Nonviolence Training


The Broken Rifle, No 95, March 2013

Javier Gárate

Is strategy a buzzword within nonviolent social movements? I ask myself this question since at social movements meetings I repeatedly hear: “We need to be strategic” or “Why are people not interested in strategy?” In changing a certain problem, is having a clear strategy the key factor in what movements can achieve? If so, then what that makes a good strategy? And what helps groups develop such strategies? These are some questions we have been asking ourselves for many years at War Resisters' International.

When we think of social change, we often think of protests, campaigns, and direct action. These are all vital ways to say “no!” to destructive practices and institutions.

Permaculture farmers in El Salvador

However, it's equally important that we are building concrete alternatives, where we say “yes!” to the vision of the world we want. Built on the same power analysis as our nonviolent direct action, “constructive programmes” can be powerful acts of resistance. Constructive programmes demonstrate the radical alternatives – to militarism and the causes of climate change, for example – that our world desperately needs, and puts them into practise in the here and now.

For Gandhi, a nonviolent revolution without a constructive programme was impossible; direct action and social change had to be embedded in empowered and vibrant communities that were bringing their own radical and egalitarian visions of life. Along with protest and direct action, he called for communities in India to start building the world they wanted to see, to build a new world in the shell of the old.

Sarah Robinson

In early November over a hundred activists from several European countries blockaded the entrances at the annual conference of the European Defence Agency in Brussels where arms manufacturers were meeting European policy makers behind closed doors.

The conference was invite-only but the activists turned up without an invitation to let the arms dealers know that they were not welcome.

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Name: Forum theatre Time: minimum 45 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise:

Forum Theatre is a form of roleplaying that can be used for public action, as described in the article Turkey- Building a nonviolent culture or in training. The basic idea is to act out a scenario, perhaps leading to an undesirable conclusion or violence, and then begin acting out the scenario again but this time either a participant in the roleplay or any other observer can shout at 'freeze' and take over a role in the scenario to try to do something differently. The second time new players act out the scenario from the beginning, but when the roleplay is interrupted with 'freeze', the roleplay resumes at the appropriate place - that is the point when someone would do the newly suggested action.

How it's done/facilitator's notes: A short forum theatre

Plot: Two members of your group visit a relevant state official to report an act of violence against your group. The trainer might identify the official and attackers more specifically according to the situation. It is unclear whether there was collaboration between the police and whoever attacked your group. Before entering the office, the group members decide what documentation they have about the attack and what they are actually wanting to achieve. The official is briefed on his/her attitude (ranging from generally sympathetic through feigning that s/he will take it seriously to downright hostility and counter-attacking on the provocative nature of the group) and also on motives (desire to keep group quiet, to find out as much about them as possible). The official should start by doing something to wrongfoot the group and taking the initiative him/herself (at least telling them how busy s/he is and perhaps asking to see their identity cards). S/he should also consider doing something friendly or scarey - friendly would be reminiscing about his or her activist youth, claiming friendship with parents of some group members: frightening would be showing knowledge of private lives of group members. Note in replaying the scenario, the official introduce new challenges for the group members. Cast: 2 group members, 1 official, 1 official's receptionist Discussion points: What were reasonable objectives for the group members? How could they take the initative in the situation? How much did they want to divulge about the group and its members? Were they putting other group members or their families at risk? If they convinced the official to promise to do something, how could they firm that up into an agreement and make sure he did it? How could they have prepared better for this visit?

Trainers notes:

There can be much more involved scenarios with many more players. Insist that someone who has an idea of how the group members something different to try, go and take their place and act out what s/he suggests.

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Name: Roleplaying Time: minimum 20 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise:

Role playing is a simulation exercise in which participants take on roles in a given situation as preparation for encountering a similar situation or evaluating a past one. Roleplaying is used to develop a sense of tactics, individual competence, and group cohesion. The main advantage of roleplaying over other tools is that by its nature it involves people's emotions as well as their intellects in the experience. Because participants are more deeply engaged in roleplaying than they are in discussing a situation, they learn more, and probably more quickly. Roleplays are a versatile tool that can be used for many different purposes, for example: to analyze situations, theories and tactics; to understand people and their roles; to develop insight into the thoughts and feelings of ones “opponents”; to anticipate new situations; to reveal fears and anxieties and other feelings people have about an action; to develop individual and group competence and confidence; and to develop group morale.

How it's done/facilitator's notes:

Although roleplays can be very complicated with many participants, they often are designed to look at a limited situation and not the entire action. Consider what the group needs to practice in order to prepare for an action. See roles during action to determine roles that may be needed.

The trainer(s) set the scene, often with a few very simple items to prepare the scene and characterize the roles, so that all participants understand the physical scene in which the roleplay will take place. The participants are given a description of their role especially describing the motives and interests of the role, not a screen play to act out. People are given a few minutes to get into their role, and if they are in a group they might map out tactics. The trainer indicates when the roleplay begins and when it ends. The roleplayers start at the given scene and play their given role as they see it.

After the roleplay is stopped, the participants are given a brief pause to lay down their roles and then the evaluation begins. This is an essential part of the roleplay exercise. It is often advantageous to begin with allowing the participants to share their emotions that came up during the roleplay. If not everyone could see the entire roleplay it helps to have a very brief overview of the events. Participants can share what they learned during the exercise. Observers are asked to share their views about what happened, what went well, what needs improvement, what precipitated increased or decreased tension, etc.

The evaluation should only go on as long as new issues are raised and participants are exploring problems and alternatives.

Trainers notes:

It is best to end the roleplay as soon as enough important issues are uncovered. It is important for the trainer(s) to act to prevent physical or emotional injury to the participants, possibly be quickly stopping the roleplay if situations that endanger the participants develop.

Set the tone for the evaluation, helping the group to share their feelings or tensions, and what they learned or observed about tactics, strategy, goals, nonviolence theory and its application. Discourage evaluating how “well” the participants played a role. There is no one “right” answer to a given situation so it is important to help the group to express its ideas and alternative solutions for that situation. For a short roleplay as described above, usually twenty minutes is enough. It is often helpful to start another roleplay which can allow the group to try alternatives that came up in the evaluation rather than continue the discussion. One way to do this is to repeat the same basic plot with different people in the roles, or change the situation by bringing in new roles, such as police or crowd reactions in the example given.

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Name: Decision Making Time: minimum 30 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise:

Quick decision exercise is used to prepare people to face crisis situations and to get them into the frame of mind in which they will think quickly under stress, focus on key issues, learn to ignore minor ones and to reach action-decisions.

How it's done/facilitator's notes

To a group no larger than 8 you give them a scenario, for example: A woman faints inside the line of a march. You are a peacekeeper. What do you do?' Allow fifteen seconds for discussion among the three or four people taking part. Afterwards, discussion with all participants. How was it that you came to a decision? what helped the process? which was the main difficulty?

A next step is to carry the exercise with spoke council. You have several small groups that count as 'affinity groups'. You give them a new scenario and each group chooses a spoke person for their group. Once each 'affinity group' has come to a decision the different spoke person meet together and work to come to a decision between them. After they reach a level of consensus each spoke person goes back to their group and consult the decision with their 'affinity group'. The group can make recommendation for changes and then all the spoke person meet again to come to a final decision that hopefully would be a decision that everyone in all of the different 'affinity groups' can live with.

Trainers notes

The major limitation: doing too many quick decision exercises, especially right before an action takes place, can establish a mind-set of emergency, thus raising tension so that people panic. Quick decision exercises should be tempered with other training experiences to prevent this perspective of imminent danger.

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Name: Consequences of fear Time: 1 hour or longer Goal or purpose of the exercise

To share and analyse the causes and consequences of fear

How it's done/facilitator's notes

Ask the members of the group to refer to an experience when they felt fear. Divide into small groups so that everyone can participate. One person takes notes about the consequences of fear. Afterwards, in a plenary write up the central ideas on the wall. An other option is to make a drawing of a situation where they felt fear. Discuss the drawing, focusing on the subjective experience (what you thought, how you felt, what happened to your body, how did you reacted, etc.), not simply re-constructing the facts.

Trainers notes

It is important to end the exercise discussing the value of the various alternatives that we can use against fear, to end on the positive. It is important that the exercise helps the people to share experiences, identify their reactions and to know better how to deal with problems.

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Name: Spectrum of allies Time: Minimum 20 minutes

Goal or purpose of the exercise To understand who our allies and opponents are. To help in realizing that tactics need to be planned in relation to how much they do or don't attract key allies and move people towards being active allies. To encourage more optimistic mobilization efforts through a realization that it is not necessary to win over the opposition to our point of view. To invite people into the fascinating complexity of strategizing. How it's done/facilitator's notes: Use a newsprint diagram to help describe the idea that in most social change situations there is a struggle between those who want the change and those who don't. Those who want the change are represented by a point at one side of the sheet (say, on the left), and the opponents by a point at the other side. Explain that societies (or towns, or states) usually include a range of groups that can be put on a kind of spectrum from closest to the point of view of the advocates to farthest away, and draw a horizontal line to represent that. Draw a half-moon or half a pie with wedges (as on the diagram). The wedges closest to either end are the active allies and opponents, next in are passive allies and opponents. The group in the middle are neutral. Use the issue you are working on, or if this is a general training ask for an example of an issue that people in the group might be working on. State a demand we might have and ask who in society might be inclined to be most supportive, least supportive, and in the middle. Give examples: "unions?" "poor people's groups?" "Chamber of Commerce?" etc. As participants identify groups and their location on the spectrum, write them into the "pie." Identify why people are neutral and discuss if there are ways to move them toward becoming allies. Also note where people may already have moved from one wedge to another and discuss why. (i.e. Soldiers and veterans tend to support wars in the beginning, but as the war wages, opposition develops.) Give the good news: in most social change campaigns it is not necessary to win the opponent to your point of view, even if the powerholders are the opponent. It is only necessary to move some or all of the pie wedges one step in your direction. If we shift each wedge one step, we are likely to win, even though the hardliners on the other side don't budge. As the group develops its strategy and develops its tactics, they need to identify which wedge they are addressing and how they can move people. In making choices about who to reach out to,

ask: which groups do we have some access to, or credibility with? Which groups are not being reached? Given our group's purpose, which groups are we most suited to persuade?

This exercise can be done in as little as 20 minutes, but you can spend much more time filling in the wedges and analyzing the situation.

Taken from:

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Name: The tree Time: Minimum 30 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise:

To identify and analyse the nature and components of the problem and to come up with positive responses

How it's done/facilitator's notes

Describe the problem tree:

Draw a tree with roots, a trunk, and branches with fruit. The tree represents the problem. Participants identify the roots (causes), the fruits (consequences), the trunk (the institutions that uphold the system.) You can also add the underlying principles that are found in the soil that “nurture” these root causes.

Healthy Tree:

What is the healthy fruit we want to grow? What roots do we need in order to grow healthy fruit? What roots do we need to cut? What structures need to be developed for a healthy society? What needs to be resisted? What values need to be in the soil to strengthen the roots? Identify goals to grow a healthy tree, or goals to cut down an unhealthy tree. Can we answer the above questions positively?

Analyze the Problem Tree:

Choose the institution in the trunk of the tree that your group wants to weaken. Draw another tree, identifying the root causes, consequences and using the list of questions above to analyze the situation.

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Title: Speak out Time: 3 hours Goal or purpose of the exercise: To motivate members of a dominant group to process information about injustice. To turn some power dynamics upside down so the dominant group can experience what it is like when others have an uninterrupted opportunity to dominate the “air time”. To build more solidarity among those who have less power so they can support each other better in an organization or a workshop. To create a norm that the dominant group can support each other to change rather than depend those who have less power to have to “teach them”. How it's done/facilitator's notes:

Explain to the full group that not all gender differences are between women and men, but that there are also power dynamics based on sexual orientation and on how much a person fits the dominant cultural expectations of their gender. While this exercise will include separate discussions of men and women to air experiences and views, sharing of other gender dynamics will be welcomed.

Explain that the women are going to be asked to share from their life experience, in response to a set of questions. The men will have the job of listening as deeply as they can. The men will be asked to give full attention to what they hear, without asking questions.

Following this, gay men and any others who feel that their gender identification has led them to experience a lack of power in their society will also be asked to speak from their life experiences.

To work effectively, this process requires common ground rules.

Confidentiality – Nobody should repeat outside the session what someone else has said. Participants will ask permission if they want to pursue a point made by a Speak Out participant with that person.

The women go to another room with the female facilitator and prepare to speak out. They will first work on their feelings about doing this, being reassured that not everyone needs to talk and that previous experiences with this exercise have ended up building unity. Then they will go over the following questions and telling each other personal stories about their experiences as women. The questions are:

What are you pleased about or proud of, regarding your gender identity? What is difficult and painful about it? What do you want the others to know, so that they could work with you better and be more supportive?

The facilitator encourages them to be honest and, if emotions come up, to allow themselves to express them.

At this same time, the men stay in the room and work with the male facilitator. He begins first with their feelings. He asks them what they've found useful in their lives to enable themselves to listen well to something important that they might have difficulty hearing. He tries to get as many men as possible talking .

The facilitator listens for and encourages gay men and others to speak up who feel they have a minority status because of gender issues

When the women are ready, they return. They stand in front of the men, who are seated, and speak as individuals. They speak to each of the three questions, as the facilitator presents them.

Any men who also feel their gender identity has given them a minority status in their culture are invited to stand up and answer the same questions.

When the women are finished, they leave the room. The woman facilitator goes with them, encouraging them to debrief

The facilitator working with the men assists them in processing and digesting what they've heard and learning from it.

The facilitators stay in touch with each other and arrange a common time to bring the two groups together.

A good tool to use is a closing circle, in which everyone gets to share one insight – usually something they've learned about themselves – in a sentence or two. The facilitators might bridge the gap by socializing with participants from the other gender group. Then play – move into dancing or some physical activity in which everyone can participate and relax.

This has been adapted from exercise developed by Training for Change, notes by George Lakey, which can be found at (

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Title: A gender dialogue for peacebuilders Time: 30 to 45 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise: To create a space for dialogue between women and men in peace organisations. To identify points of tensions between men and women in peace organisations. To develop a level of comfort and commitment to addressing gender issues in peace organisations. How it's done/facilitator's notes:

I. Small group discussion of Gender, Conflict and Peacebuilding

1. In mixed small groups of men and women, make a list of the ways men and women experience conflict and violence differently.

2. In the same mall groups, make a list of the different ways that men and women participate in peace work.

3. In the large group, ask each small group to report their findings.

II. Divide the large group in to small groups of women-only and men-only.

1. Ask each group to share successes and challenges with working with the opposite sex on peace issues. Challenge the groups to provide as many real examples as possible, both positive and negative.

2. Ask each group to discuss strategies for working with the opposite sex on peace issues.

3. Have each group report back their findings and strategies.

4. In mixed pairs, one women and one man, ask participants to respond to each other about the reports. Each person should take a turn to talk about his or her feelings about the dialogue while the other listen and try to understand, not interrupting.

This exercise was adapted from Women in Peacebuilding Resource and Training Manual, ed by Lisa Schirch. The full manual can be found at: or at:

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