‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Alternatives to Violence Project
By Rob Fairmichael
There is the old slogan that “There is no way to peace – peace is the way” which is about means and ends being one. This could have been coined to fit the Alternatives to Violence Project, known in the field as ‘AVP’ which makes me think of ‘evaporation’ – but it hasn’t evaporated at all and has been working away purposefully in Ireland now for a few decades both in a number of prisons and in the community. Unfortunately – from the point of view someone living north of the border - this work has almost all only been in the Republic; a number of efforts have been made to get it going in Northern Ireland by a variety of groups (INNATE included) but to date none of these efforts have succeeded which is a shame.
Incredibly, for a small country and a relatively small number of people involved, the big AVP International Gathering takes place in Maynooth in July this year (see news item this issue and Nonviolent News 211). The Irish AVP have been working very hard and effectively both to organise the event and to get the funding to ensure that all the countries in the world where AVP exists – just look at the list on the international website at www.avpinternational.org – is able to send someone. It assuredly will be a big success and, while the main July event is only open to those who are AVP facilitators, there are pre-gathering workshops taking place in Dublin which are open to everyone at a relatively modest cost – see the news section in this issue.
AVP brings a mixture of nonviolence and assertiveness to people at a very personal level and in a very direct way. It is based around three ‘weekend’ modules which explore the nature of transforming power in relation to individuals; these modules may take place over a weekend, or weekend-time equivalent. It does what it says on the tin. It is about personal transformation and nonviolence, although the nonviolence part is labelled ‘transforming power’ which is fair enough (‘nonviolence’ as a term has a number of issues, not least the negative included in it). It is about us confronting our own violence, anger, feelings and direction – I am not saying there is anything wrong with anger, it is a very positive force when channelled in a positive direction but it can also be a consuming, negative force.
As the international website says “The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a training programme enabling participants to deal with potentially violent situations in new and creative ways. Workshops are non-residential, run by our trained facilitators and experiential (not based on lectures). Our workshops use the shared experience of participants, interactive exercises, games and role-plays to examine the ways in which we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behaviour and violence.” In other words, workshops can be good craic as well as being deep and very personal, and, while there is obviously input, it is a very participative model.
AVP works both in prisons and in the community. While the context is different, AVP courses in both follow the same modules or paths though at certain stages participants can choose what to concentrate on. Outside participants can come in to prison courses with security clearance but it is obviously impossible for prisoners to attend community workshops while still prisoners. I have personally seen the transforming effect that AVP has had in the life of prisoners who have had the opportunity to confront some of the issues which may have contributed to them being behind bars in the first place; in saying this I am not trying to deny the role of class and structures in society and the prison system but to say that in relation to personal factors, AVP may, for the first time, allow people to confront certain issues and personality traits. This is as true for people ‘in the community’ as it is for prisoners.
Anyone – there is no difference here between prisoners and those in the community – can progress after the first three stages to become an AVP facilitator, initially passing through an apprenticeship stage (constructively, AVP trainings may have a number of facilitators). Thus, if you are free at the right time to do the trainings, you can progress quite quickly from the first, basic, level to contributing to running sessions yourself. This is actually a very democratic model. However, while it sounds simple, and it is in some ways, keeping it running takes a huge amount of time and effort, almost all work being done by volunteers; there is a huge amount of paddling going on underneath the surface of the water; “The trouble with good ideas is that they quickly degenerate into hard work” (anonymous quote).
AVP is not about the ‘big’ issues in the world, it is about the person, but as ‘the personal is political’ it is actually about wider change. AVP is not campaigning to change policies and structures directly but it is about enabling members of society to explore alternatives to violence and negativity and that is profoundly necessary in this or any other society.
AVP began with Quakers in the States (blame the Quakers again) with prison workshops in 1975 and spread internationally, there are fifty countries around the world now involved, many in the global south, a number around Europe. AVP retains a link with Quakers in many places but it is autonomous.
Those in connection with AVP who are facilitators can attend the big gathering in Maynooth from 13th – 19th July this year, 2014. Others interested can attend the pre-Gathering workshops detailed in the news section of this issue of Nonviolent News.
If you are interested in the area of personal transformation, and alternatives to violence at a personal level, it is a very effective model. While AVP in Ireland is understandably preoccupied with the big international event in July, normal work is continuing and there is the opportunity for you to become involved, do the courses, and, if the cap fits, become a facilitator. You can check out the countries where AVP exists at www.avpinternational.org and the ‘Projects worldwide’ tab will lead you to your most local contacts. Even where AVP does not exist within your jurisdiction (I am particularly thinking of people in Northern Ireland but this applies anywhere in the world), if AVP is accessible to you elsewhere you can still participate in workshops and become involved. In Ireland you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org about what is available.