The hope for the following is different from a traditional nonviolence workshop in that it incorporates a rough reflexive teaching curriculum to allow participants to critically analyze themselves as well as past state violence and the potential for future state violence that they may encounter, and a reflexive history lesson that explores the possibilities of future actions.  This paper will be divided into sections that include a brief background of violence and nonviolent resistance, philosophy, required skills, strategies, tactics, goals, exercises, and presentations. Throughout this nonviolence workshop, students will be mentored in a reflexive curriculum where they are asked to consider the history of violence as it relates to current events, the motivations of the bureaucratic power that wields that potential violence, how to react to it, and to critically analyze the results of each as well as the violent and nonviolent actions and reactions that surround them. The reasoning for this is to allow participants to fully understand their own motivations and those wielding powers that are motivating future nonviolent actions.

To be clear throughout, a few definitions are necessary.  Violence according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology (p. 1139, 2015) is “the expression of hostility and rage with the intent to injure or damage people or property through physical force.” Nonviolent action, “is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.” (Sharp, p. 18, 2013). Reflexivity is “a subject considering an object in relation to itself, bending that object back upon itself in a process which includes the self being able to consider itself as its own object.” (Archer, p. 72, 2007).

A workshop will require some knowledge or experience in its creation, or at least some enthusiasm in researching a model that may guide its development as well as the ability to promote it, short or long term.  Here, the concepts of asset-based community development may be key when skills and resources are pooled for the greater community’s or group’s good to solve one single issue or an ongoing series of campaign issues (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993). The ability to create a nonviolence workshop is vital, but without mentoring and teaching reflexivity and critical thinking, the result is that people are not taught to think for themselves or to analyze how to respond to violent actions in the future.  Such an action could be considered criminal when people are not being mentored to be future independent, to think for themselves, and to teach others the same.  It is to handicap them and force them to rely upon one person or organization as the only source of knowledge, and that is a corruption of power.  The designers of any nonviolent workshop should be mindful of this.


Background and Philosophy

Though creating a nonviolent social change training workshop confronts the apparatuses of state violence directly and with the potential risk of arrest or harm, it is necessary to provide tools to everyone that allows them the option, support, and education to critically understand what they might be confronted with in the future and how to deal with it.  The background of nonviolence itself is present throughout recorded history.  This foundation resulted from frustration in the ineffectiveness of ancient or modern state authority, violence, oppression, a religious conviction within Eastern philosophy or the Western religious canon, a lifestyle committed against violence towards every living being, or a combination of these. (Holmes & Gan, 2004). The background of nonviolent social change originated before the actions of Gandhi in India, primarily with active resistance to war and slavery with the Quakers and Anabaptists and others throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Gandhi, while not the first to employ nonviolence, was the first to combine a variety of tactics that adhered to a politically strategic plan designed to gain long-term social goals that had a history of being used in isolated incidents throughout the history. While his tactics are very much tied to aspects of Indian culture and the personal charisma of Gandhi himself, he was able to link mass action with nonviolent discipline to demonstrate the immense power that such efforts could produce. (Vernal Project, Holmes & Gan, 2004).

The philosophy behind nonviolence is not passive or inactive as Sharp (2013) indicates and it is certainly not passive within a nonviolence workshop designed to accomplish a specific goal.  It is to achieve results without resorting to violence.  While I am skeptical of its total effectiveness, history does not necessarily support my skepticism as Chenoweth & Stephan (2011) have indicated through their exploration of modern nonviolent actions throughout the world. Sharp (2013) supports this argument when he explores the justification that violent action against the state in modern society is rejected for practical reasons, rather than for religious or moral convictions, and it is used collectively to reject or reform policy or even topple dictatorships quite effectively.


Workshop Skills, Strategies, and Tactics

Beginning a nonviolence workshop will require specific skills, strategies, and tactics to be successful.  Here, Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010) provide an outline, Chenoweth & Stephan (2011) provide successful examples of larger campaigns, and Sharp (2013) provides a blueprint. The length of the workshop should be long enough to accomplish its goals, rather than what is primarily requested most of the time, a one-hour workshop that can only serve as an introduction. Workshops should teach attendees five skills:  a general overview of the subject, teach them to do one thing very well, create a common language or approach, create enthusiasm, and build confidence.  Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010) indicate that workshops are bad tools for teaching complicated subjects like long division and nautical navigation.  But, it should provide the attendees with the tools to understand their nonviolent objective as critically and reflexively as possible as well as everyone’s position in it, the violent as well as the nonviolent objects that everyone needs to understand within the nonviolent action being taught. This should not be a place where propaganda rules but where as much information as possible is provided and analyzed. In this context, propaganda is defined as “an attempt to spread an ideology through the mass media… to lead the public to accept some political, or economic structure, or to participate in some action” and its group and individual penetration is known as sociological propaganda “…the penetration of an ideology by means of its sociological context” (p. 63) and through horizontal propaganda within group dynamics, especially between individuals within small groups (p. 81). (Ellul, 1969).

A workshop should neither be safe in terms of content nor too advanced that most are not able to follow and participate.  Accordingly, some advanced planning is necessary to determine specific goals, overall concept, and no more than three key points. This will require some feedback from friends and colleagues to determine the practicality and effectiveness of the model.  At the very least, the workshop should include room for feedback and questions that allow for reflection from participants and leaders as well as some clarification for later improvement. Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010) indicate that participants should come from similar backgrounds or levels of experience.  When a particular protest or action is involved, I agree, but in my experience, a level of enthusiasm will make up for levels of experience or background, and different levels of experience and background can provide different skills in an action.   Such diversity should be considered.  Additionally, if the action involves a neighborhood or community, the variety of expertise and interest within that community should be considered. However, contrary to Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010), separating leaders and participants is a mistake if leaders become incapacitated and cannot lead, if the workshop is presented in a non-hierarchical format or if the organization is non-hierarchical. For each section of the workshop, handouts should be created for participants to follow since PowerPoint use will be employed for visual aids only to avoid overuse.

Conducting the workshop would follow a loose but organized strategy with an atmosphere that is at once comfortable and peaceful.  Following my desire for a healthy environment, I would also provide fruit and vegetable snacks at each table and provide water, juice, and coffee for those that desire it.  Since some of the goals of this and future workshops will be to form collaborative networks of individuals, groups, and efforts, and the workshop itself will employ exercises and roleplays where participants engage with one another, it would be productive for everyone involved to briefly introduce themselves at a level they are comfortable with that includes a short biography and their areas of expertise and interest. Any lecture by workshop leader(s) will be minimal, since learning and understanding in this environmental context is more successful and productive through discussion, Q & A, short audio-visual presentations, and exercises and role plays.

There are three successful methods or tactics that are used in nonviolent action.  They include protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention (Sharp, 2013). Each should be explored as needed.  While each nonviolent action workshop will necessarily be different, certainly the workshop should have access to Gene Sharp’s full descriptive list of tactics to determine what may work best.  Within the workshop is where these various methods should be explored rather than before or after to avoid any implications of authoritarianism and to explore the skills and interests with the workshop group.  If one workshop is an overview, perhaps additional workshops can be scheduled that break down the different aspects of the overall action into types or sub-classes of actions.  These include, formal statements, communication with a wider audience (e.g., slogans, leaflets, banners, graffiti), group presentations (e.g., lobbying, picketing), symbolic public acts (e.g., prayer, protest disrobings), drama and music (e.g., skits, concerts), processions and public assemblies (e.g., marches and teach-ins), and withdrawal and renunciation (e.g., walkouts and renouncing honors). Each of these tactics can be explored deeper or modified depending upon the need of the workshop and the interest of the participants.


Goals and Exercises

My personal goals for such an enterprise, will be varied and flexible.  It will also be necessary to monitor each workshop to observe successes as well as failures and determine areas of improvement.  To accomplish this, questionnaires will be provided for feedback but proceedings will also be monitored for reactions, feedback, and questions during workshops themselves.  The overall atmosphere of the workshop, the group and their needs will determine how the following exercises are ordered, and the group will play a role in determining that order so they productively benefit. The goals for these workshops are fourfold, 1.), to more deeply learn and understand the anticipated action(s) in question from the participants, 2.) to teach the group a brief history lesson of successful actions that relate to their own, 3.) to mentor the group in successful nonviolent techniques and learn the strengths and weakness of the individuals in the group, and 4.) to teach them reflexivity within a nonviolent context that allows participants to understand the actions and motivations of the proposed recipient(s) of their nonviolence, some of the propaganda behind the proposed nonviolent actions as well as some of the actions of the recipient(s) of the proposed nonviolence. To facilitate each of these goals, frequent use of listening and role-plays will be employed with the coordinated use of audio and visuals (in the form of video, picture, and audio reinforcement) to expedite the power of recall later in the workshop and during the nonviolent action itself (Lippmann, 1998).  Due to the general overuse of PowerPoint presentations, they will only be used for necessary graphics, illustrations, or photographs.

One goal of such a workshop, in addition to mentoring the participants in their anticipated action, also requires that those conducting the workshop (whether that is me or others) make an effort to learn and understand the anticipated action(s) in question from the participants as well as the history and a little about the recipient(s) of the anticipated nonviolent action. Thus, mentors and participants will become both students as well as teachers throughout the workshop and the workshop mentors and students will be able to teach what they know and learn to understand everyone involved throughout the workshop.

To teach the group a brief history lesson of successful actions that relate to their own partially satisfies the goal to mentor interested participants in critical thinking.  It is a means to help participants learn from their immediate and longer history, to learn from successes as well as mistakes whether local or international as long as the history lesson is one that applies to the immediate circumstances that the participants and workshop mentors believe they are faced with. Chenoweth & Stephan (2011) explore nonviolent actions in general from 1900 – 2006 and successful nonviolent actions from 1940 – 2006.  Studying these actions selectively allows for more of a deeper analysis of successes and failures than a workshop of tactics ever would be allowed to explore.  It allows for members that understand such history to explain to other colleagues how and why their actions may succeed from a practical as well as historical perspective and to explain the logistics of such successes.

To mentor the group in successful nonviolent techniques and learn the strengths and weakness of the individuals in the group will require the viewing of short videos (to accommodate short attention spans and limited workshop length) to explore the history of successful and unsuccessful nonviolent actions as well as breaking participants into smaller groups for role playing and discussion to achieve better understanding and to coordinate focused learning for those that want to concentrate on a specific task during the training.  For those that desire to focus on specific task trainings or have additional skills that they wish to augment, roll plays will be ideal during the workshop to determine what skills everyone possesses and what skills are needed.  These roll plays can take the form of verbal confrontations or nonviolent actions and can physically and emotionally prepare everyone for best and worst case scenarios in any future nonviolent action.

But to teach participants the history of violent and nonviolent actions as well as successes and failures and current tactics and motivations will also require a teaching curriculum that utilizes reflexivity. This is key. Such a curriculum will allow participants to understand the actions and motivations of the proposed recipient(s) of their nonviolence, some of the propaganda behind their proposed nonviolent actions as well as those of their recipient(s).  To facilitate each of these goals, frequent use of audio, video, photographs, listening, and role-plays will be employed to reinforce and to facilitate the ability to recall and remember key points later in the workshop as well as during the nonviolent action itself. (Lippmann, 1998).



Other than the introduction to the workshop and short introductions to its various sections, main presentations will be rare.  The goals and purposes of the workshop are to teach by doing, by example, by reinforcement of ideas through the interactions of participants, and through reflexivity. PowerPoints will be rare and used only to bring up a photo or graphic to illustrate a discussion of history or key tactic because PowerPoints have a tendency to be overused and cause people to lose focus.  Instead, short videos, photos, and physical demonstrations by mentors and roll players will be used to illustrate and reinforce points being discussed.  The benefits of such teaching and mentoring methods will be to draw participants into actively taking part in the mentoring and the learning as well as getting some hands-on experience via roll plays and simulated encounters with other participants who can be either police, soldiers, or protesters.  While the goal is to make the workshop, demonstrations, and roll-plays as realistic as possible, participants will not be encouraged to immerse themselves in their rolls so deeply that they forget why they are at the workshop.  In other words, there is no desire to repeat the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, 2008).



The details of a workshop remain to be organized and outlined in detail, in nuance, within the particular context of a proposed nonviolent action, and with the attending group and individuals, but this overview provides a well-rounded explanation and exploration of its intent and potential for future use. A nonviolence workshop can range from a short lunchtime introduction that is much too short to a weekend or weeklong excursion.  With adequate time to explore particular requirements, mentors and participants can understand the anticipated action and the participants can understand the history behind what they are about to do as well as the techniques, strengths and weaknesses that can be learned and explored. Mentors can also practice more, and participants can learn to think more reflexively throughout the workshops strategies, tactics, goals, exercises, history lessons, and presentations.  A workshop will certainly require more than just an organizer to create and must include some key group representatives from amongst the participants.  It may also be beneficial to break down a workshop into different days for different learning tasks and skill sets, but certainly key is the necessity to teach the participants in a workshop to critically analyze their actions and motivations as well as the past and possible future actions and motivations of key opposition forces to mindfully understand what they are about to undertake.


An example of a workshop flyer.




Bobo, K., Kendall, J., & Max, S. (2010). Organizing for social change: Midwest Academy manual for activists. Santa Ana.

Chenoweth, E., & Stephan, M. J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Columbia University Press.

Ellul, J. (1969). Propaganda: the formation of men’s attitudes. New York, NY: Knopf.

Holmes, R. L., & Gan, B. L. (Eds.). (2004). Nonviolence in theory and practice. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out. Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications.

Lippmann, W. (1998). Public opinion. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Sharp, G. (2013). How Nonviolent Struggle Works. East Boston, MA: The Albert Einstein Institution.

VandenBos, G. R. (2015). Violence. In APA Dictionary of Psychology (Second ed., p. 1139). Washington. D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Why nonviolence? history, methods, and varieties of nonviolence. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2017, from

Zimbardo, P. G. (2008). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.