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Nonviolent Tactics Workshop

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This is a 'standard' or generic workshop but there is no such thing as a 'standard' person or group! In other words, it may well need to be adapted to fit a particular group or situation. And if the initial working through the typology of nonviolent action is not to be both boring and mystifying it needs some knowledge of the work it is taken from (Gene Sharp's 'The Politics of Nonviolent Action') or of nonviolence and nonviolent action in general, and an anecdotal style which will help people relate to the examples given.

The 'risk list' is a critical aspect of the workshop. People have to be happy with what they are doing or going to do, whether it be perfectly legal or perfectly illegal, risky or risk-less. They have to be happy that it is something which they have chosen to do and are willing to take any consequences arising from it. If starting off on a campaign it is better to start low-key and build up confidence with small, easier actions than start with a blockbuster of an action which goes wrong and demoralises everyone.

Items 1 - 4 below are preparatory to items 5 and following. The idea is to first expand people's concepts of what it is possible to do, then get them to look at the kinds of things they would personally be prepared to do, before focusing specifically on the campaign object and brainstorming ideas for that. These ideas can then be processed and used as appropriate.

This workshop can be used early on in a campaign to help look at what tactics and actions might be useful; it can be also utilised in a campaign going for some time which is getting a bit bogged down and needs some fresh ideas for things to do.

If looking for a facilitator to do a similar workshop with you (possibly as a co-facilitator if you'd like to do it yourself but would like support) you can contact INNATE.

Time: 2 - 3 hours.

Venue: A comfortable room to fit participants if possible in a semi-circle; anything less than 8 people will make it more difficult, anything over twenty or thirty likewise (because it works mainly with brainstorming, information sharing and one-to-ones the numbers are fairly adaptable). Plan a break at some stage if you feel it might be needed.

Needs: Flip chart and good legible markers.

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1. Welcome, Introductions, Agenda

Playing some taped music can be a good way of making a relaxed start as people arrive. Have an icebreaker game if you feel you need it and it would fit the culture of the group.

If everyone definitely knows everyone else you can dispense with introductions but it is possible that some people may know faces and not names; it is better for a facilitator to err on the side of unnecessary (but fairly short) personal introductions than to leave people wondering who other people are. An opening circle can invite people to share their names, a slightly humorous, human detail (e.g. what they like for breakfast) and/or an answer to the question 'why are you here?' (in not more than 3 sentences!).

Along with a warm welcome to everyone, the facilitator(s) needs to take people through the agenda and check how people are for time (when they need to leave or want to take a break). A summary agenda should be written up for people to see, or given as a handout.

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2. Subject Setting
It may seem 100% clear why people are there but the facilitators need to closely define what is being collectively explored, e.g. 'opposing mining' or 'opposing the incinerator' may seem clear enough but it is better to get agreement on a tighter definition of what is being campaigned on - 'opposing gold mining in Co Tyrone' or 'opposing the waste incinerator in Co Kildare' would be better. If the issue is proposed in positive terms, e.g. 'Promoting sustainable waste management systems in Ireland/County X/City Y' it is even more important to pin down the aims because otherwise it can be so generalised as to be difficult to work with. The subject as defined becomes the topic for the brainstorm in item 5 below.

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3. Typology of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action
(This is included in the appendix, item 9. A sheet listing them in two sides of A4 is also available from INNATE, as is a 4-page review article on Sharp's book which includes a list of Irish examples cited by Sharp; please send sufficient postage to cover costs to INNATE, 16 Ravensdene Park, Befast BT6 0DA, Northern Ireland)

Everyone needs to be provided with a copy of the list of 198 methods.

There are different ways of using this. One suggested way would be:

Allow people 5 - 10 minutes to glance through it (explain it's only to glance through and you'll be working through it more thoroughly)

Work through the list giving relevant or interesting historical examples from Gene Sharp's book "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" and personal anecdotes from your experience and knowledge. It is a long list! Go too fast and people won't pick up what they might, go too slow and you'll probably have most people asleep. A reasonable aim - if you have the background info - is to work through the list in 30 minutes or a maximum of 40 minutes.

A 'run through but stop me if you want' method is to read each item, give maybe one or two quick examples for each section, and let people ask if they're particularly interested in some of them or don't understand something. If possible get to grips with Sharp's book so you can help people's understanding. Some of the distinctions between examples, e.g. types of strike, are very small and need not detain people.

Literacy is usually assumed in Ireland but there may be a person or people in the group who have dyslexia or problems with literacy. So make sure you read out each item when working through it and be sensitive to this issue.

There are a couple of other points you need to think about and be aware of. Not all of these examples are ones you might consider 'positive' or even 'nonviolent'. This is one list, compiled almost thirty years ago by one US American nonviolent academic. It could also be 1001 methods or 1,000,001 methods; it could be expanded and revised lots of ways. Another point is to think of the cultural connotations of different actions in different cultures; 'mooning' (exposing your buttocks), for example, may be a negative expression everywhere but its shock value and message might be different in a western youth culture to, say, China (Sharp gives a Sino-Soviet example).

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4. Risk List
Ask each person to think of 10 - 20 examples from the list which they could fit into three different categories:

I could/would never do that

I would like to be able to do this if I had the necessary support

Things I do anyway or could easily do.

They can jot down examples fitting into the 3 categories. Give people 5 - 10 minutes to complete this task and check that people have had enough time.

Then pair people off, one to one, preferably with people they don't know or know less well (this helps overcome inhibitions but also gets people talking in depth with others in the group they don't know). Ask them to share, for two or three minutes each way, with comments on their list; the kinds of things I could and couldn't do, and why. One person speaks and the other listens; explain that it is a speaking/listening exercise not a discussion (the 'listener' can ask questions if there's something they don't understand). After a couple of minutes ask pairs to swap around the speaking and listening roles as soon as they are ready. Call time after another few minutes.

In this listing exercise it is probably list 2, 'Things I would like to be able to do with support' , that is most important (i.e. may contain the most exciting ideas) but list 3, 'Things I do anyway or could easily do' may be important too. List 1 on what people consider impossible need not take too much attention except where an idea might be more possible than people think or possible when people gain more confidence.

When people have finished doing this exercise in pairs you can bring everyone back together and ask people to share on the kinds of things they themselves were happy, or unhappy, to do, and why. It may be useful to check out with one or two people beforehand that they would be willing to share in case no one volunteers straight away. You could spend fifteen or twenty minutes in this plenary discussion, time permitting, before moving on to the brainstorm. You can write anything worth remembering on the chart or simply make notes for future reference.

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5. Brainstorm on Topic
You've set your topic (item 2 above). List it on a sheet. Then brainstorm ideas for tactics/actions in relation to it. Note; there are many forms of 'brainstorming' practised but it's best to be clear that anything suggested will be written down - serious, amusing, bizarre, illegal - and that assessment or comments are not done until afterwards. What you are creating is a 'safe space' for people to come out with zany (or even boring) ideas which they might be afraid to suggest in other circumstances but which in this situation could be expressed - and could prove to be imaginative, creative things to do.

So - let people shout out ideas, write them down as fast as you can, try to get a momentum going. Don't let people comment on the suggestions (a polite request that comments can be made later is sufficient if people do start to comment). If it gets slow try a bit of patience; if necessary mention certain categories of actions people may not have thought about, either as a spur to other people's thinking or as your contribution to the list (i.e. write down the thing you suggest). If there's silence for a while but you think it could go further, try to make people happy with the silence if people are still thinking. It's a matter of judgement when you've got enough ideas to work through and people have run out of suggestions. When you have filled a sheet, tear it off the flip chart and stick it up with blue-tack so all ideas are still visible.

Depending on time and the nature of the topic, you can deal with the resultant list in different ways. If really stuck for time you could leave it at that and come back to work through it or have a smaller group (e.g. committee) work through it though this would not be recommended. You can work through the list one by one and invite comments and explanations where necessary. Or you can (faster than the last) ask people to prioritise by being able to 'vote' for three ideas (or four, or five, or however many you think appropriate but not too many) that they think might be runners. Then simply count and write beside them the number of 'votes' for each item. This doesn't mean that the idea with the most votes 'wins' and is the one to do; it's a 'straw poll' to indicate support for ideas - it should indicate a number as 'possibles' to be looked at. It will prioritise the list quickly; allow people a minute or two to think first, explaining what you're doing clearly.

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6. Further Consideration and Conclusion
You have a list and comments and/or an indication of how important the group felt each item could be. But that is not enough. How do suggestions fit into your overall strategy and the image you are trying to create for your campaign? Are they appropriate for what stage your campaign is at? Would enough people do what is required and are there risks attached? If a proposed action is illegal or may receive a negative response, will people be prepared (in every way) for that?

In Northern Ireland you also need to consider whether an action could be considered 'sectarian' or reinforce sectarian perceptions; if so (considered by whom?) you may want to analyse its aims further before proceeding. It doesn't mean you shouldn't necessarily do something but it is a 'beware' signal. There are other factors which should similarly be taken into account, e.g. racism or sexism.

If time permits you may be able to assess ideas at length, if necessary breaking up into small groups. But even if you do, and unless time is pressing in terms of the need to 'do' an action, you may be wise to revisit the suggestions and proposed actions at a subsequent meeting. In other words, allow people to sleep on it. Hopefully you will have generated a good, creative atmosphere in the workshop and got a momentum going; the resultant ideas still need to stand up in the cold light of the next dawn. And be acceptable to others who might not have been at the exploration of possible actions.

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7. Workshop Review and Assessment
Before you end off your workshop, have some way of concluding it. A quick 'round' of everyone can give a good feeling of solidarity and a suitable way of marking an end. You can ask people - Any quick comments on the session (two or three words)? Anything you especially learnt? Anything you want to follow up? But keep it quick and light if possible, people have probably put in a good workshop's work.

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8. Revisiting and Fitting on to Ongoing Work
Don't tuck your list up in a file and let it go to sleep. Revisit it periodically to think - is there something more we can pick up at this stage? It could form an 'ideas bank' to help keep things moving along.

Anyhow, good luck and good campaigning. If you need any help with the above, please contact INNATE.

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9. Appendix: 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action
Taken from Gene Sharp's ‘The Politics of Nonviolent Action’, 3 volumes, 1973, Porter Sargent, Boston, 902 pages, ISBN 0-87558-070-X. Please note that USA English spellings and terms are used in the following list as in the original.

Very limited annotation has been added in brackets "[…]" where a term may be unclear or misleading to a general reader; the usage is quite clear in the book (volume 2 contains details and extensive historical examples). A few notable historical examples have also been added here, again in brackets, but this does not do justice to the breadth of the original and is done because of the difficulty you may have in getting hold of the book. Examples marked * are not from Sharp's book.

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Copyright INNATE 2016