A Time to Train: Register for the April 22 Resistance Training in New Rochelle, NY
By Al Giordano
Indivisible Westchester & the School of Authentic Journalism Invite You to Eight Hours of Skill Sharing
"'Keep one foot in the system and one foot out,' my teacher Abbie Hoffman told me when I was a young community organizer. The April 22 Resistance Training is designed to help us do both." - Al Giordano
Email Today to Reserve Your Space:
(The Training is Free, but the Space Is Limited.)
(NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the newsletter, Al Giordano's América, on Sunday, March 26, and is published again here for a wider public.)
On Saturday, March 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) held a nationally live-streamed event billed as “Resistance Training” from Miami and broadcast to more than 200,000 people gathered at 2,300 house parties. Masterchef/Top Chef culinary superstar Padma Lakshmi was one of the headliners at the anti-Trump event.
Before I point out the obvious, let me declare: we love the ACLU. We love the resistance to the Trump regime! We love training! We love Padma! But in the end the workshop offered by the national rights organization did not offer training. It did not share any of the skills needed to win at the work of resistance. IT WAS NOT A RESISTANCE TRAINING WORKSHOP!
It was a collection of speeches – very good speeches! – but the event offered nothing, absolutely zero, in terms of training people in the skills we want and need to mount an effective resistance.
So many groups and individuals are using words like “resistance” and “training” to describe so many different kinds of activities that the words are in danger of losing their meaning.
This must be urgently corrected and that task begins four weeks from now, on Saturday April 22, when the School of Authentic Journalism and friends team up with Indivisible Westchester and others to offer the first full eight-hour training session in civil resistance of what we bet will become many more.
Training as a Rendezvous with History
In Issue #37, on February 7, I wrote to subscribers of my América about the nonviolence training sessions pioneered by the Rev. Jim Lawson for the 1960 Nashville sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters. And I referred you a cinematic portrayal of those trainings from the motion picture, The Butler:
Lawson, as a young man, traveled to India to study the methods that Mahatma Gandhi deployed to gain his country independence from the British Crown. Upon his return to the US, he met young Martin Luther King, Jr., in Ohio, who recruited Lawson to come south and help build and train a grassroots movement.
Forty years ago this spring, at the age of 17, I attended an eight-hour workshop that changed the course of my life. What was billed as a “Nonviolence Training Session” was required to be able to go to New Hampshire and get arrested for blocking construction of a nuclear plant. In my final semester of high school, I dragged about twenty of my classmates to the workshop.
I didn’t know, at the time, that this workshop was a direct descendant of that which Lawson and his colleagues had invented 17 years prior, when they trained youngsters like John Lewis, today a member of Congress. Its lessons didn’t convert me to ideological pacifism – they weren’t intended to indoctrinate – but they did arm me with skills that I have deployed pretty much every day since. Here are the lessons I learned from that first training session:
ONE: That if you are going to do anything in public space, especially in front of the news media, you need a very detailed plan for what exactly you are going to do before you go out and do it.
TWO: That if you are going to do it with others you need to practice and rehearse your planned steps again and again before you go out and take them. You need to anticipate what other kinds of people are going be out on that field – police, members of the news media, infiltrators or provocateurs, or random crazy people or plain old banal human error within your own ranks. You need a plan for how to deal with each type and have to rehearse how to do it before going out and doing it live.
THREE: You need to make maps of the battlefields upon which you plan to step. Those include not just the geography, but also charts that show the “pillars of power” that prop up the adversary you oppose as well as the “spectrum of alliances” – both those on your side, those on the other side, and those sectors of society still up for grabs – in order to not be walking blind into the traps that those in power are expert in placing before every kind of protest or march.
FOUR: You and your friends need to divide up tasks: Not everybody can do the same exact job! Some of you may be willing to be arrested, but you’ll need a support team committed to avoiding arrest to track you from the outside. You’ll need a designated media spokesperson or two to field reporter questions without allowing them to distract the entire group from its mision. You’ll need another kind of spokesperson to interact with all the other cell groups (back then we called them “affinity groups,” each of 10 or 20 people) formed around the same action.
“Troublemaking” sounds like the easiest task in the world. Society tells us that “delinquents” are those who make it. The terminology implies that just by goofing off and slacking we are somehow bungling up the works of the system. But the truth is that the best kind of trouble – that which wins and achieves its goals – is not slapdash or spontaneous at all. It is in no way lazy or laid back. It is, rather, a masterpiece of planning, rehearsal, preparation, military-level precision and teamwork.
But sometime during or after the No Nukes movement of the 1970s and its effective use of nonviolence training to build authentic organization and discipline, some activists began cutting corners. The standard eight-hour minimum training session fell victim to the hurried yuppie zeitgeist of the 1980s and ‘90s. By the preparations for a 1999 protest in Seattle outside a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, “express trainings” of three or four or even two hours gained popularity to “train” people for civil disobedience actions.
Eight hours really is the minimum for a training session that both shares skills and builds the teamwork and trust among participants that foments their working together effectively going forward. Today, if a group calls for a full eight-hour training session, complaints erupt almost immediately: “Can’t you make it shorter? It conflicts with another protest that afternoon!” The fulltime “activists” who flit from event to event – who want to see and be seen at every march and meeting – can’t commit to an eight-hour training! Besides, many of them think they don’t need training, that they’re “expert” enough already at protesting.
And yet insisting that a training last the full eight hours creates the first filter that weeds out those who are not serious enough about their own needs and desires to learn the skills of effective resistance. A full eight-hour session also requires planning and preparation to feed the participants, and the bonding that goes with a group of people who break bread together.
By calling for this eight-hour training on April 22, by insisting that to attend one has to agree to arrive on time and stay for the entire day, and by adding other minimal guidelines to which all participants must state our agreement, we’re bringing back the best of the lineage of training started by Gandhi and Lawson, evolved by the No Nukes movement and later resurrected in this century by “Camp Obama,” with training sessions designed by United Farmworkers organizer Marshal Ganz and his module known as “The Story of Us.”
Facilitating this training will be my first public appearance in 2017, but I’ll have plenty of help! School of Authentic Journalism graduates, professors and friends as well as our hosts at Indivisible Westchester – and other personalities to be announced – will share in the teaching.
Don’t expect an activist meeting full of speeches. This won’t be one of those. It might seem more like a scene from one of the “Now You See Me” movies! Since part of what we teach is that a successful civil resistance puts on a better show, we plan on doing that as integral to the training. “Show, don’t tell,” applies to good training even more than it does to good writing.
To Get an Invite to the Training, Carefully Follow These Steps:
1. Send us an email expressing your interest: ResistanceTraining2017@gmail.com
2. Do it TODAY. Space is limited and reservations will be first come, first serve.
3. When you receive our email in response, REPLY to it answering each of its few questions and typing “I AGREE” to the training session guidelines.
These Are the Guidelines to Attend the Training Workshop:
We ask you to agree to arrive on time (by 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, in New Rochelle, New York – just one block from the train station) and to commit to staying for the full eight hours until 5 p.m.
We ask you to register under your legal name and to bring proof of identity with you to gain admission to the workshop. (We believe this is basic to establishing mutual trust in any kind of venture.)
We ask you to agree that the training workshop is not a decision-making body or debating society, and that no resolutions will be voted on. It is only a space to learn skills and not to argue about ideologies.
While class is in session, you agree to keep laptops closed and cell phones “off” or on “airplane mode.” There will be regular coffee breaks during which you can check and respond to messages but not during the skill sharing sessions when such devices are an annoyance.
Likewise, while the School of Authentic Journalism will videotape the training workshop – and by stating “I AGREE” to the guidelines you consent to being filmed, audiotaped and that your image, voice and likeness may be part of documentary and promotional materials stemming from the workshop, use of cameras or recording devices by attendees will be limited to one or two “photo opportunities” but prohibited during most of the training.
Bring a pad and pen to document the classes instead. We don’t want the distraction of photographers and microphone wielders jockeying for position. If you’re at the workshop, you’re there as an individual seeking to learn, and not in the role of a news reporter or media employee.
We ask you to agree to treat everyone you meet at the training with respect and good will, and to agree that event organizers may eject any disruptive or distracting person or persons at any time for not adhering to the guidelines.
Once you reply to our email with the words “I AGREE” we’ll send your invitation with instructions on how to get into the workshop the morning of April 22. Again, the email to request your invitation is:
The workshop is free. We ask that you donate whatever you can afford to help pay the costs of your meals (we’ll pass the hat at the event), the materials we provide and the other expenses of putting on this event. All participants who remain for the entire eight-hour workshop will receive a diploma – and an invitation to the after-party later that evening.
This workshop was made possible in large part because of the success of the recent Kickstarter drive for the School of Authentic Journalism. We're paying many of the expenses of it out of the extra funds raised beyond the campaign's $30,000 goal. If you can't attend the workshop but still want to support it (and more like it) please consider making a tax deductible donation to the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism at this link.
But mostly we hope you will make the time to register for the workshop and show up to learn the skills it teaches. We believe strongly that this expansion of organizing and resistance skills is the most urgent priority for the spring of 2017 and hope you will be a living, breathing part of an authentic resistance.