Just back from a couple of days at the Peace News Summer Gathering. On Sunday I ran a couple of workshops – the first on public speaking and the second an introduction to nonviolent direct action. I’m happy that they were well received, though as always there are lessons to learn.
One of those lessons is about assumptions. This is the third year I’ve run the public speaking session, and it’s only ever attracted a handful of people. Then this year 19 people showed up. I’d planned for a lot less so it was a pleasant surprise, but one accompanied by some very quick recalculations of the mental arithmetic of workshop design – size of groups, time taken for feedback from small groups and other exercises, stretching materials between a larger number of people and so on….
On the final morning of the Camp I was facilitating a meeting on People Power, focused on learning from the Arab revolutions and looking at our own organising and activism in the light of these momentous events.
Gabriel Carlyle, Peace News co-editor, gave a short but incisive overview of the build up of events in Egypt (read what he wrote on the subject on the Peace News blog). He reminded us that the “Facebook and Twitter revolution” wasn’t as instantaneous as it might have been portrayed in the media, but was the result of a decade or more of capacity building and mobilising, much of which seemed to fail abjectly at the time but played an integral part in the success of the uprising a few years, months or days later.
There were many highlights, but the nonviolent direct action trainer in me homed in on his reference to the 15,000 people trained in the philosophy and techniques of nonviolence over the months before events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. 15,000, trained in groups of 100. I’ve been training people in nonviolent techniques since about 1994 and until Monday if I could claim 1500 trainees in that time I’d have been happy. Seems like if we want a revolution we need to step up our game. Over a million of us marched against the war on Iraq. The nonviolence trainers I’m networked with probably managed to train just a few hundred people over that period, working flat-out, at a time when the population was outraged and wanting to act….
As a consequence of Gabriel’s presentation, I finally got round to buying a copy of Tweets from Tahrir, the story of the Egyptian told in the form of the tweets of those taking part. Powerful stuff – get yourself a copy.
Then the participants spent time in groups imagining themselves 10 years hence after our own people-power revolution had happened and piecing together the highlights, and then telling the stories. It seemed important to start with a positive. From there we began to look at whether those present, and the groups, networks and movements they were part of had a role to play in bringing about profound change in the social order, and if so what that role could be. A useful discussion. It’s certainly got me thinking. 15,000 people, eh?