Just over a week ago, Jonathan and I spent a full 4-days in Seattle, where we were able to facilitate a two-day workshop to 42 people and 3 dogs, explore the city, meet with some great people, plant seeds for future collaborations, and practice applying the philosophy of Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation rather then simply talking about it.
The workshop was a really good one with a diverse group of youth and elders from the movement, participants from Occupy Seattle, school-teachers and representatives from Antioch University and others from various walks of life. We were also joined by two local trainers, Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm and Mary Lou Finley.
The workshop was held at St. Mark’s Cathedral, a church that has actively supported Occupy Seattle. Dr. King talked about how the Church preaches about saving a person’s soul, but many of them are not active in social movements because they fail to realize that there are things in the physical realm that impact the soul. Poverty, racism, and militarism are things that impact the soul, and Dr. King preached that churches have a responsibility to organize against those forces. We were grateful to be in a church that understands that responsibility.
After many long hours debriefing with Jonathan, here are some of the lessons we learned during the trip:
It’s All About Perspectives
We got to spend time with some folks who identify as anarchists, to try to build a better understanding of their perspective and learn from them. Because there was no time to get into those discussions in the training, we set up an additional event and time on the side.
We recognize that there are real and significant differences in perspectives within the Occupy movement. But we also learned that at the end of the day, we share so much more in common than we do in differences. For the most part, we want to see the same types of changes in our communities.
We often get caught up in dividing ourselves over perceived labels. From the perspective of those who consider themselves to be nonviolent, “anarchists” and those who subscribe to “diversity of tactics” become nothing more than violent window smashers with no strategy, and we fail to acknowledge their commitment to put their bodies on the line for the change they believe in. And “nonviolent” activists can sometimes be painted as weak or passive, and people fail to recognize the power and the forceful nature that nonviolent movements can embody.
Once we are able to get beyond the labels that we place on ourselves, we can start to widen the circle, identify common goals, and figure out how we can support each other as opposed to be in a constant, never-ending debate about who is right. The issue is not about who is right, but about how we can get closer to our collective goal.
During the days of the Civil Rights movement, the media would often pit Martin Luther King against Malcolm X as a way to divide the movement. King and Malcolm had very real differences, much like the different perspectives within Occupy. However, we all want justice for our community and the perceived divides are not as large as we are driven to believe.
Let’s all try to get beyond labels, beyond perceptions and assumptions about each other, and figure out how we can work together around a common set of goals.
Facebook and its Role in the Movement
We get it. It’s a good tool. I remember three friends created an event on Facebook to support Trayvon Martin last week, and that huge, successful event came together in 24 hours largely thanks to Facebook. Some of you will probably be reading this because of a link you saw on Facebook.
The Occupy Movement has benefited from all of the social networking tools that are out there, and it has done a great job of using them well. But it has also become a place where people hash out differences, and I think that is contributing to the conflicts in this movement.
Conflict and tension escalates real quick online, and people say things online that they would not normally say to someone’s face. After all, you’re talking to a computer so it’s easy to see the target of your words as less than human. And you completely lose nonverbal communication, including tone, body language, eye contact and other things. On Facebook, you simply have to assume all of those things.
I have never seen a conflict get resolved through Facebook debates. But I have seen too many Facebook debates get out of hand so quickly that it actually negatively impacts real relationships.
There are some real disagreements in this movement, and they need to be discussed. And it’s easier to do it on Facebook because you don’t have to look a person you are in conflict with in their eyes. It’s more uncomfortable to be face to face with conflict. But if we are committed to resolving it, that is exactly what we are going to have to learn to do.
And those conversations are going to be difficult. We are going to have to challenge our own assumptions, be willing to listen to different opinions, and be willing to hold ourselves accountable. We are going to have to speak our minds in rooms where our views may not be popular, we are going to have to have honest discussions with people with whom we have been in conflict with, we are going to have to be willing to be challenged, but we are going to have to commit ourselves to that process and get through them stronger than before, not more divided
As we continue our discussions with the community in Seattle, we are looking forward to strengthening our new and old relationships alike. We have been in discussions with several Seattle communities about additional trainings and collaborations, and we look forward to more opportunities for us to learn and gain knowledge from all of the incredible individuals we met and built with.
Click HERE to see more pictures from our Seattle trip.