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Handbook for Nonviolent Action PDF Print E-mail
History of Mass Nonviolent Action
Nonviolent Response to Personal Violence
Practicing Nonviolence
Nonviolence Training
Affinity Groups
Consensus Decision Making
Working Together for Change
Legal Issues/Risking Arrest
Representing Yourself
Jail Solidarity
Serving Time in Jail
We're All in the Same Boat
Racism Guidelines
Confronting Classism
Disability Awareness
We Make a Difference


Nonviolent action has played a key role in the struggle for social change all over the world. It has a long and proud history, but it is not only something from the past, it lives on in many struggles for freedom, equality and justice. It seems there is a current running from group to group, movement to movement.

Women suffragists learned from the abolitionists; early labor activists borrowed from both of them, adding their own contributions. Civil rights activists, anti-war protesters, people with disabilities, battered women and farm workers (to name a few) all continued the process. Chinese students in Tiannamen Square held signs saying "We Shall Overcome." Sometimes nonviolent direct action responding to oppression or abuse of power seems to spring up spontaneously in apparently unrelated times and places. One of the reasons that these discoveries amaze and inspire us is that official histories and media accounts don't generally record these events.

Nonviolent civil disobedience requires discipline and preparation, as well as burning commitment and desire for change. Contrary to popular mythology Rosa Parks did not just sit down one day on the bus because she was tired. She was a woman trained for this nonviolent action which changed the course of history. Thousands of people, whose names we will never know, made the same preparations for various actions in the campaign for civil rights. Very few of the people we do hear about acted alone.

This handbook continues a tradition of sharing and passing on beliefs, strategies, values and tactics. It offers the combined experience and wisdom of many people who have struggled to make the world more just. It is not the final word, but falls on the people who read it, to honestly reflect on the guidance we offer.

We've organized this handbook as a tool for learning about different aspects of nonviolent civil disobedience actions. On this, its third printing, we are proud to say it has been used by activists using nonviolent direct action concerning a variety of issues, including: AlDs- activism, toxic waste protests, disabilities awareness, battered women protests, gay rights, abortion clinic escorts, weapons protests, anti-Gulf War actions and anti- violence protests, and more.

In 1978 the Clamshell Alliance produced a handbook for a civil disobedience action at the yet unbuilt Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. In the following years many major civil disobedience actions produced their own handbooks following the format of this Clamshell one. We have borrowed from many of these handbooks. We have not been able to give credit to original authors in all cases. Many early handbooks were collective projects which did not acknowledge specific authors. In an attempt to give credit to all the volunteers who have labored over handbooks we are listing below the handbook committees of three ground breaking handbooks.

Throughout this handbook are photographs representing a wide range of nonviolent actions within the United States. Their diversity shows the scope of nonviolent resistance, from individual to mass actions, addressing many progressive issues. Most of the photos are from the 1980's, when this handbook was first produced. They serve as inspiration for those contemplating actions.


Prices $3 each.10-50- $1.50 each; over 50- $1 each.
(add 20% postage).

Available from:
War Resisters League
339 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012
212 228-0450.
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

or from:
Donnelly/ Colt Graphix
Box 188, Hampton, CT 06247

Edited and Designed by Kate Donnelly. Handbook Committee:
Nancy Alach, Karen Beetle, Laura
Booth, Kate Donnelly and Patt

Thanks to: Mavis Belisle, David
Freedman, Laura Gibbons and Craig

-Kate Donnelly
for the Handbook Committee.

History of Mass Nonviolent Action


The use of nonviolence runs throughout history. There have been numerous instances of people courageously and nonviolently refusing cooperation with injustice. However, the fusion of organized mass struggle and nonviolence is relatively new. It originated largely with Mohandas Gandhi in 1906 at the onset of the South African campaign for Indian rights. Later, the Indian struggle for complete independence from the British Empire included a number of spectacular nonviolent campaigns. Perhaps the most notable was the year-long Salt campaign in which 100,000 Indians were jailed for deliberately violating the Salt Laws.

The refusal to counter the violence of the repressive social system with more violence is a tactic that has also been used by other movements. The militant campaign for women's suffrage in Britain included a variety of nonviolent tactics such as boycotts, noncooperation, limited property destruction, civil disobedience, mass marches and demonstrations, filling the jails, and disruption of public ceremonies.

The Salvadoran people have used nonviolence as one powerful and necessary element of their struggle. Particularly during the 1960s and 70s, Christian based communities, labor unions, campesino organizations, and student groups held occupations and sit-ins at universities, government offices, and places of work such as factories and haciendas.
There is rich tradition of nonviolent protest in this country as well, including Harriet Tubman's underground railroad during the civil war and Henry David Thoreau's refusal to pay war taxes. Nonviolent civil disobedience was a critical factor in gaining women the right to vote in the United States, as well.
The U.S. labor movement has also used nonviolence with striking effectiveness in a number of instances, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IVVW) free speech confrontations, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) sit-down strikes from 1935-1937 in auto plants, and the UFW grape and lettuce boycotts.

Using mass nonviolent action, the civil rights movement changed the face of the South. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) initiated modem nonviolent action for civil rights with sit-ins and a freedom ride in the 1940s. The successful Montgomery bus boycott electrified the nation. Then, the early 1960s exploded with nonviolent actions: sit-ins at lunch counters and other facilities, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Freedom Rides to the South organized by CORE; the nonviolent battles against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and the 1963 March on Washington, which drew 250,000 participants.

Opponents of the Vietnam War employed the use of draft card burnings, draft file destruction, mass demonstrations (such as the 500,000 who turned out in 1969 in Washington, D.C.), sit-ins, blocking induction centers, draft and tax resistance, and the historic 1971 May Day traffic blocking in Washington, D.C. in which 13,000 people were arrested.
Since the mid-70s, we have seen increasing nonviolent activity against the nuclear arms race and nuclear power industry. Nonviolent civil disobedience actions have taken place at dozens of nuclear weapons research installations, storage areas, missile silos, test sites, military bases, corporate and government offices and nuclear power plants. In the late 1970s mass civil disobedience actions took place at nuclear power plants from Seabrook, New Hampshire to the Diablo Canyon reactor in California and most states in between in this country and in other countries around the world. In 1982, 1750 people were arrested at the U.N. missions of the five major nuclear powers. Mass actions took place at the Livermore Laboratories in California and SAC bases in the Midwest. In the late 80s a series of actions took place at the Nevada test site. International disarmament actions changed world opinion about nuclear weapons.

In 1980 women who were concerned with the destruction of the Earth and who were interested in exploring the connections between feminism and nonviolence were coming together. In November of 1980 and 1981 the Women's Pentagon Actions, where hundreds of women came together to challenge patriarchy and militarism, took place. A movement grew that found ways to use direct action to put pressure on the military establishment and to show positive examples of life-affirming ways to live together. This movement spawned women's peace camps at military bases around the world from Greenham Common, England to Puget Sound Peace Camp in Washington state, with camps in Japan and Italy among others.

The anti-apartheid movement in the 80s has built upon the powerful and empowering use of civil disobedience by the civil rights movement in the 60s. In November of 1984, a campaign began that involved daily civil disobedience in front of the South African Embassy. People, including members of Congress, national labor and religious leaders, celebrities, students, community leaders, teachers, and others, risked arrest every weekday for over a year. In the end over 3,100 people were arrested protesting apartheid and U.S. corporate and government support. At the same time, support actions for this campaign were held in 26 major cities, resulting in an additional 5,000 arrests.

We also saw civil disobedience being incorporated as a key tactic in the movement against intervention in Central America. Beginning in 1983, national actions at the White House and State Department as well as local actions began to spread. In November 1984, the Pledge of Resistance was formed. Since then, over 5,000 people have been arrested at military installations, congressional offices, federal buildings, and CIA offices. Many people have also broken the law by providing sanctuary for Central American refugees and through the Lenten Witness, major denomination representatives have participated in weekly nonviolent civil disobedience actions at the Capitol.

Student activists have incorporated civil disobedience in both their anti-apartheid and Central America work. Divestment became the campus slogan of the 80s. Students built shantytowns and staged sit-ins at Administrator's offices. Hundreds have been arrested resulting in the divestment of over 130 campuses and the subsequent withdrawal of over $4 billion from the South African economy. Central America student activists have carried out campaigns to protest CIA recruitment on campuses. Again, hundreds of students across the country have been arrested in this effort.

Nonviolent direct action has been an integral part of the renewed activism in the lesbian and gay community since 1987, when ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed. ACT UP and other groups have organized hundreds of civil disobedience actions across the country, focusing not only on AIDS but on the increasing climate of homophobia and attacks on lesbians and gay men. On October 13, 1987, the Supreme Court was the site of the first national lesbian and gay civil disobedience action, where nearly 600 people were arrested protesting the decision in Hardwick vs. Bowers, which upheld sodomy laws. This was the largest mass arrest in D.C. since 1971.

Political Analysis

Power itself is not derived through violence, though in governmental form it is usually violent in nature. Governmental power is often maintained through oppression and the tacit compliance of the majority of the governed. Any significant withdrawal of that compliance will restrict or dissolve governmental control. Apathy in the face of injustice is a form of violence. Struggle and conflict are often necessary to correct injustice.

Our struggle is not easy, and we must not think of nonviolence as a "safe" way to fight oppression. The strength of nonviolence comes from our willingness to take personal risk without threatening other people.

It is essential that we separate the individual from the role she/he plays. The "enemy" is the system that casts people in oppressive roles.

Nonviolent Response to Personal Violence


Nonviolence focuses on communication:

1. Your objectives must be reasonable. You must believe you are fair and you must be able to communicate this to your opponent.

2. Maintain as much eye contact as possible.

3. Make no abrupt gestures. Move slowly. When practical, tell your opponent what you are going to do before you do it. Don't say anything threatening, critical, or hostile.

4. Don't be afraid of stating the obvious; say simply, "You're shouting at me," or 'You're hurting my arm.

5. Someone in the process of committing an act of violence has strong expectations as to how his/ her victim will behave. If you manage to behave differently - in a nonthreatening manner you can interrupt the flow of events that would have culminated in an act of violence. You must create a scenario new to your opponent.

6. Seek to befriend your opponent's better nature; even the most brutal and brutalized among us have some spark of decency which the nonviolent defender can reach.

7. Don't shut down in response to physical violence; you have to play it by ear. The best rule is to resist as firmly as you can without escalating the anger or the violence. Try varying approaches and keep trying to alter your opponent's picture of the situation.

8. Get your opponent talking and listen to what s/he says. Encourage him/her to talk about what s/he believes, wishes, fears. Don't argue but at the same time don't give the impression you agree with assertions that are cruel or immoral. The listening is more important than what you say - keep the talk going and keep it calm.
- Adapted from an article
by Markley Morris

Practicing Nonviolence

"Without a direct action expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, is meaningless.
M.K. Gandhi

Practice is a key word in understanding nonviolence. A nonviolent approach assumes that people take active roles, making choices and commitments and building on their experience. It also presents a constant challenge: to weave together the diversity of individual experiences into an ever-changing vision. There is no fixed, static "definition" of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is active. Although to some the word nonviolence implies passivity, nonviolence is actually an active form of resistance. It analyzes the sources of institutional violence and intervenes on a philosophical and political level through direct and persistent actions.
Gandhi's vision of nonviolence is translated as "clinging to truth" or sometimes "truth force", which includes both determination to speak out even when one's truth is unpopular, and willingness to hear the truth of other people's experience. He also defined two other components of nonviolence: the refusal to harm others and willingness to suffer for one's beliefs. Many activists who adopt nonviolent tactics are reluctant to accept these aspects philosophically, or to prescribe them to others. For example, Third World people in the U.S. and other countries are often pressed to use violent action to defend their lives. Some feminists point out that since our society pressures women to be self sacrificing, the decision to accept suffering is often reinforcement of women's oppression rather than a free choice.

Jo Vellacott, in her essay "Women, Peace and Power", speaks of violence as "resourcelessness" seeing few options, feeling like one's self or small group is alone against a hostile or at best indifferent universe. Many societal institutions and conventions, despite their original intention to benefit at least some people, perpetuate this violence by depriving people of their lives, health, self-respect or hope. Non-violence then becomes resourcefulness - seeing the possibilities for change in oneself and in others, and having the power to act on those possibilities. Much of the task of becoming effectively nonviolent lies in removing the preconceptions that keep us from seeing those resources. Undoing the violence within us involves challenging myths that we are not good enough, not smart enough or not skilled enough to act. The best way to do this is to try it, working with friends or in small groups at first, and starting with role-plays or less intimidating activities like leafleting. As confidence in our own resourcefulness grows, we become more able to support each other in maintaining our nonviolent actions.

Anger and emotional violence Getting rid of the patterns of violence that societal conditioning has placed in us is not always a polite process; it involves releasing despair, anger, and other emotions that haven't been allowed to surface before. The myth that emotions are destructive and unreliable prevents us from trusting our own experience and forces us to rely on rigid formulas and people we perceive as authorities for guidance. Most of us have been taught that expressing anger especially provokes disapproval, invalidation and physical attack, or else will hurt others and make us suffer guilt. This conditioning serves to make us both repress our own anger and also respond repressively to each other's anger.

Anger is a sign of life. It arises with recognition that injustice exists and contains the hope that things can be different. it is often hard to see this clearly because, as Barbara Deming says,

". . . our anger is in great part hidden from others and even from ourselves and when it is finally allowed to emerge into the open - this pride - it is shaking, unsure of itself, and so quick to be violent. For now it believes and yet it doesn't quite dare to believe that it can claim its rights at last."

To make room for a healthy expression of and response to this anger, it helps to create a general attitude of respect and support. Verbal violence - snide or vicious tones, interrupting, shouting down or misrepresenting what people say - is the antithesis of respect and communication. When people sense this happening, they should pause and consider their feelings and objectives. Clearing the air is especially important when people are feeling defensive or threatened; developing a sense of safety and acceptance of our anger with each other helps us concentrate all our emotional energies towards constructive, effective action.

"Non-violence is the constant awareness of the dignity and humanity of oneself and others; it seeks truth and justice; it renounces violence both in method and in attitude; it is a courageous acceptance of active love and goodwill as the instrument with which to overcome evil and transform both oneself and others. It is the willingness to undergo suffering rather than inflict it. It excludes retaliation and flight."

_ Wally Nelson, conscientious objector, civil rights activist, and tax resister

Nonviolence Training


Historically, nonviolence training was used extensively during the civil rights movement, in Gandhi's campaigns in India against the British, and in recent years in the struggles against nuclear technology, against U.S. policy in Central America and Southern Africa and for the rights of farm workers, women and people with AIDS, to name a few.

The purpose of training is for participants to form a common understanding of the use of nonviolence. It gives a forum to share ideas about nonviolence, oppression, fears and feelings. It allows people to meet and build solidarity with each other and provides an opportunity to form affinity groups. It is often used as preparation for action and gives people a chance to learn about an action, its tone, and legal ramifications. It helps people to decide whether or not they will participate in an action. Through role playing, people learn what to expect from police, officials, other people in the action and themselves.

Nonviolence training can range from several hours to several months. Most typical in the United States are sessions that run up to eight hours and have 10-25 people with two trainers leading the discussion and role-plays. Areas covered in a session include:
- History and philosophy of nonviolence, including role plays on the use of nonviolence and nonviolent responses to violence.

- Role-plays and exercises in consensus decision making, conflict resolution, and quick decision making.

- A presentation of legal ramification of civil disobedience and discussion on noncooperation and bail solidarity.

- Exercises and discussion of the role of oppression in our society and the progressive movement.

- What is an affinity group and what are the roles within the group. - A sharing of fears and feelings related to nonviolence and nonviolent action.


A Creative Combination

This is the heart of my argument: We can put more pressure on the antagonist for whom we show human concern. It is precisely solicitude for his person in com@inatio'n with a stubborn interference with his actions that can give us a very special degree of control (precisely In ,our acting both with love, if you will - in the sense that we respect his human rights - and truthfulness, in the sense that we act out fully our objections to his violating our rights). We put upon him two pressures - the pressure of our defiance of him and the pressure of our respect for his life - and it happens that in combination these two pressures are uniquely effective.

The Two Hands

They have as it were two hands upon him - the one calming him, making him ask questions, as the other makes him move.

- Barbara Deming, "On Revolution and Equilibrium"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that the philosophy and practice of nonviolence has six basic elements. First, nonviolence is resistance to evil and oppression. It is a human way to fight. Second, it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win hislher friendship and understanding. Third, the nonviolent method is an attack on the forces of evil rather than against persons doing the evil. It seeks to defeat the evil and not the persons doing the evil and injustice. Fourth, it is the willingness to accept suffering without retaliation. Fifth, a nonviolent resister avoids both external physical and internal spiritual violence - not only refuses to shoot, but also to hate, an opponent. The ethic of real love is at the center of nonviolence. Sixth, the believer in nonviolence has a deep faith in the future and the forces in the universe are seen to be on the side of justice.

(Stride Toward Freedom Perennial Library, Harper & Row, PP.83-88)

Affinity Groups

Affinity groups are self-sufficient support systems of about 5 to 15 people. A number of affinity groups may work together toward a common goal in a large action, or one affinity group might conceive of and carry out an action on its own. Sometimes, affinity groups remain together over a long period of time, existing as political support and/or study groups, and only occasionally participating in actions.

If you are planning to do civil disobedience, it is a good idea to either form an affinity group or join an already existing one. Affinity groups serve as a source of support and solidarity for their members. Feelings of being isolated or alienated from the movement, the crowd, or the world in general can be alleviated through the familiarity and trust which develops when an affinity group works and acts together. By generating this familiarity, the affinity group structure reduces the possibility of infiltration by outside provocateurs. However, participants in an action should be prepared to be separated from their affinity group.

Affinity groups form the basic decision-making bodies of mass actions. As long as they remain within the nonviolence guidelines, affinity groups are generally encouraged to develop any form of participation they choose.
Every affinity group must decide for itself how it will make decisions and what it wants to do. This process starts when an affinity group forms. If a new person asks to join an affinity group, she/he should find out what the group believes in and what they plan to do, and decide if she/he can share it. Some groups ask that all members share a commitment to feminism, for example, or to nonviolence as a way of life. Others, which have specifically formed to do a particular action, might have less sweeping agreements.

A group cannot hope to reach consensus decisions without having some base of agreement. Once a base is agreed upon, working out the details of specific issues and actions is not as difficult as one might expect, providing that there is a willingness to go along with a good idea, even if it is someone else's. If you find that you cannot work effectively with your group, it might be better to try to find another one.

Affinity groups for mass actions are often formed during nonviolence training sessions. It is a good idea to meet with your affinity group a few times before an action to get to know them if you are not already friends, and to discuss issues such as noncooperation and relationship to the legal system, the role your group will play (in a large action), etc. After an action, it is also helpful to meet with your group to evaluate and share experiences.

Roles Within the Affinity Group

These roles can be rotated: • Facilitator(s), vibes-watchers. • Spokesperson to convey affinity group (A.G.) decisions to core support and other A.G.'s in a mass action.
- Support person(s) once you take on this responsibility, you should see it through.



The role of support in a civil disobedience action is crucial. Support people accept the responsibility of being a visible, involved contact to the outside once a member of the affinity group is arrested. They are the personal extension of the care and concern an affinity group shares among its members, an extension of the need all the participants have to see that individuals who participate in nonviolent direct action are not isolated, neglected, and overburdened because of their political statement.

It can be hard for you to decide whether to do civil disobedience or support. It is strongly encouraged that those considering doing support go through nonviolence training. In making the decision, you could consider how each role would affect your family, job, and other commitments, as well as your legal status (i.e. being on probation, not being a U.S. citizen, etc.). During and after a mass action, be sure to stay in touch with support people from other affinity groups, for information sharing and emotional support.


Before an Action:

Help the affinity group decide upon and initiate their action, provide physical and moral support, and share in the excitement and sense of determination.

- Know the people in your affinity group by name and description.
- Know where people who are arrested are likely to be taken.
- Make a confidential list with the following information:
Name of arrestee
Name used for arrest - Whether or not individual wants to bail out, and when.
- Who arrestee would like contacted and under what circumstances.
- Special medical information or other special needs info.
- Whether the individual plans to cooperate, and in what ways.
• Whether the person is a minor. • Whether the person wants/needs a lawyer.

For a mass action:

- Know who the support coordinators are.
- Know the phone number of the action office.
- Be sure the group fills out an affinity group check-in sheet.
- Be sure your name, phone number, where you can be reached, and how long you will be available to do support work are written on your affinity group's list.

During an Action:

- Know the boundaries of arrest and non-arrest areas, if applicable.
- In a mass action, give emergency info about yourself to another support person.
- Bring paper and pen, and lots of food for yourself and people doing civil disobedience (CDers).
- Hold ID, money, keys and any other belongings for CDers.
- Keep in touch with CDers for as long as possible, noting any changes in arrest strategies, etc.
- Once arrests begin, write down each individual's name, and the time and nature of the arrest, the activity of the person arrested, the treatment of the arresting officer (get the badge number, if possible), and who is noncooperating.


- At least one support person from your affinity group should stay at the place of arrest until all members of your group are arrested, and at least one should go to where those arrested are being taken as soon as the first member of your group is arrested.


At the Courthouse: (if that's where CDers are taken)

Be present during arraignments, and try to keep track of the following info for each person in your group. During a mass action, call this info into the office.
• Name of judge or magistrate.

• Name of CDer (Doe # if applicable).

• Charge
• Plea (Not Guilty, Nolo Contendre, Creative Plea, Guilty, etc.).

- If found guilty, sentence imposed.

• If not guilty:
• Amount of bail, if applicable. • Whether the person pays bail or not.

- Date, time and place of trial.
• If there's a lawyer in the courtroom ask her/his name.

- Any other info that seems relevant.

After the Action:
- Call whoever needs to be informed about each person who was arrested.

- Go to trials or any other appearances of CDers; help with rides.
• Help gather information for pro se defendants.
• In a mass action, be sure to let the office and/or support coordinators know when/if you have to leave town and give them all relevant info about the people you've been supporting.

If CDers are in jail, it is important for someone to be near a phone so that call from jail may be received. You will probably be the go-between for your A.G. members who are not jailed together, as well.
- Contact the office (in a mass arrest) about people in jail and where they are being held.
- Be prepared to bring medication to the jail site for who ever needs it, and follow up on whether or not it has been administered.
- Visit your group members in jail, and pass on any messages.
- Take care of plants, pets, cars, etc., for CDers.
- Write letters to the people in jail; organize a support vigil in front of the jail.
- Be there to pick CDers up when they are released from jail.
- Support other support people working together will ease the load.

- Nancy Alach

Consensus Decision-Making

What is consensus?

Consensus is a process for group decision-making. It is a method by which an entire group of people can come to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote the growth of community and trust. Consensus vs. voting

Voting is a means by which we choose one alternative from several. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesizing many diverse elements together.

Voting is a win or lose model, in which people are more often concerned with the numbers it takes to "win" than with the issue itself. Voting does not take into account individual feelings or needs. In essence, it is a quantitative, rather than qualitative, method of decision-making.

With consensus people can and should work through differences and reach a mutually satisfactory position. It is possible for one person's insights or strongly held beliefs to sway the whole group. No ideas are lost, each member's input is valued as part of the solution.

A group committed to consensus may utilize other forms of decision making (individual, compromise, majority rules) when appropriate; however, a group that has adopted a consensus model will use that process for any item that brings up a lot of emotions, is something that concerns people's ethics, politics, morals or other areas where there is much investment.
What does consensus mean?

Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is necessarily the best one possible, or even that they are sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt that her/his position on the matter was misunderstood or that it wasn't given a proper hearing. Hopefully, everyone will think it is the best decision; this often happens because, when it works, collective intelligence does come up with better solutions than could individuals.

Consensus takes more time and member skill, but uses lots of resources before a decision is made, creates commitment to the decision and often facilitates creative decision. It gives everyone some experience with new processes of interaction and conflict resolution, which is basic but important skill-building. For consensus to be a positive experience, it is best if the group has 1) common values, 2) some skill in group process and conflict resolution, or a commitment to let these be facilitated, 3) commitment and responsibility to the group by its members and 4) sufficient time for everyone to participate in the process.

Forming the consensus proposals

During discussion a proposal for resolution is put forward. It is amended and modified through more discussion, or withdrawn if it seems to be a dead end. During this discussion period it is important to articulate differences clearly. It is the responsibility of those who are having trouble with a proposal to put forth alternative suggestions.

The fundamental right of consensus is for all people to be able to express themselves in their own words and of their own will. The fundamental responsibility of consensus is to assure others of their right to speak and be heard. Coercion and trade-offs are replaced with creative alternatives, and compromise with synthesis.

When a proposal seems to be well understood by everyone, and there are no new changes asked for, the facilitator(s) can ask if there are any objections or reservations to it. If there are no objections, there can be a call for consensus. If there are still no objections, then after a moment of silence you have your decision. Once consensus does appear to have been reached, it really helps to have someone repeat the decision to the group so everyone is clear on what has been decided.

Difficulties in reaching consensus

If a decision has been reached, or is on the verge of being reached that you cannot support, there are several ways to express your objections:

Non-support ("I don't see the need for this, but I'll go along.")

Reservations ("I think this may be a mistake but I can live with it.")

Standing aside ("I personally can't do this, but I won't stop others from doing it.")

Blocking ("I cannot support this or allow the group to support this. It is immoral." If a final decision violates someone's fundamental moral values they are obligated to block consensus.)

Withdrawing from the group. Obviously, if many people express non-support or reservations or stand aside or leave the group, it may not be a viable decision even if no one directly blocks it. This is what is known as a "lukewarm" consensus and it is just as desirable as a lukewarm beer or a lukewarm bath.

If consensus is blocked and no new consensus can be reached, the group stays with whatever the previous decision was on the subject, or does nothing if that is applicable. Major philosophical or moral questions that will come up with each affinity group will have to be worked through as soon as the group forms.

Roles in a consensus meeting

There are several roles which, if filled, can help consensus decision making run smoothly ' The facilitator(s) aids the group in defining decisions that need to be made, helps them through the stages of reaching an agreement, keeps the meeting moving, focuses discussion to the point at hand; makes sure everyone has the opportunity to participate, and formulates and tests to see if consensus has been reached. Facilitators help to direct the process of the meeting, not its content. They never make decisions for the group. If a facilitator feels too emotionally involved in an issue or discussion and cannot remain neutral in behavior, if not in attitude, then s/he should ask someone to take over the task of facilitation for that agenda item.
A vibes-watcher is someone besides the facilitator who watches and comments on individual and group feelings and patterns of participation. Vibes-watchers need to be especially tuned in to the sexism of group dynamics.

A recorder can take notes on the meeting, especially of decisions made and means of implementation and a time-keeper keeps things going on schedule so that each agenda item can be covered in the time allotted for it (if discussion runs over the time for an item, the group may or may not decide to contract for more time to finish up).

Even though individuals take on these roles, all participants in a meeting should be aware of and involved in the issues, process, and feelings of the group, and should share their individual expertise in helping the group run smoothly and reach a decision. This is especially true when it comes to finding compromise agreements to seemingly contradictory positions.

Working Together for A Change

Many of the problems we run into in movement groups are those of domination within the movement.

People join a social change movement in order to alleviate an external problem. Too often we are confronted with the same kind of behavior we find in our everyday lives. We're all too often stifled by heavy-handed authority: bosses at work, parents or spouse at home and teachers at school.

People want not only to be accepted in these groups, but also to make a contribution and be active participants. In order to work successfully to change things we must also pay attention to our own behavior. More often than not, men are the ones dominating group activity. Such behavior is therefore termed a "masculine behavior pattern," not because women never act that way, but because it is generally men who do.

Men are beginning to take responsibility for their behavior. The following are some of the more common problems to become aware of:

Hogging the show. Talking too much, too long, too loud.

Problem solver. continually giving the answer or solution before others have had much chance to contribute.

Speaking in capital letters. Giving one's own solutions or opinions as the final word on the subject, often aggravated by tone of voice and body posture.

Defensiveness. Responding to every contrary opinion as though it were a personal attack.

Nit-picking. Picking out minor flaws in statements of others and stating the exception to every generality.

Restating. Especially what a woman has just said perfectly clearly.

Attention seeking. Using all sort of dramatics to get the spotlight.

Task and content focus. To the exclusion of nurturing individuals or the group through attention to process and form.

Put downs and one-upmanship. 'I used to believe that, but now..." or 'How can you possibly say that ... ?" Negativism. Finding something wrong or problematical in everything.

Focus transfer. Transferring the focus of the discussion to one's own pet issues in order to give one's own pet raps.

Residual office holder. Hanging on to former powerful positions.

Self-listening. Formulating a response after the first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on, and leaping in at the first pause.

George Custerism. Intransigence and dogmatism; taking a last stand for ones position on even minor

Condescension and paternalism.

Being 'on the make". Treating women seductively; using sexuality to manipulate women.

Seeking attention and support from women while competing with men.

Running the show. Continually taking charge of tasks before others have the chance to volunteer.

Graduate studentitis. Protectively storing key group information for one's own use and benefit.

Speaking for others. 'A lot of us .think that we should. . . "or "What so and so really meant was..."


The full wealth of knowledge and skills is severely limited by such behavior. Women and men who are less assertive than others or who don't feel comfortable participating in a competitive atmosphere are, in effect, cut off from the interchange of experience and ideas.

If sexism isn't ended within social change groups there can't be a movement for real social change. Not only will the movement flounder amidst divisiveness, but the crucial issue of liberation from sex oppression will not be dealt with. Any change of society which does not include the freeing of women and men from oppressive sexrole conditioning, from subtle as well as blatant forms of male supremacy, is incomplete.

Here are some specific ways we can be responsible to ourselves and others in groups:

Not interrupting people who are speaking. We can even leave space after each speaker, counting to five before speaking.

Becoming a good listener. Good listening is as important as good speaking. It's important not to withdraw when not speaking; good listening is active participation.

Getting and giving support. We can help each other be aware of and interrupt patterns of domination, as well as affirm each other as we move away from those ways. It is important that men support and challenge each other, rather than asking women to do so. This will also allow women more space to break out of their own conditioned role of looking after men's needs while ignoring their own.

Not giving answers and solutions. We can give our opinions in a manner which says we believe our ideas to be valuable, but no more important than others' ideas.

Relaxing. The group will do fine without our anxiety attacks.

Not speaking on every subject. We need not share every idea we have, at least not with the whole group.

Not putting others down. We need to check ourselves when we're about to attack or "one-up" another. We can ask ourselves, 'Why am I doing this? What am I feeling? What do I need?"

Interrupting others' oppressive behavior. We should take responsibility for interrupting a brother who is exhibiting behavior which is oppressive to others and prohibits his own growth. It is no act of friendship to allow friends to continue dominating those around them. We need to learn caring and forthright ways of doing this.

- from an article by Bill Moyelri

Legal Issues / Risking Arrest

The decisions that we make are political, not legal. The reaction of the government to what we are doing, to what we stand for, will also be political. We can have quite an impact on what happens to us in jail, in court and during processing, if we are prepared. It can be as important a part of our nonviolent opposition as anything that comes before the arrest.

In a large demonstration, the police may separate us from each other, breaking up affinity groups and possibly isolating individuals. In order to maintain our spirits and effectiveness, we must develop an ability to deal with the legal system, while trusting in the solidarity of other demonstrators. Solidarity is, in reality, more a state of mind that unites us through a long struggle than a specific course of action that everyone follows. Solidarity does not demand that everyone make the same choice in every situation. It is an internal force within each of us and among us as a group. It is our commitment to one another and to our common cause; it is our dedication to support one another and to pursue our common goals at all times, in every situation, to the best of our ability. Solidarity cannot be broken by courts, jails or other external forces. If we hold fast to it, it is ours.

Our approach to the legal system is up to us. We retain as much power as we refuse to relinquish to the government - city, state or federal.

The criminal "justice" system functions to alienate and isolate the accused individual, to destroy one's power and purposefulness and to weave a web of confusion and mystification around any legal proceedings. If we are well prepared for our contact with this system, we can limit the effect it has upon us, both personally and politically. It is extremely important that we be firmly rooted in our own spirit and purposes, our commitment to one another and history and tradition of social struggle of which we are a part. We should try to maintain our nonviolent attitude of honesty and directness while dealing with law enforcement officers and the courts.

Legal System Flowchart

Warning or Command Officer may give warning to or leave or command to stop doing something. - Stay or leave -Don't do or stop doing actions.
Arrest Officer physically grabs you, takes you to police wagon or squad car. May say you are under arrest. Pat search, sometimes handcuffs. Taken to holding area. - Walk
- Go limp
- Flee (if left unguarded)
Police question arrestees concerning information for arrest reports (name/address/occupation/social security number/ financial); may try to get additional information for intelligence.
Possible photographing/fingerprinting/property and clothes may be taken.
-Decide what, if any, information to give police; e.g. false, correct or no name. - Refuse to post bond -Demand no cash bonds or equal bonds for all (bail & jail solidarity)
Charging Prosecutor decides what charges to pursue  
First Court Date Appear in court alone, or most likely with other arrestees Attempt to dispose of case by plea or trial, or continue case for bench or jury trial or plea negotiations later. Prosecutor not always ready for trial. -Lawyers or Pro Se
- Plea
- Bench Trial
- Demand jury trial
in future
Trial Trials can vary from: - a few minute bench trial with or without a lawyer - to a full jury trial with expert witnesses lasting a week or more,
- or any place in. between.
- Defense based on noncommission of acts and/or necessity of actions - Small or large resources of time and money
Verdict judge or jury decides
- Acquittal (not guilty)
- Guilty
Sentencing Hearing on appropriate sentence Can testify why actions were justified, necessary, etc., and your background. Sentencing statement is powerful opportunity to bring out political and moral issues, show non-recalcitrance. Remain silent


Nonviolent action draws its strength from open confrontation and noncooperation, not from evasion or subterfuge. Bail solidarity, noncooperation and other forms of resistance can be used to reaffirm our position that we are not criminals and that we are taking positive steps towards freeing the world from oppression.

Discuss the issues raised in this legal section with your affinity' group - particularly noncooperation and your attitude toward trials. Think out various hypothetical situations and try to understand how you will respond to these situations.

Some demonstrators refuse to cooperate partially or wholly with court procedures; they refuse to enter a plea, to retain or accept a lawyer, to stand up in court, to speak to the judge as a symbol of court authority (but rather speak to him or her as a fellow human being), to take the stand or question witnesses. They may make a speech to those assembled in the courtroom or simply lie or sit on the floor if they are carried in, or attempt to leave if not forcibly restrained. The penalties for such noncooperation can be severe, because many judges take such action to be a personal affront as well as an insult to the court. Some judges, on the other hand, overlook such conduct, or attempt to communicate with the demonstrators.

Physical noncooperation may be sustained through the booking process and through court appearances; it may continue through the entire time of one's detention. This might involve a refusal to walk, to eat, to clean oneself and one's surroundings. It may even lead prison officials to force-feed and diaper the inmate.
Another form of noncooperation is fasting - taking no food and no liquid except water, or perhaps fruit juice. While abstaining from food can be uncomfortable and eventually risky, abstaining from all food and liquid can be extremely dangerous almost immediately. Five or six days is probably the longest a human can go without liquid before incurring brain damage and serious dehydration. Usually authorities watch persons who are "water fasting" closely and take steps to hospitalize them before serious consequences occur, but no demonstrator can ever count on such attention and should therefore be prepared to give up the fast or perhaps be allowed to die, as did several Irish freedom fighters during the H-Block hunger strike in 1981.

There are other forms noncooperation may take and other reasons for it to occur. The refusal to give one's name undoubtedly springs from a desire to resist and confound a system that assigns criminal records to people, that categorizes and spies upon them and that punishes organizers and repeat offenders more strenuously. It relays a message that none of us should be singled out: we'll be doing this again and again.

Many nonviolent activists, however, acting with the openness and confidence that characterizes and strengthens nonviolent action, do not choose to hide their identities. They may still noncooperate, however, by refusing to reveal an address, or by refusing to promise to return for trial, increasing the burden on the courts to quickly deal with the demonstrators and enhancing their solidarity and strength as people working together, filling the jails.

Representing Yourself

"When arrested while making a statement through an act of civil disobedience, I prefer to go pro se (represent myself) because of the control it gives me in the courtroom. It means that I am a woman in charge of my life and responsible for my decisions and behavior, and that I am prepared for the results of my actions. Using a lawyer means that I must sit quietly and humbly through specious legal arrangements over my behavior and the proper punishment for it. It means that I am like a child with parents arguing about my naughtiness and what to do about it so that I will "learn a lesson" or "will have learned a lesson." I should add, however, that having a lawyer around to advise and explain potentially complicated issues is helpful. "


-Catherine de Laubenfels, arrested at Women's Pentagon Action 1980, 1981


The Constitution gives you the right to represent yourself. The right is founded in the understanding that someone else may not say quite what you want said in your behalf, or may not say it in the way you want it said. You therefore cannot be forced to let someone speak for you.

Trials and hearings resulting from civil disobedience are particularly suited to unearthing the reasons behind, and the possibilities for, selfrepresentation. Perhaps the CDer can better explain his or her own motivation. Why water down a deeply political and personal act of civil disobedience with a lot of legalistic jargon? Why let the application of the energizing ideas contained in the philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience stop with the arrests? If you choose to participate in action, it will be a result of much thought and consideration. Why not continue to involve yourself fully all the way through the trial? A lawyer must adhere to the legal restrictions of the courtroom and translate everything into the proper categories. You as a pro se litigant have much greater leeway. If you don't understand something don't hesitate to ask questions about what is happening during the trial.

Representation by an attorney may be the best route, if you desire an acquittal at any cost. In a group trial, the option of having some but not all defendants represented by counsel is often available. You should speak to people who have represented themselves. The most important thing is to remember that you have choices. The system teaches us to think that there is only one way of doing anything, but because we question that we choose to do civil disobedience in the first place.

In November of 1980, as part of the first Women's Pentagon Action, one woman chose to sing her "defense. " She sang Malvina Reynolds' "It Isn't Nice to Block the Doorway." She was found guilty.


It Isn't Nice
-by Malvina Reynolds

It isn't nice to block the doorway, It isn't nice to go to jail
There are nicer ways to do it, But the nice ways always fail.

Chorus 1
It isn't nice, it isn't nice
You told us once, you told
But if that is freedom's price We don't mind

It isn't nice to carry banners or to sleep in on the floor. Or to shout or cry of freedom At the hotel and the store.

Chorus I
Well we tried negotiations
And the token picket line.
The government didn't see us,
They might as well be blind.

Chorus 2
Now our new ways aren't nice
When we deal with men of ice
But if that is freedom's price
We don't mind.


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