to, I guess you would say "poke fun," or bring some comedy to the situation. Sometimes I would just tell a joke because at least in this particular situation it was a pretty good relationship fundamentally between the two sides. There was always frustration in the moment about things not moving along. If the opportunity was there I would try, something would be said, and I would try to turn it into a joke, but sometimes it was just time to take a break. Humor, I think, can be a dangerous thing. In that situation, by that time, the relationship was good so that humor could be used, but in other situations early on I would not use humor because I'd poke and say something and they'd think, "that's the silliest thing I've ever heard." You can only say things like that when people know you. Like I say, you just have to take a break. If you're far down the process with tension, then you can take a break and you know that the process will still stay on track. If it's early on, then you know, you have to bring that out.

Question:
Did you ever encounter any (maybe not in this case) situations where there was the potential for violence?

Answer:
In the earlier days when CRS was involved in things on the street as mediators. In that environment there was the possibility of things turning violent. In the kind of mediation that I'm talking about, I think when somebody becomes a part of a negotiating team they have more then just their own interest. They are being a representative for their community and so I think there is a lot of pressure to not do something crazy and jeopardize a larger interest that you are working for. If you're out on the street then anybody can do anything and nobody has responsibilities.

Question:
When you perceived that there might be a significant power imbalance between the parties in this case, how did you intervene?

Answer:
In this particular case, there really wasn't an imbalance. In cases where there are power imbalances, the person(s) in power tries to use the mediation to their advantage and it usually becomes very clear. The other side responds or is hostile and they feel like they are being pushed to the point by somebody who has a little more power. Usually, I try to talk with the person who has the power, to look at where their position is taking them. I say, "if you hold that position and exert your power and not show any flexibility then this thing is going to continue to get worse and we aren't going to find a solution." Sometimes it was a possibility that if we couldn't work something out then there was going to be lawsuit or some sort of boycott or a threat of violence. The person that is in the position of power reflects on where that's going to go. That's been my general response. I talk to the party with the power to point out this will continue to go in the direction they want to go and the downside of that and what are the possibilities of going some other direction. Not to say they ought to accept what the other side is saying, but at least get them off of just being partners in that situation. The other side of the equation is that people have different kinds of power, but for the side that has the least power sometimes being in that situation they make demands that are unrealistic. The other side has such a firm position that you are so firm on going to say out of doing this one stands about as much chance as an ice cube in hell. I ask if we can think of it another way, or if we can talk about some of these other issues. I think when there is a real power imbalance the mediator needs to bring some reality to the situation for both sides. They may not be seeing the best solutions.

Question:
How would you talk about your work, in this case in terms of neutrality, objectivity, and impartiality?

Answer:
After the end of the day you have to be comfortable with yourself and about how you're working in the situation, but that means you have to take time to reflect on what's happening in the situation and kind of how you're responding in the situation. We all have our shortcomings and there can be some people, for me, who are just pure pains-in-the-butt. I have to find ways to deal with that. I have to monitor how I'm handling the situation.

Question:
And how did you manage those situations where your emotions were saying one thing and your sense of reason was saying no you can't say that?

Answer:
Well, I don't know. Probably if you talk to anyone in CRS they will tell you I'm the slowest speaking person on the face of the earth. That may very well be true, but I guess part of my slowness is measuring my words. Maybe I measure my words too much, but even then things will happen where something's going on and you just try to recover. If you've said something or are pursing a direction that's detrimental and is probably screwing up your work, then you need to handle the situation differently. I think there is a lot to be said for two people working in mediation. That was never a luxury in CRS. I mean, for 90% of my cases I was the only mediator, but there is a lot to be said for having two mediators in the situation.

Question:
So it sounds like you had a pretty good sense of when you were veering from being impartial. And there's been a lot of discussion about even whether neutrality is a desired position. Whether you are in fact an advocate. How did you reconcile those kinds of issues?

Answer:
I guess I think you'd have to be comfortable with yourself and doing this kind of work. At the same time being hard on yourself. Somebody else might see that you're not objective in a situation. I think that's always something that for people who do this kind of work, anybody who does civil rights work, there will always be some question there. I don't know how you ever deal with that. You can work on the trust, but I'm not sure that you ever resolve some of these fundamental questions about objectivity.

Question:
Is your impartiality ever challenged?

Answer:
Oh yes.

Question:
And what did you do?

Answer:
I guess I'd try to ask them why they had drawn that conclusion because people have opinions and feelings, but I don't think it does any good to talk about feelings and opinions. I would ask, "what happened that has brought you to that opinion?" Maybe it was something that I said, something I did, other times there was some explanation and that helped clear the air. Sometimes it was just my being a representative of the Justice Department, I mean, there is no way I can rationalize things that the department did in a situation. I think one of the very interesting things that CRS struggled with was that CRS has always been kind of an aberration to the Justice Department. There would be positions the Justice Department would be taking, say school desegregation, or fair housing and I would work out an agreement in federal court and I had questions raised saying, "that's not a policy." I think that's being a mediator within a legal context you're helping parties reach agreements that may be extra legal, and as long as the courts say this is okay then that's the answer. On the other side you are the representative of the Justice Department and people who are involved and invested in issues know what the Justice Departments position is on particular issues. You get involved in the community and people know those positions. They'll have questions about what you're doing.

Question:
Did you ever find that you had to address the fairness of a settlement?

Answer:
No. To me, as long as the parties understood that somebody outside the agreement might say it's not fair and I can't, I don't go there.

Question:
Well, let's move to your favorite topic which is confidentiality. Can you recall a time when assuring confidentiality created any difficulties for you in this particular case?

Answer:
No, no, not in that case at all.

Question:
In general, what assurances did you make to parties about confidentiality?

Answer:
Right up front, I would always introduce CRS and say that we operate under a code of confidentiality. In talking a problem through, I would never represent to one side what I was sharing with them, not unless the parties said it was okay. I would indicate that this idea is coming from another party or that this was some piece of information that was shared with me. If we were working through a problem or we were talking about something, I would ask before I left a meeting, "is this something I can share?" My sense is that if people understand initially that this is the way you operate, they will tell you right up front that this is just for your ears.

Question:
So, you're really talking about information obtained in caucus, as opposed to a general session?

Answer:
Yeah, I think.

Question:
Well how about the media then, was that a liability or an asset? How did confidentiality play into that?

Answer:
I never wanted anything to do with opinion. That's always been a strange issue about contacting the media. I usually didn't want any part of it because they would always end up asking the wrong questions as far as I was concerned. In the case we've been talking about, that was something I think that was settled very quickly because the media was following the case and they knew something was going on. A lot of questions were being asked and telephone calls being made to offices. In most cases it was agreed that I was the mediator in the situation, and we just made it clear to the media that I was the person that they were to contact. The parties, in that case, were good about that. They directed telephone calls or media contacts to me. So in those cases, if there was a role, then I would deal with the media. If I was walking into a situation that was particularly sensitive, say there were demonstrations going on, it was probably my policy to avoid the media. And if they would call in certain situations, I wouldn't answer their calls, because I didn't see that they would get anything positive from me.

Question:
So you didn't see a positive role for them in this particular case?

Answer:
Not really. I'm trying to think of more cases. I think they're helpful when you're trying to reduce tensions in the community then I think it's important to talk to the media at that point. The fact that you're involved in the situation might help reduce tension.

Question:
How did you decide when to end a particular intervention in a conflict?

Answer:
Well I guess when I was clear that the parties were really not willing to find a solution. I wouldn't know what all their reasons for that might be, but as with some time in a situation it becomes clear that the distrust is so hard, or politics in the situation whatever, that it's something where the parties are not willing to find a solution. I think when I came to that conclusion I'd leave. I just set a time when it could be a strategy to get things moving, but as far as just leaving a situation, it's really that I'd come to the conclusion that either one or both of the parties just were not willing to find a solution.

Question:
Okay. What about though in this case, how did you know that it was time for you to depart?

Answer:
I knew it was time to depart when the judge gave the blessing. That's one of the blessings of court cases is that the consent agreement was written and approved by the judge and so I knew it was all over with at that point. In many cases it's when the parties have come to some mutual solution. In court cases, you've got a piece of paper. Sometimes in CRS even without the court you would have something written. Sometimes it was just you and an understanding between parties and there wasn't even anything written.

Question:
Did the court cases have contingency plans, or a plan whereby the parties could come back and revisit the agreement?

Answer:
Oh absolutely, all the consent decrees would have a clause in there that either party could. Well, what we set up was that if there was a problem they would come back to me and we would try to work it out and get over whatever hurdle, but if that didn't work they could always take it back to court.

Question:
So you made the contingency plan?

Answer:
Right

Question:
Did you do any follow up after the cases were done?

Answer:
No, I never did that in CRS.

Question:
How did you judge that you had been successful?

Answer:
As a group, we had been able to come up with a solution. I think when that was used to work through situations that have moments of frustration and failures you see things working out. Sometimes if you're not coming to some solutions then you finally do and people have been able to resolve their differences. I guess that's an obvious measure of success. Sometimes I think you find about your successes later on; I've been surprised at the occasions where I've been involved in a situation and I leave town thinking we've gotten absolutely nowhere. Low and behold two years later you're talking to somebody and they say, "Did you hear about ?" Sometimes even if your successes in the situation might not be at that moment, it might be later on that you discover that some part that you had played eventually bore some fruit. I think it's those times when you've helped people get over their mistrust of one another. I think that the key is to be able to set that aside and talk things through and come up with an answer that they're really committed to. In this case, it was one of those school education cases where things actually worked out. So, when you get people that are really invested and come up with a solution and it's something that they really can agree to and make commitments to it'll work out.

Question:
You feel that the people in this case were invested in the solution?

Answer:
Oh absolutely.

Question:
How did CRS measure success?

Answer:
Probably like any bureaucracy. How many cases you successfully had some agreement on. I remember we did have a training at one time where we generally talked about success. One thing that people quite commonly say is that I manage tense situations very well. People talk about my being a calming presence. I don't respond or get threatened in situations. There have been a few situations where I felt threatened but very few. I think other people can feel threatened in a situation, and if you feel that way then that gets communicated. I think I'm a pretty good listener. I think that's one of the real tricks of the trade in mediation is to listen. In fact, in the case that I was talking about, in a very indirect way one of the parties said something and let me know exactly where this thing was going. If I had missed that, if I hadn't heard that I would have wasted a lot of time and I think maybe it's a way that people test you. That's for some reason what I seem to do very well. Sometimes I hear something, and I think it has to do with something else, and it sets off some thinking and some talking.

Question:
It sounds like you have a sense of, I'll use the word intuitive, an intuitive sense of the process, of people, what they are saying, what they're not saying.

Answer:
Yeah, you know, I think that's one of the things about CRS-- intuition. When most of us started at CRS, I mean all these things we are talking about now or have been talking about recently over the last 10 or 20 years, most of us are flying by the seat of our pants and a lot of it was just pure intuition. The only thing you had were people that had more experience in the situation than you were. There were probably one or two people that had the education to put this in some sort of intelligent form, but most of us were just absolutely flying by the seat of our pants.

Question:
When you started off were you a mediator? Conciliator?

Answer:
Oh yeah, we were all conciliators. When you started you were usually assigned to work with someone that had more time being a mediator. You spend time with them and begin to try it on your own. There wasn't a heck of a lot of training. Some did have some intuition.

Question:
So if you were giving advice to someone entering the field as a civil rights mediator, what are some things you think would be important to be an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
Well, I think on one hand you have to be a historian, you have to try to come to some understanding about what civil rights has been about and what it is today, but get into it with some appreciation for the history. I think that's something we always talked about the last few years that I was in CRS. People are coming into civil rights mediation, as a job, and maybe they're interested in mediation because there are plenty of programs in colleges, and CRS is a place where jobs are offered. So people come in without a lot of history and I think it's important if you're going to be involved in civil rights to have some history and understand what it's all about.

Question:
What would you say that civil rights mediation is about?

Answer:
I guess for me, coming in as a minister, I always thought it was a moral issue.

Question:
A moral issue?

Answer:
There are just some fundamental things that are right. The trick is to find solutions within the mediation process that helps make it correct. I don't know how you'd introduce that into the equation unless somebody brings that to the situation. Nowadays people do enter into the field with a much better understanding and there's a lot more discussion going on about the role of mediation. I think this is what has been talked about over the last few years. This whole thing about transformative mediation within civil rights puts things in a very different light. Civil rights mediation is always within a world of politics, and it's a rare, rare situation where you would have transformation. I think you make changes, shifts in power. I don't know that I understand transformative mediation. When I left CRS I did some interpersonal mediation.

Question:
Do you mean relationship type mediation?

Answer:
Yeah, right. In those situations it would be clearer what the transformation would be, but I think when you move into something with civil rights where you talk about groups of people, politics, and communities, I think in those situations there has been a shift in power or decisions. At the best you've probably helped some group of people, maybe you appreciate a little more the views of others, but I don't think transformation has happened.

Question:
Maybe you're thinking of transformative in a much larger way?

Answer:
Some of the debate, which I think is healthy about understanding the role of mediation, I think is on one hand, numbers mark your success, then you can get into just racking up the numbers. That would reflect upon what's really happening in this situation and I think that kind of debate does help you think about what you're doing. Maybe transformative mediation has a lot of pieces to it.

Question:
Are you mediating now?

Answer:
I do church mediation.

Question:
Anything you feel that if you don't say it you won't be happy and go home and say I should have said that?

Answer:
CRS has had a lot of different roles and situations. At times we were mediators, at other times we were what the agency termed as providing technical assistance. For a lot of my last few years I was in that role of trying to help communities come up with ways of handling conflicts within communities where there were complaints by the community against the police departments. I became quite involved and pretty successful in setting up Citizen Review Boards. One of the problems that you always faced in CRS was I would describe myself as like the Lone Ranger, you would ride into town, spend a day or six months. A lot of people might say who is that man. You are not really a part of the community. CRS was an agency that was always burdened with problems. You might not be able to be helpful because you didn't have the money to go there, or you had other things to finance. I think one thing that CRS was always concerned about was creating things within the community that would help the community solve its problems. I really got involved in trying to work in communities with citizens, police departments, and political leaders about setting up these police review boards so that the community would have a way of participating. I don't know what the last figure was, but I think almost close to 50% or more then 50% of cases that CRS handled over the years were cases involving minorities and the police department. That was always the number one issue. It far exceeded any other complaints. To help communities to come up with ways of responding to citizen complaints about police beatings was important.

Question:
Did you claim that the two time periods that you worked on CRS were, I can imagine there was a big jump, a big change from '75 to '97 involving the changing roles of society and civil rights in the agency?

Answer:
Oh yeah I started out during the days of demonstrations in the streets and so that's what we did. We would respond and go to some sort of conflict that was happening in the streets. That's what we did. We would go into situations and be a presence and reduce the tensions and get people talking. Then of course, in the process we would also help the local communities build their own resources. What happened is we would see communities forming human relation commissions because we had been a part of helping them set that up, and of course they were better able to handle situations so they didn't escalate up to conflicts on the street. I think the community shifted away from demonstrating on the street to taking issues into court. I started spending a lot of time being a mediator in the Federal courts, not so much in the streets anymore, but in the courts. I started '60/'69, the Federal Government was the way to get things answered on civil rights and solutions around those issues really needed to happen at the local level. Then I started getting involved with trying to set up these review boards so that the local communities could form solutions. Taking issues to the federal courts might not have yielded much of a solution. So in this way people themselves saw that they could get things done.

Question:
I guess the final question that I have is whether or not you think CRS involvement might have undercut a minority group? Did CRS undercut the direction or the position that a minority group might have had? Do you think it was helpful, in general?

Answer:
Well, I know there is a debate about the role of mediation-- that it can be a process for selling people out.

Question:
That's what I'm asking.

Answer:
That's what you're asking. Well, I don't have a lot of second guesses about that myself. Second-guesses that somehow, in the process, say the minority community was sold out. My sense of this is that to reach a judgment on that you have to be familiar with what the options of the situation were. Now maybe years later looking at it, in the moment, talking about people get hurt, but later on you get questions about that. That can be a nature defense. To me in situations at the time what options did the minority community have? I think the debate would be over situations where there was a real imbalance of power. In those situation it's always a struggle trying to balance. What can you do in a situation that given the circumstances and resources, you have found the best possibility? In those early situations it was really disheartening. There were some difficult times because people didn't want to change. Sometimes you didn't save the world, but some change happened. I remember reading a book a few years ago where that was talked about. I remember I just became incensed because I think it really did focus on the mediation that had gone on where people had been sold out. You have to treasure this work by the community you're working with. I think one of the measures of it is if the minority community was not supportive of what you were doing, it might last momentarily but it would collapse on it's own. There's nothing other than closed settlements in a lot of work CRS did, it was really agreements which technically had no way of being enforced, so the illegitimate solution would fall on its face.

Question:
Any final comments?

Answer:
No. That was just that one I was thinking about.


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