Nonviolence Presentation at New School of VA

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This past Thursday, my friend and colleague, Althea, and I facilitated a presentation on nonviolence for a group 100 6-12 graders at the New School of Virginia. My friends and former colleague, Travis Cooper, invited us to give this workshops as part of a learning unit he was doing with his students looking at civic activism.

This was a great opportunity for Althea and I to mix concepts from various orientations and conceptions of nonviolence – the ICNC strategic nonviolent action orientation and the Kingian nonviolence orientation.

One interesting comment I heard before we began our presentation was one student saying, “What is this? Is this going to be some kind of college lecture or something?” And, you could tell from his tone that he was not looking forward to the 2 hour experience that was about the begin. Little did he know that we had an experience quite different than just two hours of lecture. Below is the basic outline and description of what we did.

Mini Intros (5 minutes – Althea and Daryn)
Guessing game – Althea and I each provide 3 interesting facts about ourselves and then the audience has to guess which one of us goes with the fact and which one is something we aspire to do or be. It is like two truth and a lie, but two truths and an aspiration instead. (e.g. plays on a soccer team, vegan, lived abroad in Cambodia, ran a marathon, etc.) Students show who they vote for by a round of applause or feet stomping. This is a good way to get them warmed up and get to know a bit about us.

Pre-Framing (5 minutes – Althea)
Pre-framing Q&A to get the students excited about the presentation and gauge their level of understanding and knowledge around nonviolence.

  • How many people have heard of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How many people have heard of the Salt March in India? Mahatma Gandhi? Tahrir Square?
  • How many of you believe that you, as one individual person have power?
  • How many people here have an idea of something you would like to see change in your school or in your community?

We are here to talk about the phenomenon of nonviolent civil resistance, nonviolent struggle, and how ordinary people can and have used nonviolence to create positive social change.

What is Nonviolent Struggle? Definition of Nonviolent Struggle (5 minutes – Althea)
Who/What? Nonviolent struggle is a way for courageous people to fight for human rights and justice using nonviolence. It is a way of addressing problems and conflicts that we see in our schools, our communities, our society without engaging in violence or harming people.

  • It is a force. It is not passive or inactive, but depends on people taking action, nonviolent action.
  • When/Where? Deep history of nonviolent campaigns and movements all over the world.
  • Nonviolent resistance was used to fight of the Nazis in Denmark during World War II.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s the civil rights movement use nonviolent action to put an end to segregation and other unfair and unjust laws affecting African Americans in the U.S.
  • Black South Africans and their allies used nonviolent resistance to fight the system of discrimination and segregation called Apartheid.
  • In Egypt thousands of people used nonviolent action to overthrow their supreme leader Hosni Mubarak who had been in power as prime minister for THIRTY YEARS
  • Over 100,000 Brazilians came out to protest increases in bus fares and won.
  • Important: Nonviolent struggle has a unique view of power. Nonviolent struggles is a new way of understanding how power functions in our individual relationships and in society.
  • What do I mean by this?
  • Misconceptions of power: Oftentimes people think that power comes “from above” and is held only by those who are in a position of authority. The President of the United States has power because he is the most powerful person in the government. Our teachers have power because they are in charge of the classroom and give us our grades. Our parents have power because they have the ability to punish you (no dessert! no TV! no cell phone!)
  • Nonviolent struggle shows how every single individual person has power. Power comes from BELOW! Every person has power, and when people organize and come together around a unified goal, they can combine their individual power into a collective power. But how does this work?
  • How? Nonviolent struggle uses nonviolent actions, tactics, methods, to create change.
  • Worker strikes, boycotts, peace vigils, hunger strikes, street protests, picketing
  • Some of these actions involve not doing something that we usually do. (Strikes, boycotts) Some of these actions involve doing something that we do not usually do. (Demonstrations, blockade)
  • We’re going to move into the next activity, a slide show of nonviolent methods. We’re going to show photos of nonviolent actions, nonviolent tactics, nonviolent methods so that we can see what nonviolent struggle LOOKS like in action.

Nonviolent Methods Slide Show (15 minutes – Daryn & Althea)
Short visual slide show (w/ music) of different methods of nonviolent action that movements around the world have used throughout history. The intent is to expose students to nonviolent action beyond protests and marches and beyond Gandhi and King.

Daryn leads on setting up the slide show and invites students to wave their hands in the air when they see and image that resonates with them or they find inspiring. He also tells the history of the song that is playing during the slide show.

Althea leads on addressing questions students have about specific images that were in the slide show.

“Cross the Line” Violent vs. Nonviolent Tactics and Scenarios (30 minutes – Daryn)
Short exercise exploring student conceptions of what constitutes a violent or nonviolent act when fighting against injustice. We provide a fictional scenario of injustice for them to work with. The intent is for students to start forming a sense of how they would make decisions to fight back without using violence. It is also designed to get students thinking about how different forms of oppressions and injustice may generate a different logic behind deciding whether or not an act is violent or nonviolent, strategic or nonstrategic.

Fictional scenario – the school has just been taken over by a new administration (principal, assistant principals, etc.) and they have made some drastic changes to that way the school runs. First, all classes are now segregated. Students with blue eyes take all their classes together and students with brown eyes take all their classes together. If you have green or hazel eyes, you are no longer allowed to attend the school. Classrooms for students with blue eyes tend to be smaller, less equipped with teaching and learning resources. Classrooms for students with brown eyes tend to be more spacious and always equipped with the most advanced learning tools. Tables in the cafeteria, bathrooms, and lockers are also segregated. The reasons given for this change are that students with blue eyes are not able to learn as much as students with brown eyes and hence are not deserving of the same resources. In addition when students with blue eyes mingle or learn alongside students with brown eyes, it could negatively impact the learning potential of the students with brown eyes. Ergo, students with different colored eyes should be separated from one another as much as possible.

Possible actions to fight against this injustice:

  • Writing of signs and banners (this is a common tactics across all movements)
  • Writing of signs and banners that have curse words or violent imagery on them (e.g. principle made to look like Hitler, F$&K the administration) (This was done during anti-war protests)
  • Blocking traffic from getting into the school parking lot (this was done in Montreal)
  • Sit-in at the principle’s office (this was done at Dartmouth for Divestment and during anti-apartheid struggle)
  • Walk-out of school (this was done in Chile)
  • Destroying the classrooms for the blue eyes students so the only place left to learn is in the brown eyed students classrooms (this was done during WWII when Danes resisted Nazi occupation)
  • Spraying graffiti symbols on the walls of the school that show all eye colors learning together (Otpor did this in Serbia with the fist)
  • Throwing rocks and stones at the principal’s car when he/she comes to the school (this is done in Palestine to resist Israeli occupation.
  • Non-cooperation with segregation rules. Brown eyed students go and sit in the blue eyed student classrooms and visa versa (this leads to expulsion of blue eyes students, though).
  • Going on hunger strike and refusing to eat anything until the school is desegregated. (this is currently going on at Guantanamo Bay and in California prisons)
  • Setting yourself on fire or “self-immolation” to protest the injustice (this is being done in Tibet and was done in resistance to the Vietnam War in Vietnam and in the United States).

Principles of Kingian Nonviolence (40 minutes – Althea and Daryn)

Have somebody read the principle out loud & tell the group what they think it means followed up expanded explanation.

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Principle 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people

  • It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
  • Have you ever seen somebody being picked-on and bullied? Have you seen somebody stand-up for the person who was being picked-on? Took a lot of courage?
  • Nonviolence is not passive, it is active, it can be strong and assertive.
  • Where violence disables people, nonviolence can bring out the hidden creative talents and capacities that individuals possess.
  • Nonviolence is the weapon of people with strength of character who wage struggle with moral and spiritual forces.
  • It is not the only courageous path, but it is lasting. The scope is unlimited.

Principle 2: The Beloved Community is the Framework for the Future

  • The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciliated world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
  • The overarching goal, the best outcome of nonviolent resistance, the physical manifestation of nonviolence and reconciliation.
  • The goal is not to humiliate your opponent but to win them over to a new view.
  • BC: Everyone can live up to their full potential. Every human being can contribute to change.
  • The Beloved Community concept means that we must begin living now as we think society ought to live in the future.
  • Is it possible to attain a Beloved Community?

Principle 3: Attack Forces of Evil, Not Persons Doing Evil

  • The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.
  • When somebody has the flu, we don’t attack them, or blame them for it, we treat it with medicine
  • Violence is like a contagious disease. We must change the conditions rather than attack the people carrying out the injustice.
  • We want people to become engaged in self-realization, growing to understand they have the ability and responsibility to help correct unjust situations.
  • In the civil rights movement, nonviolent resistance was a way of addressing the issue of segregation, without attacking the individuals who were carrying out the practice of segregation. E.g. Rosa Parks did not attack the bus driver, her actions confronted the issue of segregation.

Principle 4: Accept suffering, without retaliation, for the sake of the cause, to achieve the goal

  • Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.
  • Suffering can be redemptive and help grow the movement and give it strength.
  • We are not accepting suffering for the sake of suffering. It does not mean somebody should stay in an abusive relationship or accept bullying nor become a victim.

Principle 5: Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence

  • The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.
  • What methods or practices can be utilized to maintain high levels of spirit and morale?
  • Avoiding internal violence is not allowing others to cause you suffering – strength & power.
  • Music and singing was an important part of the civil rights movement. Served many important purposes.

Principle 6: The Universe is on the side of justice

  • Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe. The fundamental values in all of the world’s great religions include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the end.
  • How does MLK, or anyone, know this?
  • Truth is universal. Human beings are oriented towards justice. Faith, belief in the power of love

Get the students into 6 groups, each group is given one of the principles and asked to create a human sculpture that depicts that principles.Each group is then called to the front of the room to pose in and show their sculpture while the rest of the students move around to observe and notice the 3-dimensional sculpture, guessing which of the 6 principles that sculpture is trying to depict.

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Debrief with discussion on how these principles can be applied at the micro (personal) level and macro (movement/international) level. Daryn and Althea provide context and stories about how each of the principles play out in our day-to-day lives

Small group discussion and group “commitment” to an act of nonviolence that week (15 minutes)
Small group discussions on how they can start incorporating some of the principles of Kinginan Nonviolence into their daily lives.

Each of the 6 sculpture groups decides on one thing, one action, that everybody in that group can commit to doing in the coming week to incorporate nonviolence into their lives.

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