Occupy DC Nonviolence Workshop

This past Tuesday I co-facilitated a three-hour workshop on nonviolence for approximately 40 people who were in town to participate in the Occupy DC demonstrations.  The campaign is organized by a coalition of groups whose agenda and vision can be found on the website, October2011.org.  As the call to action states on the campaign’s website, “October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.  We call on people of conscience and courage—all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment—to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening.  Continue reading to learn more about my co-facilitators and to see the entire outline of the workshop.

I co-facilitated the workshop with three other outstanding trainers.  Tarek Maassrani is a peace and conflict resolution educator and adjunct professor at George Washington University and American University.  I have had the pleasure of co-facilitating other workshops with him in the past.  Arthur Romano is a Kingian nonviolence trainer who has worked with civil rights leader, Dr. Bernard Lafayette.  He is also a professor at George Mason University.  I first met Arthur in Vermont when I attended the National Peace Academy’s Peacebuilding Peacelearning IntensiveNadine Bloch is a nonviolent direct action trainer with decades of experience working with, participating in, and training several campaigns involving various, creative forms of resistance.  Check out this interview I conducted with Nadine back in 2010.

I designed the basic structure and flow of the workshop and then incorporated the feedback from my co-facilitators.  The goal of the workshop was to provide an overview of the theory and strategy of nonviolence.

The objectives of the workshop were that participants will be able to:

  • Reflect on their own understandings of and orientations towards nonviolence;
  • Explore monolithic and pluralistic conceptions of power;
  • Draw strategic connections to and insight from a previous nonviolent movement;
  • Think strategically about the nonviolent campaign in which you are involved;
  • Practice methods of nonviolent direct action;.
  • Use pillars of support analysis to dissect the targets of a nonviolent campaign.

The workshop followed the basic flow below.

1. Facilitator Introductions and Workshop Overview (10 minutes). Facilitators introduce themselves to the group by sharing (a) what we do professionally and one thing we do for fun (b) what issues are of interest to us that this campaign seeks to address, and (c) how we have come to understand nonviolence and any experience we may have with it. These questions should be revealed on a piece of flip chart. One of the facilitators then goes over the workshop schedule – goals, objectives, and outline of the evening.

An organizer for the Freedom Plaza occupation gives an overview of the campaign. (suggested facilitators: Tarek, campaign organizer)

Transition: The facilitators have introduced themselves, so now its time for you all to meet one another.

2. Participant Mingle (10 minutes). Participants are asked to pair up with someone they do not know for 3 minutes. Each person in the pair is given 90 seconds to share their responses to the same questions the facilitators answered in their introductions. (Suggested facilitator: Daryn)

Transition: Now that we know a little bit about one another and what brings us to this workshop, lets reflect on what we’ve shared and what it reveals about our own thoughts on nonviolence.

3. Human Spectrum – Orientations to Nonviolence (25 minutes). On one side of the learning space the facilitators post the word, “principled.” On the other side of the space they post the word, “strategic.” Participants are asked to think about how they responded to the last question in the mingle on why they are interested in the practice of nonviolence and reflect on whether their interest and experience with the practice comes more from a principled (ethical, moral, spiritual) orientation or from a more strategic (pragmatic, tactical innovativeness, effectiveness in waging battle) orientation. Participants place themselves anywhere along the spectrum, ergo if they are somewhere in between the two orientations they can stand somewhere in the middle.

After participants have situated themselves along the spectrum a few are asked to share with the rest of the group why they are standing where they are. Depending on their knowledge and background on the subject, they may also be asked if they can think of a nonviolent movement or leader they think shared a similar orientation to the practice OR the entire group can be presented with the name of a nonviolence leader (Gandhi, King, Suu Kyi, Mandela, Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, etc.) and asked to re-situate themselves on the spectrum based on how they think those leaders were oriented towards nonviolence.

The goal of the exercise is to explore the different orientations people have towards nonviolence and to expose learners to the various reasons people choose to use nonviolence. It is important to mention that several studies and historical analysis, Gene Sharp’s work and most recently the Chenoweth & Stephan book, have shown the most nonviolent movements used nonviolent action for strategic reasons, not necessarily because the leader of the movement of those who participated in it had an ethical or moral aversion to violence. They felt that nonviolent action was going to be a more successful approach to waging their struggle and winning. (Suggested facilitator: Arthur and/or Daryn)

4. Human Spectrum 2 – What is Nonviolent? (10 minutes). Participants remain in the spectrum mode, are provided with a series of scenarios and situations and are asked to organize them in order moving from nonviolent to violent.  Everyone then stands along the spectrum in front of a scenario that they believe represents the line the crosses from nonviolent to violent.  move along the spectrum to represent whether or not they consider them to be nonviolent (suggested facilitator: Tarek)

  • Ignoring an act of violence
  • Shaming or blaming the perpetrator
  • Punishing perpetrators through legal processes
  • Destruction of property
  • Physically harming those responsible for the violence
  • Use of violent language or imagery

Transition: Nonviolence is not only a way of life that can be practiced in all our actions – how we develop and build relationships with other people, what we eat, how we communicate, how we care for ourselves, how we live in accordance with our natural environment, etc. It is also a method of struggle that can wield as much force if not more force than violence. So, how can we start analyzing this specific occupation campaign, the issues it seeks to address, and its impact on systems of power so we can most effectively leverage the power of nonviolence?

5. Monolithic vs. Pluralistic Views of Power (10 minutes). One of the facilitators asks the group to view this workshop as a system of power. They are asked to think about who has the most power in this room and in this context. As each person shares, they explain why they think that person or persons has the most power. Someone will inevitably say that the participants have the most power because they can stop listening to the facilitators or following instructions. This taps into one of the foundational theories of nonviolent power – that being, the ruler cannot rule if the people do not obey. Also referred to as consent-based power, this view of power recognizes that if people change the way they act and shift their behavior patterns they can remove the ability of rulers to rule and can start to dismantle and alter the status quo. Facilitators share a visual representation of monolithic vs. pluralistic views of political power. (Suggested facilitator: Daryn)

Transition: We have looked at the small little system of power present in this very workshop and have even explored some nonviolent tactics to shift power dynamics. But what about the larger systems people have resisted throughout history? How have these principles, ideas, and strategies been applied by successful nonviolent movements?

6. Film Screening – A Force More Powerful: Nashville (25 minutes). Participants watch the Nashville segment from the documentary, A Force More Powerful. Some guiding questions are displayed that relate to the previous exercises. (Suggested facilitator: Arthur)

7. Film De-Brief (35 minutes). Participants reflect on the film by connecting it to pillars of support and tactics. (Suggested facilitator: Arthur)

Transition: How can we start thinking strategically, as nonviolent actors, on ways to challenge, dismantle, and/or change these systems of power that this campaign and those who are participating in it seek to address?

8. Pillars of Support (time permitting). The facilitators choose one of the issues to dissect using the pillars or support nonviolent conflict analysis. Facilitators show that systems of power, be they dictatorships, corporations, laws, etc. – rely of various sectors of society in order to survive. This can be connected to Sharp’s breakdown, which is oftentimes referred to as “pillars of support.” Participants reveal Helvey quote from “On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamentals.” (Suggested facilitator: Daryn)

Transition: Now its time for you all to dissect and analyze some of these other issues in small groups. Please form groups with others with whom you share a concern about these issues.

9. List-Making – Harvesting Campaign Issues (time permitting).  Participants are asked to share what issues have inspired or angered them enough to spur them to participate in this occupation campaign. As the participants share, the issues are written up on flip chart. (Suggested Facilitator: Tarek)

10. Nonviolent Conflict Systems Analysis – Pillars of Support Issue Interests (time permitting). Participants are broken up into small groups, each of which is assigned to a particular issue the occupation campaign seeks to address (healthcare, wars, money in politics, environment, etc.). Each group is provided with flip chat and markers and creates a visual breakdown those issues using pillars or support analysis.

Each of these issues are seen as systems of power much like dictatorships, unjust laws, and/or corporate control of democracy. Strategically, one of the goals of a nonviolent movement is to challenge those systems, forcing them to change, reform, or dismantle all together. (Suggested facilitator: Daryn)

11. Gallery Walk + BREAK (time permitting). Participants are invited to walk around the room and see how each group have analyzed their specific systems of power using the pillars of support framework. Participants are also given an opportunity to get take a brake before returning for the movie. Each group is given 3 minutes to report back to the entire group on how they broke down their systems of power. (Suggested facilitator: Daryn, Arthur, and/or Tarek)

12. Nonviolent Direct Action (35 minutes). Prep for the actual occupation (35 minutes). This piece was facilitated by Nadine Bloch and explored how demonstrators can react when presented with certain situation such as dealing with counter-demonstrators or arresting cops.  She also provided suggestions on how to best occupy space and de-escalate certain situation – standing or sitting in a certain way, linked arms with other people, controlling the tone, pace, and volume of one’s voice, etc.

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One response to “Occupy DC Nonviolence Workshop

  1. Darynn, you have so much to teach on non violent actions and tools that we need you to help us building a better future for Africa.

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