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How movements build strength through training

Waging Nonviolence -

It’s no accident that much of the leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, came from the Nashville, Tennessee sit-in campaign — and that SNCC’s young people were frequently pace-setters in the civil rights movement. We can even now watch a short film documenting the process: the careful, step-by-step training workshops led by the Rev. James Lawson for black students.

A similar under-the-radar training process preceded the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. That struggle gave us a new term for nonviolent struggle: “people power.” A violent insurgency had been going on for years in the Philippines, but Marcos — with the help of the United States — had been able to contain it. He was not, however, able to hold back a nonviolent direct action campaign and was ultimately forced to flee to the haven of the United States.

It’s not that movements can’t win without building in a training dimension. The Global Nonviolent Action Database includes successful direct action campaigns dating from times before training, as we know it, had been invented. Even then, however, innovative leaders sometimes developed an equivalent when they knew they were facing a tough opponent.

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  • Who was Badshah Khan?
  • One such example is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a leader from what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, who wanted to free his Pathan people from the British Empire. From watching Gandhi’s “experiments with truth” in the region south of him, he could see the potential of nonviolent struggle even when the British troops came down hard on Indian Hindus. He could expect that the British would be even more violent against Muslims like himself. There are, after all, shades of racism and prejudice.

    So he organized marching drills for his nonviolent army, who he called the Khudai Khidmatgar, or Servants of God. Although it wasn’t like the role-playing that Rev. Lawson later used, it probably helped bolster their confidence and solidarity in two ways. First, the strenuous marching helped strengthen their ability to withstand violence. Second, it enabled them to practice their unity and commitment to nonviolence — which in turn would reduce, though certainly not eliminate, the level of violence levied against them.

    And so it proved to be. A British journalist reported harsher repression used against the Pathans than the Hindus — “wholesale shootings and hangings.” Nevertheless, the nonviolent movement stayed the course, and the British retreated. Gandhi later praised the Pathans’ role in helping to throw out the mightiest empire the world had ever known.

    People of color and the choice of nonviolent struggle

    One function of training is revealed by these examples: It reduces the effectiveness of violent repression from the opponent.

    In this article, I intentionally cite campaigns by people of color. The Global Nonviolent Action Database tells hundreds of stories of wins by peoples of color. One reason people of color so frequently choose nonviolent confrontation is that it offers that chance to win, while also lowering the amount of violence from the opponent — as compared to what happens when violent means are chosen.

    The database has a searchable field showing whether the opponent uses violence to try to shut down the campaign. Although there are cases in which opponents don’t use violence, it does show up frequently. Training helps campaigners get ready for the possibility, and one problem that’s tackled in training is the problem of fear.

    In struggles between people of color and white opponents, the people of color often have a history of white violence against them, giving them every reason to bring to their campaign a level of fear. The sit-in organizers of the civil rights movement had to take that into account.

    Danny Glover’s excellent film “Freedom Song” shows graphically how SNCC’s training worked to support young people to face the near-certainty of white violence with the expectation of winning and the ability to handle the pain that may accompany the struggle. It’s not unlike people who train for athletic competition: Pain is inevitable, and it’s the conditioning of mind, body and heart that makes winning possible.

    To my surprise I got a personal glimpse of this on a trolley ride in downtown Philadelphia many years ago, when my son was 12 years old. I started a conversation with a man on the seat beside us. He, warming to my black son, said, “You know, when I was your age I did the best thing I ever did in my life!”

    Peter leaned in, his eyes intent on the man’s.

    “I’m from Birmingham,” he continued, “and I was in the children’s march with Dr. King! That was some heavy shit, man. One day firefighters came along with the police and got out their hoses and shot water at us to stop our march.”

    The man chuckled when he saw Peter hold his breath.

    “Yeah, they got me. That water just knocked me off my feet. You’ve never seen anything like it. All of us just got knocked over. Well, the hoses didn’t get everybody — they started singing ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!’

    “But some of us were hurting and most of us were soaked. So you know what? The next day we did come back — even more of us kids, and some grown-ups there, too.”

    Peter looked at me to see if he should believe this fantastical tale. I nodded, realizing that we were hearing one of the most dramatic stories of the civil rights movement.

    “Were you hurt?” Peter asked.

    “Nah, just some bruises,” the man said. “We just came back the next day, even though now we knew what was goin’ down, and some of our parents said no but we did anyway. You know, going down singing that song about not being turned around.”

    “Did you get any training before you started your day’s march?” I asked the man.

    “Yeah, we had to have that, because we met first at the Baptist church, and Jim Bevel and other grown-ups trained us to be nonviolent no matter what happens — police dogs or whatever.”

    He smiled proudly. “We were brave, man, and I’ll remember those songs forever. Shit, we won that battle!”

    Glancing up, the man saw his stop was coming, jumped up, gave my son another smile, and gave us a wave as he got off the trolley.

    I finished the story for Peter: The young people won that particular battle in the 1963 Birmingham campaign because the day came when police commissioner ”Bull” Connor ordered the firefighters to turn on the hoses — and the men refused.

    The white economic elite began to negotiate with the campaign leadership and forced politicians to make an agreement. Birmingham, Alabama, in the heart of the confederacy, began to desegregate.

    A new training workshop for this political moment

    The struggles for justice in many countries are facing critical political situations that require additional skills — more than just the kind of tactical training discussed here so far. Those struggles also need organizational training, which shows how to build effective, diverse, leaderful groups and grow the kinds networks and coalitions that can scale up. In societies that are polarizing, such as the United States and Britain, these skills are especially useful because movements can grow rapidly under these circumstances. One organizing resource in this area is something I co-authored with Berit Lakey and others, called “Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership: A Guide to Organizations in Changing Times.”

    Along with organizing skills and tactical strength, we need the ability to strategize for nonviolent direct action campaigning. After all, successful nonviolent movements generally use campaign technology to win. The Global Nonviolent Action Database is based on campaigns, along with books like “This Is an Uprising” by Mark Engler and Paul Engler, and “Why Civil Resistance Works” by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan.

    Many well-informed people who participate in protests, however, have no idea that there is such a thing as direct action campaign technology — let alone that winning depends on understanding and using that technology well. This means vast reservoirs of energy and talent aren’t being fully used.

    When I woke up to this realization, I invented a new, brief training that introduces people to campaign technology. I’ve tested it 15 times, on both coasts and the Midwest, with people active in racial and economic justice, climate, immigrant rights, affordable housing, indigenous rights, healthcare and other issues.

    People reported more clarity and increased ability to see the possibility of positive change. They especially appreciated the easy-to-remember framework for formulating a winning campaign, and that it made strategizing more accessible. Some found that the workshop put them more fully in touch with their own strength and power.

    I’ve decided to turn this training over to those who can help spread it further. Two educational centers — Pendle Hill (near Philadelphia) and The Resource Center for Nonviolence (in Santa Cruz, California) — are now sponsoring workshops that train other experienced facilitators to lead my training.

    Successful movements have a learning curve

    As far as I can tell from six decades of studying and participating in movements, the most successful ones excel in learning from their unfolding experience. Those that value empowerment of their participants like to find ways to build the learning curve of the “troops on the ground.”

    In the 1930s, training resources in the United States included the Brookwood Labor College. The Highlander Research and Education Center came along around that time and continues today. In the ‘60s new ones appeared, including the Martin Luther King School for Social Change, where I once taught. Now there are still more, including Momentum, Wildfire and Training for Change. At a time when even movement media soak us in bad news, it’s all the more important that we remember to build our resilience and keep on learning.

    Extinction Rebellion activists convicted of public order offences

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Three protesters found guilty despite intervention of shadow chancellor in their support

    Three Extinction Rebellion activists involved in protests in central London in April have been convicted of public order offences at a trial which heard a message of support for them from the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

    The men were among more than 1,000 people arrested during the environmental group’s demonstrations – which caused large-scale disruption in what organisers described as the biggest act of civil disobedience in recent British history – but are the first to have gone on trial with legal representation.

    Related: Two-thirds of Britons agree planet is in a climate emergency

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    Protesters defend sacred 800-year-old Djap Wurrung trees as police deadline looms

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Victoria police circle ahead of slated bulldozing of more than 260 trees that are significant to Aboriginal women

    A standoff between authorities and hundreds of protestors trying to protect sacred trees in western Victoria could come to a head on Thursday night as a police evacuation deadline looms.

    More than 260 Djap Wurrung trees that are 800 years old are slated to be bulldozed to make way for a 12km duplication of the Western Highway between Buangor and Ararat.

    Related: The government wants to bulldoze my inheritance: 800-year-old sacred trees | Nayuka Gorrie

    Spending another night on Djab Wurrung country. @danielandrewsmp @jacintaallanmp @vicroads if you’ve ever paid respect to traditional owners of the kulin nation, this is what that actually means. Listen to the elders. #djabwurrungembassy #notreesnotreaty #alwayswasalwayswillbe

    As day turns to dusk the traditional custodians are holding the ceremony in front of a crowd of hundreds #DjabWurrung

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    Australia's climate change inaction is now bipartisan. Protest is all we have left | Jeff Sparrow

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Queensland Labor gearing up to criminalise activism is only a taste of the kind of intimidation that’s likely to come

    “Even though I was the one who had been assaulted, I was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. […] I will never forgive or forget what came next. I was ‘verballed’ by the police who manufactured the most incredible statements about the whole thing.”

    That was Peter Beattie, who would later become ALP premier of Queensland, detailing his treatment by police during anti-apartheid protests against the South African rugby team in July 1971.

    Related: Queensland police to get new powers to search climate change protesters

    Related: Some ‘sinister tactics’ those brave protesters in Queensland could have used but also didn’t | First Dog on the Moon

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    'Bunch of bedwetters': Matt Canavan attacks Aurecon for cutting ties with Adani

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Resources minister defends his extraordinary spray accusing engineering firm of being ‘weak as piss’ and giving in to anti-coal ‘bullies’

    The resources minister Matt Canavan has defended an extraordinary spray against engineering firm Aurecon over its decision to sever ties with Indian energy company Adani.

    Canavan had labelled Aurecon’s decision “weak as piss”, and on Thursday rejected claims from the Greens that he is a hypocrite for using public pressure to bully the company while criticising anti-coal activists.

    Related: Global engineering firm Aurecon cuts ties with Adani amid pressure from activists

    Related: Six sentences of hope: Defining a unifying vision in the face of the climate crisis | Richard Flanagan

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    Former Bury FC director chains herself to drainpipe to save club

    The Guardian | Protest -

    The club will be expelled from English Football League unless it provides evidence of solvency

    A former director of Bury FC has chained herself to a drainpipe at the club’s stadium in a bid to save the beleaguered team from impending extinction.

    The club, one of the oldest in the league, is due to be expelled from the English Football League (EFL) on Friday unless it can provide financial information showing that it can pay its debts and adequately function.

    Related: The Fiver | This whole sorry saga at Bury

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    Extinction Rebellion protests had public support, Met officer tells court

    The Guardian | Protest -

    London protests were disruptive but made rational case, officer tells court where three activists are on trial

    A senior Scotland Yard officer giving evidence at the first group trial of Extinction Rebellion activists behind mass protests in central London said the demonstrators had provoked “soul searching” and proved articulate and rational as they made their case.

    The protests, in April this year, had found support even among the public facing severe disruption from the demonstrations, he said.

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    Council ban on protests outside abortion clinic upheld by appeal court

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Anti-abortion activists argued Ealing’s buffer zone for Marie Stopes clinic was unjustified

    Anti-abortion activists have lost a court of appeal challenge against a council’s decision to ban protesters from gathering outside a clinic in west London.

    Judges on Wednesday dismissed an appeal against an earlier ruling that the restrictions imposed by Ealing council outside a Marie Stopes clinic were justified.

    How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

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    Ignore the sneering: young people’s rage is an age-old sign of failed politics | Fiona Sturges

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Like the rockers and ravers before them, this generation treats the choices of their elders with alarm

    In the documentary Everybody in the Place, the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller delivers a talk to a group of sixth-form politics students about late-80s acid house in Britain. As well as documenting the massive cultural changes that took place, he draws a clear line between the decline of industrialisation, the miners’ strike, sound-system culture and the rise of dance music. As Deller shows old footage of whey-faced ravers in bucket hats and sports gear dancing in fields and warehouses, the students look on with a blend of bafflement and fascination. It’s weird, one of them says, that no one has a phone.

    Another film, also out now, reports on a youth movement born from political and social disenfranchisement, and a desire for a new way of living. Woodstock – Three Days that Defined a Generation tells the well-documented story of the hippy era and the 1969 music festival that took place in the shadow of Vietnam and civil rights unrest. “We were looking for answers,” says one attendee. “We were looking for other people that felt the same way as we did … If 400,000 people could get together and have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like we could bring all of that love back into society – and change the world.”

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    Queensland government accused of 'fabricating' claims about climate activists

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Exclusive: Premier claims Extinction Rebellion using ‘sinister tactics’ such as traps, but police have never laid charges with such an offence

    The Queensland government has been accused of “fabricating” claims about climate activists setting booby traps to justify a crackdown on escalating protests, including using images more than 18 months old as evidence of the new allegations.

    The state premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, on Tuesday announced that police would be given new powers to search anyone suspected of carrying “locking on” devices, which delay the removal of protesters during acts of civil disobedience.

    Related: Queensland police to get new powers to search climate change protesters

    Everyone has a right to peaceful protest.

    They don’t have a right to put others in danger.

    This is why we’re acting against extreme forms causing harm. #qldpol

    Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

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    We must never forget Peterloo | Letters

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Readers suggest ways to commemorate the Peterloo massacre on its 200th anniversary

    Your coverage of the 200th anniversary commemorations in Manchester of the Peterloo massacre was superb (Peterloo protesters turn focus on modern inequality and need for reform, 17 August). Can I add one thing? I wish to suggest that the most effective and completely unmissable way to commemorate the event, crucial as it is in any narration of democratic progress in this country, would be to change the name of Manchester Piccadilly railway station to Manchester Peterloo station. The change would cost next to nothing. But it would put the name Peterloo on millions of train tickets and timetables bought and carried by millions of people every day, and would have the name, hence the event it commemorates, boomed out across station platforms across the whole country.
    Michael Knowles
    Congleton, Cheshire

    • A simple but effective way to keep the memory of Peterloo alive would be to rename St Peter’s Square “Peterloo Square”. In addition, removing the saint’s name from the square would be a useful nod to our multicultural city and its declining Christian dominance.
    Craig Wright

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    Brexit threatens our democracy – can the spirit of Peterloo help us through? | Mike Leigh

    The Guardian | Protest -

    We may not have to fight for the vote. But the deceit that led to the referendum result is a historic betrayal

    Monday 16 August 1819 was a beautiful summer’s day, when at least 60,000 people came in their Sunday best to St Peter’s Field in Manchester for the peaceful demonstration that turned so tragically into the bloody Peterloo massacre. On 16 August 2019, by contrast, there was a relentless downpour of the worst Mancunian variety. But the spirit of 200 years ago was not the least bit dampened by the torrential rain.

    In our complex world of lies and fake news and sinister manipulation, democracy is under threat on so many levels. And the radicals and reformers of two centuries ago have much to teach us – the lessons of Peterloo go far beyond the issue of universal suffrage. As John Thacker Saxton, a real-life radical played by John-Paul Hurley in my film, says: “Though we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

    When we were kids, these buildings were pitch black. How surprising to see their true beauty after the Clean Air Acts

    Related: Peterloo was the massacre that led to a new democratic era | Richard J Evans

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    Hong Kong protests: Carrie Lam calls for dialogue with citizens

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Leader says she hopes calm will now be restored, but protesters dismiss offer as trap

    Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, has said she will “immediately” set up a platform for dialogue with citizens and tackle complaints against the police, after a weekend of peaceful protests that she hoped would be the start of a return to calm in the financial hub. Her offer was dismissed by activists as “a trap”, however.

    “Work will start immediately to build a platform of dialogue,” Lam said. “We hope this dialogue can be built upon a basis of mutual understanding and respect to find a way out for Hong Kong.”

    Why are people protesting?

    Related: 'An eye for an eye': Hong Kong protests get figurehead in woman injured by police

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    Queensland police to get new powers to search climate change protesters

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Crackdown includes new laws that make it illegal to possess a device used for locking on, and comes as Extinction Rebellion ramps up activities

    Queensland police will be given new powers to search suspected climate change protesters, as the state government attempts to crack down on an escalating campaign of civil disobedience.

    Extinction Rebellion protesters have regularly disrupted traffic in the Brisbane CBD. They have indicated those stoppages would escalate in the coming months. Other groups have attempted to stop the operations of mining companies, contractors and coal freight networks across the state.

    Related: Extinction Rebellion: hitting a nerve at Australia's climate flashpoint

    Everyone has the right to conduct a peaceful protest but the activities of some are not. Blocking roads is dangerous, reckless, irresponsible, selfish and stupid. The sinister tactics some protesters are using are dangerous and designed to harm.

    Related: Queensland police arrest 56 climate change protesters in Brisbane

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    Twitter removes nearly 1,000 accounts tied to China's campaign against Hong Kong protesters

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Company also suspends thousands of accounts as it reports ‘state-backed information operation’

    Twitter has removed nearly 1,000 accounts and suspended thousands of others tied to a campaign by the Chinese government against protesters in Hong Kong, the company announced on Monday.

    Twitter disclosed a “significant state-backed information operation” originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) targeting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. It removed 936 accounts and suspended approximately 200,000 accounts its investigation found were illegitimate.

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    We were promised change – but corruption and brutality still rule in Zimbabwe | Fadzayi Mahere

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Emmerson Mnangagwa’s policies have left the country on its knees – and those who dare to protest are met with violence

    In the Shona language, Nyamavhuvhu (August) signals the end of winter. The strong winds carry away the frost as they usher in the warmth of summer. With the silent strength of a new season, public discontent towards President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s failing socio-economic policies sweeps across Zimbabwe, manifesting itself through mounting displeasure and the growing threat of civil unrest.

    Related: Chaos in Harare as Zimbabwe riot police violently disperse protesters

    Related: Millions face hardship as Zimbabwe comes close to ‘meltdown’

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    I lost my column for keeping Charlottesville police accountable. I'd do it again | Molly Conger

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Naively, I assumed the publication I worked for was as committed to unashamed truth-telling as I was. I was wrong

    When the editor of a weekly paper approached me about writing a regular column about local politics, the first thing I asked her was: “Are you sure you know what you’d be getting yourself into?”

    That was February. I’d been live-tweeting Charlottesville city government meetings for a year and a half, ever since the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017. Entirely by accident, I had created a fairly large audience for what amounted to municipal meeting minutes narrated by a mouthy socialist.

    I’m not surprised a police officer and a former prosecutor would try to weaponize the legal system to silence a critic

    I am surprised the paper’s owners reacted with such incredible cowardice

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    Hong Kong protesters express their demands as thousands gather in demonstrations – video

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people flocked to a downtown park for a rally after two months of increasingly violent clashes that have prompted severe warnings from Beijing and failed to win concessions from the city’s government. Torrential rain came down an hour into the rally, turning the park into a sea of colourful umbrellas. Many began walking on the streets, despite the police ban on a march, as the park became overcrowded

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    Portland sees far-right and counter-protesters take to streets – video

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Oregon city saw its largest far-right demonstration of the Trump era on Saturday, as 500 rightwingers travelled from around the country to march back and forth across the city’s bridges, and briefly occupy a patch of its waterfront. City authorities succeeded in preventing head-on confrontations between the demonstration and a much larger counter-protest. Police said they made 13 arrests, and seized weapons throughout the day

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    Hong Kong’s dilemma: fight or resist peacefully

    The Guardian | Protest -

    After 11 weeks of demonstrations, weary protesters fear only their ebbing stamina or Chinese troops will break the stalemate

    Ellie Lau, a 21-year-old student, was one of thousands of protesters who flooded Hong Kong’s airport this week. There, she and a friend had an uneasy conversation about the future.

    As they joined throngs of demonstrators dressed in black sitting on the floor of the arrivals hall they talked about exhaustion and uncertainty – emotions they have suppressed over the past two months of protesting against their government. “It’s already very hard for us. All the people I know are all very tired physically and mentally. We don’t know what we should or can do,” says Lau. “I will ask myself, ‘What else can I give up for this movement for the future of Hong Kong?’ We don’t usually talk about it, but we are all thinking about it.”

    Why are people protesting?

    The protest is like a pot of boiling water, the steam is hot. The only problem is when the water is all boiled out

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