Nonviolent Action Workshop With Sarah Thompson

Nov 1, 2017 | 2017 Articles, Helping Hands, Lorie Lewis Ham

by Lorie Lewis Ham

Sarah Thompson will be leading a Nonviolent Action Workshop this Friday, November 3 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Reedley Peace Center, 1208 L Street in Reedley, and at Fresno Pacific University on November 4 at North Hall on the campus from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Over the last five years Sarah has trained people of faith and moral courage in nonviolent direct action preparation. Most recently she was the Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. She is now transitioning to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. KRL was able to chat with Sarah recently about her work and the upcoming events.

KRL: Can you share just a little of your background?

Sarah: I am a lifelong learner and that’s an important thing for people coming to the training to know. We’re going to learn together about how to evolve our tactics in nonviolent direct action, to be ready for this political and spiritual moment. I was raised in northern Indiana, in a Mennonite community. As a black/white biracial person, I’m a border-walking scholar-activist who loves to connect with people and connect people to one another.

peace center

Sarah Thompson

KRL: What specifically is it that you do?

Sarah: Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is a group that sends teams of trained individuals to zones of conflict and war, at the invitation of grassroots communities who are creatively and nonviolently resisting violence. Currently working in northern Iraq, accompanying refugees in Greece, Palestine, Colombia, and alongside First Nations communities. As Executive Director of CPT, I raised funds (and friends) for the organization, as well as deepened connections with other organizations in the field of unarmed civilian protection. CPT also is committed to undoing oppression, looking at how violence and structural oppression show up inside the organization, at the same time as we challenge violence and oppression in the war zones where we work.

KRL: How did you first get involved in this type of training?

Sarah: My first extended nonviolence training was in college in Atlanta, Georgia. We were preparing to make a strong statement that the US should not declare war on Iraq. We were prepared to do civil disobedience to show the degree to which we were committed to peacemaking.

KRL: What will people learn at this training?

Sarah: My hope is that it will give them skills to take them to the next level in their personal preparation for public action. I also hope it will connect them to their source of strength for these difficult times. This will not be me lecturing. Both the Friday evening and Saturday day-long activities will be very interactive so as to draw from our diverse experiences to build collective wisdom to share with one another.

KRL: Why do you feel this is important at this time?

Sarah: Now is a moment to evolve our skills. We are seeing both state and non-state actors in public with weapons, violent rhetoric, and demands. Most of our nonviolence training has us prepared for the interpersonal level of nonviolent interaction, or to face the state, a la Civil Rights Movement style. But the game is changing now and we must be prepared for learning to both learn to escalate conflict (so a situation of injustice cannot be ignored) but de-escalate violence (so that the most people can be included, and to reduce fear) as well.

KRL: Where all have you provided this type of training?

Sarah: Indonesia, Ohio, Australia, Pennsylvania, in churches, synagogues, community centers?-ever powerfully with what’s going on now. It’s irresponsible to sit idly by while these historic events happen, but also people don’t want to add to the division and hatred they see. Many feel caught between competing values and stuck. This training will give us tools to un-stick ourselves and engage meaningfully in civic life. Our common survival depends on us finding ways that we can work together across lines of difference to figure out how to live on this planet, even if we have competing truth claims.

KRL: Can you tell us a little about what you will be doing with Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change?

Sarah: I will be assisting in re-developing the Kingian nonviolence curriculum, and assisting in events such as the January 2018 King Holiday Observance, the April commemoration of King’s assassination, as well as celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the King Center itself, June 26-28th. This is a special year, since it is 50 years since the intense year of 1968; it’s a great time to plan a trip to Atlanta…come visit the Center!

KRL: Would you like to share anything about your experience in Charlottesville?

Sarah: The Charlottesville community that worked together in mighty ways, despite significant challenges, in response to the “Unite the Right” gathering. Drawing from many different inspirations, they worked hard to come together despite different approaches to challenging white supremacy and its impact on all of our lives.

We all learned a lot from what we experienced in preparation for, and on that weekend. The rallies continue. The Nationalist Front, the League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party and other organizations associated with the “Unite the Right” gathering that occurred in Charlottesville, VA in August are descended upon Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (on October 28). Many there too are standing as neighbors and as people of faith to proclaim that we are stronger as a community of love, faith, and peace. This rally is not loving, it does not accord by the core tenets of our faiths, and it is not peaceful. I believe that the diversity of political views, of races and of ethnicity enriches our communities.

In the aftermath of these events, the trauma of the communities left behind is both real and often ignored. In the lead up to August, activists of color are being followed to their homes, doxxed and stalked on the internet, and threatened by police. Then, there was the loss of life on the day of the rally and a van marked KKK driving around menacingly in the days that followed. So, it’s been important to me to stay in touch with the everyday people who pushed themselves in new ways to creatively resist violence. And there are these people in all of our communities who are doing extraordinary things now, to keep people safe, healthy, and sane. Give them some encouragement, and if you can’t get to those who are working overtime to step up in their community, encircle them with energetic encouragement.

KRL: Anything else you would like to add?

Sarah: Come one come all! Come with an open mind and open heart about the breadth of what it means to be an activist during this time of social change. Know that there are many ways to activate…blocking harm, building the alternatives we want to see, and helping to shift the consciousness of our communities to live into our crucial inter-connectedness.

You can register for either of these local events here:

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.


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