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This is a 'standard' or generic workshop but there is no such
thing as a 'standard' person or group! In other words, it
may well need to be adapted to fit a particular group or situation.
And if the initial working through the typology of nonviolent
action is not to be both boring and mystifying it needs some
knowledge of the work it is taken from (Gene Sharp's 'The
Politics of Nonviolent Action') or of nonviolence and nonviolent
action in general, and an anecdotal style which will help
people relate to the examples given.
The 'risk list' is a critical aspect of the
workshop. People have to be happy with what they are doing
or going to do, whether it be perfectly legal or perfectly
illegal, risky or risk-less. They have to be happy that it
is something which they have chosen to do and are willing
to take any consequences arising from it. If starting off
on a campaign it is better to start low-key and build up confidence
with small, easier actions than start with a blockbuster of
an action which goes wrong and demoralises everyone.
Items 1 - 4 below are preparatory to items 5
and following. The idea is to first expand people's concepts
of what it is possible to do, then get them to look at the
kinds of things they would personally be prepared to do, before
focusing specifically on the campaign object and brainstorming
ideas for that. These ideas can then be processed and used
This workshop can be used early on in a campaign
to help look at what tactics and actions might be useful;
it can be also utilised in a campaign going for some time
which is getting a bit bogged down and needs some fresh ideas
for things to do.
If looking for a facilitator to do a similar
workshop with you (possibly as a co-facilitator if you'd like
to do it yourself but would like support) you can contact
Time: 2 - 3 hours.
Venue: A comfortable room to
fit participants if possible in a semi-circle; anything less
than 8 people will make it more difficult, anything over twenty
or thirty likewise (because it works mainly with brainstorming,
information sharing and one-to-ones the numbers are fairly
adaptable). Plan a break at some stage if you feel it might
Needs: Flip chart and good
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Playing some taped music can be a good way of
making a relaxed start as people arrive. Have an icebreaker
game if you feel you need it and it would fit the culture
of the group.
If everyone definitely knows everyone else you
can dispense with introductions but it is possible that some
people may know faces and not names; it is better for a facilitator
to err on the side of unnecessary (but fairly short) personal
introductions than to leave people wondering who other people
are. An opening circle can invite people to share their names,
a slightly humorous, human detail (e.g. what they like for
breakfast) and/or an answer to the question 'why are you here?'
(in not more than 3 sentences!).
Along with a warm welcome to everyone, the facilitator(s)
needs to take people through the agenda and check how people
are for time (when they need to leave or want to take a break).
A summary agenda should be written up for people to see, or
given as a handout.
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It may seem 100% clear why people are there but the facilitators
need to closely define what is being collectively explored,
e.g. 'opposing mining' or 'opposing the incinerator' may seem
clear enough but it is better to get agreement on a tighter
definition of what is being campaigned on - 'opposing gold
mining in Co Tyrone' or 'opposing the waste incinerator in
Co Kildare' would be better. If the issue is proposed in positive
terms, e.g. 'Promoting sustainable waste management systems
in Ireland/County X/City Y' it is even more important to pin
down the aims because otherwise it can be so generalised as
to be difficult to work with. The subject as defined becomes
the topic for the brainstorm in item 5 below.
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(This is included in the appendix, item 9. A sheet listing
them in two sides of A4 is also available from INNATE, as
is a 4-page review article on Sharp's book which includes
a list of Irish examples cited by Sharp; please send sufficient
postage to cover costs to INNATE, 16 Ravensdene Park, Befast
BT6 0DA, Northern Ireland)
Everyone needs to be provided with a copy of
the list of 198 methods.
There are different ways of using this. One
suggested way would be:
Allow people 5 - 10 minutes to glance through
it (explain it's only to glance through and you'll be working
through it more thoroughly)
Work through the list giving relevant or interesting
historical examples from Gene Sharp's book "The Politics
of Nonviolent Action" and personal anecdotes from your
experience and knowledge. It is a long list! Go too fast and
people won't pick up what they might, go too slow and you'll
probably have most people asleep. A reasonable aim - if you
have the background info - is to work through the list in
30 minutes or a maximum of 40 minutes.
A 'run through but stop me if you want' method
is to read each item, give maybe one or two quick examples
for each section, and let people ask if they're particularly
interested in some of them or don't understand something.
If possible get to grips with Sharp's book so you can help
people's understanding. Some of the distinctions between examples,
e.g. types of strike, are very small and need not detain people.
Literacy is usually assumed in Ireland but there
may be a person or people in the group who have dyslexia or
problems with literacy. So make sure you read out each item
when working through it and be sensitive to this issue.
There are a couple of other points you need
to think about and be aware of. Not all of these examples
are ones you might consider 'positive' or even 'nonviolent'.
This is one list, compiled almost thirty years ago by one
US American nonviolent academic. It could also be 1001 methods
or 1,000,001 methods; it could be expanded and revised lots
of ways. Another point is to think of the cultural connotations
of different actions in different cultures; 'mooning' (exposing
your buttocks), for example, may be a negative expression
everywhere but its shock value and message might be different
in a western youth culture to, say, China (Sharp gives a Sino-Soviet
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Ask each person to think of 10 - 20 examples from the list
which they could fit into three different categories:
I could/would never do that
I would like to be able to do this if I had
the necessary support
Things I do anyway or could easily do.
They can jot down examples fitting into the
3 categories. Give people 5 - 10 minutes to complete this
task and check that people have had enough time.
Then pair people off, one to one, preferably
with people they don't know or know less well (this helps
overcome inhibitions but also gets people talking in depth
with others in the group they don't know). Ask them to share,
for two or three minutes each way, with comments on their
list; the kinds of things I could and couldn't do, and why.
One person speaks and the other listens; explain that it is
a speaking/listening exercise not a discussion (the 'listener'
can ask questions if there's something they don't understand).
After a couple of minutes ask pairs to swap around the speaking
and listening roles as soon as they are ready. Call time after
another few minutes.
In this listing exercise it is probably list
2, 'Things I would like to be able to do with support' , that
is most important (i.e. may contain the most exciting ideas)
but list 3, 'Things I do anyway or could easily do' may be
important too. List 1 on what people consider impossible need
not take too much attention except where an idea might be
more possible than people think or possible when people gain
When people have finished doing this exercise
in pairs you can bring everyone back together and ask people
to share on the kinds of things they themselves were happy,
or unhappy, to do, and why. It may be useful to check out
with one or two people beforehand that they would be willing
to share in case no one volunteers straight away. You could
spend fifteen or twenty minutes in this plenary discussion,
time permitting, before moving on to the brainstorm. You can
write anything worth remembering on the chart or simply make
notes for future reference.
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You've set your topic (item 2 above). List it on a sheet.
Then brainstorm ideas for tactics/actions in relation to it.
Note; there are many forms of 'brainstorming' practised but
it's best to be clear that anything suggested will be written
down - serious, amusing, bizarre, illegal - and that assessment
or comments are not done until afterwards. What you are creating
is a 'safe space' for people to come out with zany (or even
boring) ideas which they might be afraid to suggest in other
circumstances but which in this situation could be expressed
- and could prove to be imaginative, creative things to do.
So - let people shout out ideas, write them
down as fast as you can, try to get a momentum going. Don't
let people comment on the suggestions (a polite request that
comments can be made later is sufficient if people do start
to comment). If it gets slow try a bit of patience; if necessary
mention certain categories of actions people may not have
thought about, either as a spur to other people's thinking
or as your contribution to the list (i.e. write down the thing
you suggest). If there's silence for a while but you think
it could go further, try to make people happy with the silence
if people are still thinking. It's a matter of judgement when
you've got enough ideas to work through and people have run
out of suggestions. When you have filled a sheet, tear it
off the flip chart and stick it up with blue-tack so all ideas
are still visible.
Depending on time and the nature of the topic,
you can deal with the resultant list in different ways. If
really stuck for time you could leave it at that and come
back to work through it or have a smaller group (e.g. committee)
work through it though this would not be recommended. You
can work through the list one by one and invite comments and
explanations where necessary. Or you can (faster than the
last) ask people to prioritise by being able to 'vote' for
three ideas (or four, or five, or however many you think appropriate
but not too many) that they think might be runners. Then simply
count and write beside them the number of 'votes' for each
item. This doesn't mean that the idea with the most votes
'wins' and is the one to do; it's a 'straw poll' to indicate
support for ideas - it should indicate a number as 'possibles'
to be looked at. It will prioritise the list quickly; allow
people a minute or two to think first, explaining what you're
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You have a list and comments and/or an indication of how important
the group felt each item could be. But that is not enough.
How do suggestions fit into your overall strategy and the
image you are trying to create for your campaign? Are they
appropriate for what stage your campaign is at? Would enough
people do what is required and are there risks attached? If
a proposed action is illegal or may receive a negative response,
will people be prepared (in every way) for that?
In Northern Ireland you also need to consider
whether an action could be considered 'sectarian' or reinforce
sectarian perceptions; if so (considered by whom?) you may
want to analyse its aims further before proceeding. It doesn't
mean you shouldn't necessarily do something but it is a 'beware'
signal. There are other factors which should similarly be
taken into account, e.g. racism or sexism.
If time permits you may be able to assess ideas
at length, if necessary breaking up into small groups. But
even if you do, and unless time is pressing in terms of the
need to 'do' an action, you may be wise to revisit the suggestions
and proposed actions at a subsequent meeting. In other words,
allow people to sleep on it. Hopefully you will have generated
a good, creative atmosphere in the workshop and got a momentum
going; the resultant ideas still need to stand up in the cold
light of the next dawn. And be acceptable to others who might
not have been at the exploration of possible actions.
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Before you end off your workshop, have some way of concluding
it. A quick 'round' of everyone can give a good feeling of
solidarity and a suitable way of marking an end. You can ask
people - Any quick comments on the session (two or three words)?
Anything you especially learnt? Anything you want to follow
up? But keep it quick and light if possible, people have probably
put in a good workshop's work.
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Don't tuck your list up in a file and let it go to sleep.
Revisit it periodically to think - is there something more
we can pick up at this stage? It could form an 'ideas bank'
to help keep things moving along.
Anyhow, good luck and good campaigning. If you
need any help with the above, please contact INNATE.
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Taken from Gene Sharp's ‘The Politics of Nonviolent
Action’, 3 volumes, 1973, Porter Sargent, Boston,
902 pages, ISBN 0-87558-070-X. Please note that USA English
spellings and terms are used in the following list as in the
Very limited annotation has been added in brackets
"[…]" where a term may be unclear or misleading
to a general reader; the usage is quite clear in the book
(volume 2 contains details and extensive historical examples).
A few notable historical examples have also been added here,
again in brackets, but this does not do justice to the breadth
of the original and is done because of the difficulty you
may have in getting hold of the book. Examples marked * are
not from Sharp's book.
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