This week Shantigarbha has been using his skills as a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer to support Extinction Rebellion in London. Here’s what he learned.
1. I’m a secret rebel! I’ve been nonviolently resisting power over me since I was four years old.
2. It’s a relief to be doing something. After so many years of looking on helplessly as climate change accelerates, it’s a blessed relief to be working with other people to bring about change.
3. Rebels are united by fear and grief about what’s happening to our planet. They are also angry about the inaction of our governments to protect us, other species and future generations. They are surprisingly unanimous about the need for nonviolent disruption in order to reset the political and economic systems we find ourselves in.
4. XR needs people who are willing to be arrested in order to maintain a disruptive edge. We also need a great many more people who can organise actions, focus on wellbeing and regeneration, act as legal observers, stewards, First Aiders, and deescalators.
5. Things can escalate quickly. When we were outside the Home Office, the police had issued a Section 14 and started arresting people. At one point, they started dragging arrestees instead of lifting them. Rebels in the crowd were getting angry.
6. If you want things to change, talk to the person in charge, not the ones following orders. Wearing my white Nonviolence and Deescalation vest, I went over and asked the officer in charge of the arrests, “More lifting and less dragging please.” He said that his officers had to drag them because other people were in the way. I acknowledged, “I understand that you’ve got a difficult job to do. At the same time, we want to maintain a safe and respectful atmosphere, and dragging is a kind of escalation.” He nodded. I repeated firmly, “More lifting and less dragging please.” After that, the dragging stopped – successful deescalation!
7. People who get heard are more likely to listen. By acknowledging that the police had a difficult job to do, I opened the doorway for my request to be heard. It’s important to see each other’s humanity. We’re trying to get the attention of the British public and their elected representatives. We’re all in this together.
8. In order to be successful, research suggests that we need the active support of 3.5% of the population. My impression is that most people are either supportive or accepting of our broad message. When I leafletted Home Office workers at going home time, around 60% of them took a leaflet. Some people looked down or away, however I saw no hostility whatsoever.
9. Some disagree with our tactics of disruption, and regard them as counterproductive. A few are angry because we’re making it difficult for them to go about their business. When we listen and acknowledge their needs and concerns, they are more likely to listen to our message.
10. Keep it simple. Check if the person is willing to hear why we’re on the streets before telling them. You’ve got about 30 seconds to make your case. I say, “This is an emergency. We need to act now.” It could be as simple as that.