Message From The Nonviolence Committee

November 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

After the events of last Saturday, the Nonviolence Committee was formed to study and promote effective Nonviolence strategies for Occupy Denver. One of the most frequent comments we heard from people was that they could feel the situation becoming increasingly tense and confusing, but didn’t feel that there was anything they could do to stop it.

Our first priority was to develop a tool for people to use to de-escalate those sorts of tense situations, and ensure that rash action on the part of individual protesters or law enforcement officers would not cause a general panic. With that in mind, we developed an extremely simple procedure outlined in the graphic above.

We’ve been distributing handbills explaining the procedure, and by next Saturday’s protest we hope to have enough cards to distribute to everyone participating. This procedure is simply offered as a tool to
bring a calming atmosphere to potential confrontation, and is not meant to be the only nonviolent response to be used in any situation.

We encourage people to be conscious of their safety and to exercise common sense. Since brevity takes priority over subtlety when designing these types of handouts, here is a more detailed explanation of the procedure and of alternative actions people might take.

1. Hold hands or link arms with the people near you.

This creates a sense of togetherness and acts as a calming influence. It also helps to stop instigators from darting in and out of a crowd and creating the impression that the entire crowd is behaving antagonistically. However, there are times when this might not be appropriate, such as when you need to move out of the way quickly or when it might be interpreted as a barrier or aggression by law enforcement.

2. Sit down.

By sitting down, you make it clear to law enforcement, your fellow protesters, media, and other observers that you are not acting aggressively. You ensure that you cannot be used as camouflage by people wishing to provoke violence, and make it less likely you will be mistaken for an aggressor. When people are standing in a dense crowd, it is very difficult to tell one from another and to judge motives of individuals in the general confusion and shouting. A mob mentality can build up that reinforces anger and aggression. By sitting down you help break that cycle, and reinforce calm and a desire for peace.

Clearly, there are situations in which sitting can cause safety concerns. If you are worried about a stampede, or think you might be injured by people stepping over you, move to a place you feel safe sitting down. If you are unable to sit or strongly prefer standing, move behind the rows of people sitting down and join hands with other people standing there.

3. Say “Shh”.

A low shushing sound is seen as calming to people around the world. When we see confusing situations resulting in unjust action, it is natural to try to explain that we are a peaceful protest. But when you have large groups of people shouting at once, any possible message is lost in the noise and all shouting is likely to be seen as aggressive. By saying “shh” we audibly call attention to the nonviolent response in a calming way that cannot be misinterpreted as aggression.

There are many other ways that this can be achieved. When you first try to get those around you to sit down with you, it may make more sense to use a chant of “Sit down, sit down.” When the situation is calm enough, a meditative silence may be appropriate. Or a calming and peaceful song. It is entirely up to the people participating in the de-escalation. The important thing to remember is that the calmer the situation is, the safer everyone is and the more effectively we will be able to get our message across.

The Nonviolence Committee is a completely open committee, and we encourage everyone to join. If you’d like to get on our email list, go to http://groups.google.com/group/occupy-denver-nonviolence-committee and sign up. We hold Nonviolence trainings and discussions after every GA, and we would love to see you there. Thank you very much for your time, and we hope to see you on site.