Local News & Events

Passing the Torch: Training a new generation of activists

In keeping on-brand, Black Unity has tapped into the activist spirit by facilitating a series of community civil disobedience and direct action trainings by two longtime Pacific Northwest activists with a combined 40 years of experience. 

As the days of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests grow, Eugene’s activists continue to face hurdles in organization and opposition, But, they’re finding new ways to educate and mobilize people within the city.

Efficient and effective organization amongst activist groups is not new, nor is it uncommon, nor is it confined to movements, borders, and ideologies. Instead of learning from the internet, BU is facilitating community education “the old fashioned way”— veterans passing down the torch to a new generation of activists.

The activists—who wish to remain anonymous due to the fear of reprisals from police/the government and militia groups—started off the training by asking the attendees to discuss amongst themselves what they believed to constitute civil disobedience. Following the discussion, the trainers asked the attendees–who numbered about 50–what answers they had come up with. 

Their answers included the Suffrage movement, anti-Vietnam war protests, the anti-nuclear weapon protests, and the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Along with these examples, attendees were given information on the success rate of non-violent civil disobedience movements. 

This included information compiled by political scientist Erica Chenoweth that claims non-violent movements are two times as effective as violent movements. 

“What do you want? Do you want change or do you want to smash shit?” one speaker said about anger, which they claimed was the chief cause of violence at demonstrations. “Use your anger on things that work. Make change by using what works.” 

They also claimed that civil disobedience garners good and positive media attention, which can help the cause.

The training was interactive. Throughout the several-hour-long event, attendees were given scenarios in which they all had to decide if it was violent and effective, violent and non-effective, non-violent and effective, and non-violent and non-effective. Some of the scenarios included throwing fireworks at the police, setting fire to a police station, throwing or hitting back flash bangs and tear gas, yelling “ACAB” or using “verbally abusive” language. 

While arguing their position, one activist from Minneapolis said that when precinct 12 was burnt down, it gave the community time to heal sent a message to others about know how serious the community felt about the state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd. 

Another noted that many middle aged people are “too scared to protest because of the violence.”

Another exercise had one line of attendees to pretend they were either cops or counter-protestors and the other line act as protesters. A variety of tactics were discussed in the training, as well as their impacts. From LRAD sounds, all lives matter chants, and “this is a baton I am hitting you in the head with,” attendees provided similar scenes to those in real life. After each person was given a chance to be a protestors and the opposition, the group talked about how the actions made them feel and think, and whether they believe that it would have been effective or ineffective in a live scenario.

Affinity groups–small, tight-knit, and autonomous groups within a larger protest–were also discussed and practiced.The trainers went into detail about the types of affinity groups that are common, including specialized roles like street medics or traffic control, and their own experiences with the tactic. 

One of the affinity group experiences shared by the activist was during a disruption-based protest involving a train carrying nuclear material to Portland. One affinity group was a Christian group who laid on the tracks. However, this group made it very clear that no one was to take them off the tracks or try to save them 

“They said ‘we want to be martyred,’” the speaker said. 

The trainer stressed that the other groups would have respected their wishes and let them become martyrs. But, the affinity group the trainer was in was skilled and lucky enough to stop the train before it reached them. 

There was also a training on group consensus, and was practiced within the parameters of six-person affinity groups. Given a five minute time constraint, groups voted whether to get arrested, to flee the area, and other options.

Post-arrest tactics were the last of the topics to be covered in the training, The speaker stressed the importance of having jail support, whether that means someone to call in case of arrest, having your ID being held by another affinity group, and other options. Tactics given were refusal to identify oneself, practicing jail solidarity–refusing to get bailed out and staying locked up with your comrades–and coming up with demands. Demands—which are mixed in with demands that the groups know won’t be met—include a lowered bail amount, release without bail, or certain members being released first. 

But the fundamental point driven home by the activists was that no one should ever give up on their movement or the people fighting alongside them.

Once the civil disobedience and direct action training was completed, the Civil Liberties Defense Center provided a “Know Your Rights” training.  

Many are calling current events a new civil rights era, a cultural revolution, and like many movements of this caliber, organization is success. True and tried tactics are passed down, new ones are created, tested, and perfected. BU’s commitment to fight for sorely needed change and a safer America was personified by another lens that day–a lens that not only captures the activist spirit of this community, but one that, in the activist’s minds, will create a stronger and more effective activism in our slice of Oregon.

Towards the end of the training, one of the newly trained activists shared their favorite lesson from the day.

“All cops lie” 

Janusz Malo
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