An Exploration and Introduction to Nonviolence

Facilitation: Helen Stevens

This theme group brought together people who are becoming acquainted with the concepts of nonviolence, and experienced activists who are benefiting from revisiting these key ideas. Helen Stevens of the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence facilitated this group.

Helen began by telling her own story, focusing on some of "the key turning points in her life". One was seeing Picasso's "Guernica". She worked with Quakers in orphanages in Vietnam, which gave her the courage to stand beside oppressed people. Upon returning home, she began focusing on stopping the production of Trident warheads. The group looked at antiwar posters and discussed which ones held special meaning in relation to our own understanding and experience. We discussed how pacifists relate to those who choose violent methods to achieve their causes and whether goals achieved through violence have longterm negative consequences.

During the second meeting, we analysed the concept of satyagraha practised by Gandhi. The principles of which include refraining from violence and hostility, considering opponents as people, making contact with opponents, attempting to gain trust, rejecting humiliation, doing constructive work, making a visible sacrifice, and expecting change. We added other possible principles including confronting a wrong situation, being creative, and affirming the change. We applied these ideas to practical situations, including discussing creative solutions to diffuse an abrupt act of violence in a nonviolent protest. Finally, we explored controversies related to nonviolent action. Each pair debated a challenging topic such as whether nonviolence is a principle or a practical tool, or the value of sabotaging property.

On our third day, we examined five steps in campaigning:-waking up, finding allies, taking action, developing a mass movement, and creating a new society. These steps are inspired by George Lakey's book, 'Strategy For A Living Revolution'. The next model concerned the sources of social power. This can be structured as a pyramid with the authority at the top or a table with each of the sources as legs that support the authority. Sources include the control of knowledge and skills, people's thoughts and beliefs, money and property, obedient people, and the military and police. Any attempt to disrupt the sources of power through nonviolent action can bring about change. We shared information about ways we worked to dismantle sources of power. Helen described using street theatre to draw attention to the stark realities of children in Iraq. Fintan from Ireland shared details about a campaign to address war toys: an information sheet asking Santa not to bring war toys for Christmas was distributed to parents to share with their children. The power of using humour in nonviolent action was highlighted by Javier from Spain. He described how he dressed as a flower standing inside a helmet for a protest about the United States's bombing of Afghanistan. Eduvina emphasised the importance and success of artists in the nonviolent protests in Chile. Graffiti decorated the streets with slogans and images, and singers wrote catchy and powerful songs.

The group concluded that nonviolent activists have endless creative options for calling attention to injustice and working to remove the sources of its power.