Linking arms. Stopping arms

Lat month Adam and I co-facilitated an nonviolent direct action training for activists from the Stop The Arms Fair coalition. These dedicated folk work hard to pop the bubble that surrounds the arms trade. You know the one – it allows those that work for the trade to pretend that it’s all about our defence, that they’re keeping the world safe, and that airshows such as those at Farnborough and Fairfield are harmless entertainment for all the family, rather than arms trade fairs.

It’s been a few years since Adam and I worked together on NVDA training. In the intervening time, we’ve both developed activities and exercises. This was a great opportunity to share some of those ideas and see them in practice.

Within a week of the training: An arms dealer steps over a protester in the doorway of the Imperial War Museum

We took the group through a range of activities to explore the ideas behind NVDA, but also the practical skills of holding a space, actively (but nonviolently) disrupting the events of the Arms industry, passively resisting removal and arrest, dealing with confrontation, and more. We ended with time to prioritise and plan their next steps – at least one of which came very soon after the session.

We threw them into some very dynamic roleplays early in the session. I have to admit watching with some anxiety as our role played police got well and truly stuck in to the activists holding some space. Too much, too soon? If you’d asked me in that moment, I’d have said an unequivocal “yes”, and was itching to tone it down a little. Adam was leading on the activity. He’s firmly grounded in best practice (I’ve learnt loads from him over the years), and he’s done this before this way. In hindsight, whilst it clearly challenged the group in many ways, it also seemed to accelerate their formation as a group and deepened the learning from the day. One of those examples of the best learning coming when people are uncomfortable, and that sometimes we facilitators need to get uncomfortable too.

We evaluated using weather metaphors. “Stormy” came up quite often, so we inquired into how people were using the word. I think it’s fair to say that the interpretation was “challenging, energetic, dynamic, even difficult, but in a good way”. Feedback after the event was as you might expect, mixed.  A friendly, relaxed session with good energy, but perhaps failing to make use of all the resources in the room – both in terns of having two facilitators on tap, and in terms of drawing enough from the considerable experience present in the participants.