8 Skills of a Well-Trained Activist

June 12, 2013 | By | 4 Replies More

Flickr - Gezi1 - william.neuheiselGeorge Lakey, Waging Nonviolence Contributor
Waking Times

As I write this dozens of trainers in Philadelphia near completion of a 17-day intensive called the “Super-T,” a kind of boot camp for trainers. In the 1950s, there was no place I could go to learn this kind of activist facilitation training, even though Paulo Freire was doing groundbreaking work in his “pedagogy of the oppressed” and the Gandhi-influenced Muslim leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan had used training to prepare his Pashtun nonviolent army for combat with the British Empire.

We’ve come a long way since the 1950s, when the civil rights movement was being seeded by Congress of Racial Equality trainings in church basements and Rosa Parks attended workshops at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. Now even advanced training for activist trainers is available. Training for Change, an organization I co-founded, has led over 20 Super-Ts. These facilitator marathons have attracted activists from dozens of countries on five continents.

I’m grateful that today’s teenagers don’t need to get lucky and find a mentor, as I did by apprenticing to Charlie Walker in the 1950s. Today the Ruckus Society, Seeds of Peace UK, Pace e Bene, the Centre for Applied Non Violent Actions and Strategies — that is, CANVAS — and many other training organizations exist to help people gain skills. Training organizations in turn use Training for Change to upgrade their own skills and work collaboratively on projects like the Global Power Shift this week in Istanbul. We’ve made major progress just in my lifetime, but much more is needed to meet the multiplying opportunities for change.

Why more training now?

The history of training is a history of playing catch-up. Very few movements seem to realize that the pace of change can accelerate so rapidly that it outstrips the movement’s ability to use its opportunities fully. In Istanbul a small group of environmentalists sit down to save a park, and suddenly there are protests in over 60 Turkish cities; the agenda expands, from green space to governance to capitalism; doors open everywhere. It would be a good moment to have tens of thousands of skilled organizers ready to seize the day, supporting smart direct action and building prefigurative institutions. But excitement alone may slacken; as with the Occupy movement, spontaneous creativity has its limits.

With the right skills, movements can sustain themselves for years against punishing, murderous resistance. The mass direct action phase of the civil rights movement pushed on effectively for a decade after 1955. Mass excitement doesn’t need to fizzle in a year. A movement thrives by solving the problems it faces.

Anti-authoritarians don’t want to count on a movement’s top leaders to be the problem-solvers, but instead to develop shared leadership by fostering problem-solving smarts at the grassroots. There’s nothing automatic about grassroots problem-solving. How well people strategize, organize, invent creative tactics, reach effectively to allies, use the full resources of the group and persevere at times of discouragement — all that can be enhanced by training.

Nothing is more predictable than that there will be increased turbulence in the United States and many other societies. Activists cause some of the turbulence by rising up; other turbulence results from things like climate change, the 1 percent’s austerity programs and other forces outside activists’ immediate control.

Increased turbulence scares a lot of people. It’s only natural that people will look around for reassurance. The ruling class will offer one kind of reassurance. The big question is: What reassurance will the movement offer?

When students in Paris in May 1968 launched a campaign that quickly moved into nationwide turbulence, with 11 million workers striking and occupying, there was a momentary chance for the middle class to side with the students and workers instead of siding with the 1 percent. The movement, though, didn’t understand enough about the basic human need for security and failed to use its opportunity. That was a strategic error, but to choose a different path the movement would have required participants with more skills. Training would have been necessary. We can learn from this, inventory the skills needed and train ourselves accordingly.

What is training ready to do for us?

Here are a few of the key benefits that we should expect to gain from one another through training:

1. Increase the creativity of direct action strategy and tactics. The Yes Men and the Center for Story-Based Strategy lead workshops in which activist groups break out of the lockstep of “marches-and-rallies.” We need to have a broad array of tactics at our disposal, and we have to be ready to invent new ones when necessary.

2. Prepare participants psychologically for the struggle. The Pinochet regime in Chile depended, as dictatorships usually do, on fear to maintain its control. In the 1980s a group committed to nonviolent struggle encouraged people to face their fears directly in a three-step process: small group training sessions in living rooms, followed by “hit-and-run” nonviolent actions, followed by debriefing sessions. By teaching people to control their fear, trainers were building a movement to overthrow the dictator.

3. Develop group morale and solidarity for more effective action. In 1991 members of ACT UP — a militant group protesting U.S. AIDS policy — were beaten up by Philadelphia police during a demonstration. The police were found guilty of using unnecessary force and the city paid damages, but ACT UP members realized they could reduce the chance of future brutality by working in a more united and nonviolent way. Before their next major action they invited a trainer to conduct a workshop where they clarified the strategic question of nonviolence and then role-played possible scenarios. The result: a high-spirited, unified and effective action.

4. Deepen participants’ understanding of the issues. The War Resisters League’s Handbook for Nonviolent Action is an example of the approach that takes even a civil disobedience training as an opportunity to assist participants to take a next step regarding racism, sexism and the like. When we understand how seemingly separate struggles are connected, it helps us create a broader, stronger, more interconnected movement.

5. Build skills for applying nonviolent action in situations of threat and turbulence.In Haiti a hit squad abducted a young man just outside the house where a trained peace team was staying; the team immediately intervened and, although surrounded by twice their number of guards with weapons, succeeded in saving the man from being hung. Through training, we can learn how to react to emergencies like this in disciplined, effective ways.

6. Build alliances across movement lines. In Seattle in the 1980s, a workshop drew striking workers from the Greyhound bus company and members of ACT UP. The workshop reduced the prejudice each group had about the other, and it led some participants to support each other’s struggle. Trainings are a valuable opportunity to bring people from different walks of life together and help them work toward their common goals.

7. Create activist organizations that don’t burn people out. The Action Mill, Spirit in Action, and the Stone House all offer workshops to help activists to stay active in the long run. I’ve seen a lot of accumulated skill lost to movements over the years because people didn’t have the support or endurance to stay in the fight.

8. Increase democracy within the movement. In the 1970s the Movement for a New Society developed a pool of training tools and designs that it shared with the grassroots movement against nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement went up against some of the largest corporations in America and won. The movement delayed construction, which raised costs, and planted so many seeds of doubt in the public mind about safety that the eventual meltdown of the Three Mile Island plant brought millions of people to the movement’s point of view. The industry’s goal of building 1,000 nuclear plants evaporated. Significantly, the campaign succeeded without needing to create a national structure around a charismatic leader. Activists learned the skills of shared leadership and democratic decision-making through workshops, practice and feedback. In my book Facilitating Group Learning, I share many lessons that have evolved from Freire’s day to ours.

I hope that readers of this column will add to the list of training providers in the comments, since I’ve only named some. My intention is to remind us that this could be the right moment, before the next wave of turbulence has all of us in crisis-mode again, to increase training capacity for grassroots skill-building. We’ll be very glad we did.

About the Author

George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation(City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining.

This article originally appeared at WagingNonViolence.org, an outspoken voice for peaceful change in our violent world.  Click here to support their noble efforts.

~~ Help Waking Times to raise the vibration by sharing this article with the buttons below…

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Activism, Contributors, Culture, History, Ideas, Revolution, Society, Waging Non-Violence

Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Devil's Advocate says:

    If you’re fully waken up, you’ll find there’s no need to be an activist. The occult powers always provide an opt out clause for every law. So, if you don’t like vaccines, just take the religious exemption. If you don’t like Obamacare, just opt out and adjust your withholding so you don’t get fined (just prepay for health services you actually use rather than be ripped off by insurance). If you don’t like the military, don’t sign up. If you don’t like wars, get out of the country they’re about to bomb. If you don’t like their spying, don’t get a google or facebook account. As far as taxes, well, if you’re making enough money to be taxed, you’re taking advantage of the bank’s system and need to pay the piper. You’re not going to change the powers’ plans by holding up stupid signs and shouting at people. If enough people exercise the opt out clause, maybe things change for the general citizen. But don’t count on the people around you ‘waking up’ LOL. It’s a waste of energy.

  2. Al Smith says:

    NOTHING will EVER change for Human benefit until We begin to publicly define the true will of the mind of Mankind for all to know. When that happens, paradise will begin to manifest automatically, because it’s what we all (99% or Us) want.

    The fake-Jewish Zionist banksters (the ‘zi’ in Nazi) have duped us into unwittingly helping them to manifest their NWO nightmare. They can’t do it without our help. Learn how to help Humanity instead. Email al.smith@majorityvoice.org for your free, latest edition of “How We Create Reality.” Or, you can read it here on Waking Times @
    http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/04/06/how-we-create-reality/ And, please, share it and re-publish it elsewhere.

  3. John Scott says:

    Following religious potentates constitutes an expression of the people are not yet psychologically ready or prepared for the responsibilities of becoming self governing. They look to others for decisions, especially Value decisions. They need to follow an ‘authority figure’, as in a relationship of parent/child, desiring to remain the child. Personal accountability and responsibility is not nurtured.

    Do we choose our allies and friends based upon admired qualities of character or upon what they can do or provide us? One way keeps us out of trouble; the other gets us into it.

  4. Pavlov'sBitch says:

    These recognised and supported training tactics can only be approved if they ultimately conform to the agenda of social control and Soros is founder of many so-called activist factions, for example. It is an individual quest, not a fractionalised group-think and the more individuals wake up to their individual responsibility they quit betraying themselve. The more awaken, the greater the ‘group’ and as the time is ripe, individuals all over the place will delink and leave the rest to cannabalise themselves if they choose.

Leave a Reply

Must Watch Videos

Open Source Plans for Modern Tesla Free Energy Generator Released to Public

Open Source Plans for Modern Tesla Free Energy Generator Released to Public













Terence Newton, Staff Writer
Waking Times

In a world of problems and solutions, few ideas spur both immediate hope and skepticism as the idea of free energy, and, on the brink of ecological disaster, nothing may be of greater importance to the human race.

The story of Nikola More

April 14, 2014 | By | 8 Replies More
Neuroscientist Exposes Dangers of Electromagnetic Fields

Neuroscientist Exposes Dangers of Electromagnetic Fields













Kevin Samson, Guest
Waking Times

Neuroscience has come under scrutiny for its involvement in an array of mind control initiatives and other ethically questionable research. But at least one neuroscientist from Sweden has gone on record to caution against the increasing dangers of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on human beings … More

April 14, 2014 | By | Reply More
On the Eve of Construction

On the Eve of Construction













Zen Gardner, Guest
Waking Times

I love the sound of construction. I always have. Not the industrial sound from the kind of massive, offensive structures made with other-worldly looking machines, but the intentional, gentle kind. Small structures going up, improvements on homes, road repairs, even tending to gardens whether … More

April 13, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More
Are You Inadvertently Investing in Monsanto’s Toxic Legacy?

Are You Inadvertently Investing in Monsanto’s Toxic Legacy?













Brandon Baker, Eco Watch
Waking Times

Monsanto didn’t achieve $11.8 billion in sales and 404 facilities in 66 countries all on its own.

The company is valued at $60 billion in the marketplace with 525 million shares outstanding, but the three largest mutual fund shareholders, Vanguard, Fidelity and State Street, … More

April 10, 2014 | By | Reply More
7 Ways Our Children Are Being Brainwashed

7 Ways Our Children Are Being Brainwashed













Gregg Prescott, M.S., In5D Guest
Waking Times

From birth, virtually all of us have been brainwashed through various outlets that encourage materialism, ego, subservience, control and conformity. But where do the origins of mind control begin and what can we do about it?

1. Religion

As children, the brainwashing begins … More

April 9, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More

Activism Works

The Truth About Fluoride Becoming More Widely Known

The Truth About Fluoride Becoming More Widely Known













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

Fluoride is a poisonous substance added to many municipal water supplies across the US, Canada, and elsewhere without the permission of the residents. Is there a model that communities can follow to remove it from their water supply? The short answer to this question is yesMore

April 1, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated By The Food Industry

6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated By The Food Industry













Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet
Waking Times

While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, breeding animals into mutants and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.

The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—”forget it’s an animal” says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward … More

March 28, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More
Our Respective Journeys Into the Valley of Reason

Our Respective Journeys Into the Valley of Reason













Michael T. Winter, Contributor
Waking Times

The Internet awakening has given birth to a worldwide multitude of people that are disengaging from the programmed paradigm created for us, and awakening to the reality of the dangers we face. The web has supplied a platform for writers to take a crack … More

March 26, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
13 Ways Foodies Are Changing The Food Industry

13 Ways Foodies Are Changing The Food Industry













Heather Callaghan & Jeffrey Green, Guests
Waking Times

A major shift in the consciousness of food consumers is forcing the industry into a competitive race to become more natural.  The market is telling food producers that they no longer want so-called factory food because of its many harmful effects on … More

March 25, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
American Agriculture May Eradicate the Monarch Butterfly Unless Swift Action Is Taken

American Agriculture May Eradicate the Monarch Butterfly Unless Swift Action Is Taken













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

You may be aware that bees are dying in large numbers across the globe, courtesy of the ever-increasing presence of toxins in our environment. But did you know that the monarch butterfly is also becoming endangered, and for the same reason?

As reported by the New More

March 22, 2014 | By | Reply More