Greenpeace Summer of Resistance
Over the summer I was lucky enough to attend a full-day training on Nonviolent Direct Action hosted by Greenpeace. It was part of their “Summer of Resistance” in which they held these trainings across the country: Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington DC, New York City, and others. Although environmental issues are not my area of focus, there is no denying that Greenpeace is one of the most active and organized groups out there. They have decades of experience to share and it only seemed right that I share that day with you.
We started with Group Agreements which sounds like classroom rules but was actually incredibly helpful. Activism always involves a collective and everyone benefits from setting out expectations early. With so many personalities in a room it’s easy for the process to distract from the content. Group Agreements help minimize that. One of my favorites was “Move up! Move up!” This was the idea that if you are an outgoing person, try to “move up” your listening skills so people who are not as forward still get a chance to contribute. Conversely, if you are shy, try to “move up” sharing your experiences. Other agreements included one mic (one person talks at a time), impact over intent (impact of your actions exists regardless of your intent), and no jargon.
Once we were set with our process and had done a couple icebreakers we laid out some definitions for categories of protest:
Civil Disobedience: refusing to obey unjust laws
Direct Action: physically stopping an injustice from occurring
Direct Communication: signs, banners, or other explicit messages, usually publically displayed
Photo Op: using a photo to raise awareness or inspire by telling a story without a caption
Mass Mobilization: large gathering of people in public view to send a message about an injustice
It’s important to note that these categories are not distinct and often overlap.
My favorite activity of the day involved exploring our own thoughts about what actions are violent or not. On the surface violence vs non-violence seems straight forwardly binary. When we got into this activity I realized it is anything but. The trainers taped off the room in four quadrants.
They then gave various scenarios and asked use to stand in the quadrant that reflected our feelings about that action. For example, there are ships docked that are going to go whale hunting. And activist blows up the ships at night while no one is onboard. Is this effective or ineffective in stopping whaling? Is violent or non-violent? For me, because I don’t have any moral imperatives about property, I felt this was non-violent and effective. The ships couldn’t go whaling and no one got hurt. Others felt that the destruction of property was a form of violence and that it wasn’t effective because new ships could be bought. However, there were also people who felt it was violent but still effective and they weren’t opposed to the action, even though it was violent. I thought this was a useful tool for figuring out how a team thinks about their actions.
We then learned de-escalation techniques. We role played a scenario as we practiced. We used our body language (uncrossed arms, smiles, slightly turned to the side in a less confrontational way), our voices (lowering our volume, speaking slowly and calmly), and our words (understanding phrases, redirection, firm but respectful). I highly recommend practicing these skills before your next action. In the heat of the moment it is easy to lose your cool. As we’ve seen, protestors are often painted as aggressors (particularly when they are people of color). Violent action or even just open hostilities distracts from your message and makes you the story. De-escalation techniques help keep the focus where you want it.
We discussed six potential Points of Intervention.
Point of Destruction (the physical place where harm is taking place, ex. Oil spill)
Point of Production (ex. Refinery or pipeline)
Point of Consumption (ex. Gas stations)
Point of Decision (ex. BP Oil Board Room)
Point of Potential (any opportunity to intervene because of something else going on, ex. Board President has a public event)
Point of Assumption (ex. “We can’t live without oil”)
When choosing an action, think about the points of intervention and which one (or ones) can best be utilized for your campaign. For example, during the Bridges Not Walls action on Inauguration Day 2017, we hung banners off of bridges with positive messages like “Still We Rise” and “Black Lives Matter.” This was an action at the Point of Assumption—we were challenging the assumption that the world is an ugly, scary, negative place by reminding people of their strength and capacity to do better. We were also taking advantage of Inauguration Day as a Point of Potential.
There were many other activities throughout the day but I wanted to end with a few tips I received on direct action, particularly when dealing with police. There are “lock boxes” that you can utilize to ensure police cannot force you to unlink arms with another protester. This is useful when forming a blockade because while the protesters can release themselves at any time, the police are unable to physically force you to disband.
A second tip is that no one should be “in charge” at a protest. This prevents the group from getting a conspiracy charge. And finally, police don’t decide charges, the DA or prosecutor does. Police can make recommendations but they can’t promise you (or threaten you) with this or that. If a police offer says “if you come away quietly now we’ll just charge you with loitering” they are making you a promise they can’t keep. These tips are not to be confused with legal advice. I am not a lawyer and I don’t know the local laws for wherever you are reading this blog from. If you are planning an action, get a legal brief from an attorney you trust or reach out to your local Greenpeace chapter for advice.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist