Our PWYC Market is a place of joy, sharing, friendship, and sometimes– conflict

Our PWYC Market is a place of joy, sharing, friendship, and sometimes– conflict

By Amy Rumbolt, Manager, Food Programs & Social Responsibility

Where there are lineups and large crowds it is likely you will also find amplified moods and emotional nuances.

Kazu Haga, teacher of nonviolence and restorative justice, once shared the quote: “Conflict is the spirit of the relationship asking itself to deepen– look at conflicts that surface as an opportunity to deepen in relationship, not to divide community.”

I sat with this quote for a long time after hearing it, observing the places I saw it being activated, deepened, and mismanaged. There was never one story where conflict was opening, nor were there two– often it was many voices, experiences, and truths asking to be seen and heard. I didn’t want us, as an organization that centers around social cohesion, to bypass the opportunity to deepen the relationship with the community at the market and ourselves. So, as a pilot project, last fall I brought on board Kate Matesic as our Market Mediator.

Here’s an interview I did earlier this month with Kate on mediation work, community, conflict, and their experience with all of the above.

Hi Kate-

Amy- How would you like to introduce yourself or how do you identify in this moment? 

Kate- I am someone who is very passionate about advocating for people, especially in disability justice and food access. I am also currently a student at Humber studying social service work. Outside of the work that I do my biggest passion is probably crafting and snuggling with my cat, Bow.

A- Beautiful, thank you for sharing that. Can you tell me what a successful day at the market feels like to you?

K- The days when I can connect with people- so many wonderful people come to the market. So, the days when I can learn about parts of their lives and perhaps even solve a problem for them feel special. 

A- What are one or two skills you currently believe would orient groups towards more easeful communication?

K- Great question- I think the first thing, which always sounds obvious is listening. Opening up your mind or heart to different perspectives and giving someone space to talk while honestly listening to what is happening for them makes a difference. I think people want to be heard and to feel like what they are saying to someone is genuinely being received. When you practice that, you are also open to new ideas for yourself. That’s a significant way for people to feel like their voice matters and it creates such an impact. 

A- How do you foresee mediation (specifically your style) strengthening community-building?

K- I think when I’m looking at programs, such as our (Pay-What-You-Can) Market, and how it’s structured, so much of that experience is about how people relate to one another. If we foster an environment where community members can feel included and comfortable around one another- that already makes a better experience. As a team, we can cultivate more than a transactional feeling or an experience of waiting in line. A lot of the market folks do live together in a community. So, for me to make that connection and support more of a positive experience that may lead to fostering deeper connections between people– is truly building community.

Ultimately, I’m not there to make decisions for anybody else; I’m there to facilitate interactions where folks can feel heard and maybe learn a different perspective at that moment. Hopefully, we can land on some kind of resolution during those situations. That’s how I see communities becoming more comfortable and connected and how to find value in coming together.

A- What are some of your own practices that support you through mediation work?

K–Reflective practice. I think it’s important to take the time to question “Are the things I’m doing working?”, and “How do I feel after each shift?” So before I move on with my day, I take a moment to journal about those things. I flip through it from time and time and it helps bring perspective to the things that I realize are changing, interactions that have gotten better over time, or skills that I feel have improved. 

A- What other practices would you encourage for mediators? Those who are doing the transformative work of holding space or holding change for groups?

K-Being in a community with people doing work in similar roles or having experience in mediation. Having that group to lean into, ask questions, and find support amongst is really helpful. 

A- You mentioned you are passionate about disability justice. How does DJ weave into your community advocacy work? 

K- Looking at most of the groups that we provide resources for, just by the development and landscape of poverty and disability in this province, we happen to have a lot of participants who have disabilities themselves. As a disabled person myself, I want to be a person for someone to express what their needs are. There are so many services in Toronto that are not accessible and have not changed their procedures. Not everyone is comfortable talking about that, however, I am. So it feels important that I leverage my voice to advocate for access needs when I see inequities existing. Or to be reliable and have folks recognize that I will advocate for them, whatever that looks like.

A- As a bonus for readers to learn about– Are there any organizations that we can mention who are strengthening advocacy for disability justice?

K- Yeah, Disability Justice Network of Ontario. They are based in Hamilton but do work throughout the province. They hold all types of events and webinars where you can learn about DJ and how to advocate for people with disabilities. They also center the voices of people with disabilities, which is significant in this work. Their services are wonderful with offerings such as an accessibility library, which fulfills a big gap in our society. So, I definitely want to shout them out. (Find out more about Disability Justice Network of Ontario by CLICKING HERE)

And as a reflection for readers– How are you mediating conflict in your organization? Movement? Life?

Mediation is transformative work and we are in the process of that, both as an organization and as interdependent beings. Thank you to Kate Matesic, the community we learn from and everyone engaged in transformative work.

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