Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peace Teams: How

The purposes of a peace team are to nonviolently de-escalate violence, and assist in creating and defending the image of a nonviolent social movement. How does a peace team do these two primary functions?

De-escalating violent or potentially violent interactions is done by being a calming presence, a presence focused not on arguing the issues but rather on bringing the people into dialog rather than hot conflict. This is often done most effectively by focusing, listening, affirming, and at times simply redirecting individuals away from the conflict. Train for it.
Meta Peace Team training
Creating and defending the image of the movement begins with the core group of organizers who have decided the behavior code required of participants. If they have not stressed nonviolence, it will be almost impossible to create and defend a sympathetic public image. If they have decided to assert that they are a nonviolent movement, and have given the moral authority to the peace team to request that behavior of all participants, the peace team can help greatly.

To inoculate a movement against the erosion and nullification of the good image of that movement, the peace team can be on hand at public demonstrations to accomplish several parts of this inoculation.

  • Print, carry, and pass out small cards identifying the peace team as representatives of the organizers who want nonviolent behavior from all participants.
  • Talk to agitated participants to attempt to let them know they are expected to project an image of nonviolence.
  • Separate conflicting parties if possible.
  • Listen to all and affirm their humanity.
  • For those who cannot be de-escalated, ask them if they understand that the organizers no longer regard them as participating in the movement.
  • Be sure police and media understand that any deviation from the organizers' stated behavior code no longer represents the movement.

It is not the duty of the members of the peace team to take a position on anything except violence. Even when a peace team is an internal branch of the movement and not a generally available peace team for all groups, their work at a public demonstration is to protect people and the image of the movement, not to debate the merits of the issue. When others understand they cannot provoke a peace team member into an argument, provocation usually diminishes.

Is the peace team there to remove emotion and anger from a movement? No. Both Gandhi and King wrote compellingly about the value of anger. Gandhi compared it to steam, framing it as choosing whether to allow that steam to build up and explode destructively or harness the steam and control its power to get work done. The peace team is there to help make productive, constructive, transformative work possible.

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