A workshop on non-violent civil disobedience hosted by Milan Rai and Emily Johns, two long-time political activists from England, took place at MÍR cinema on Vatnsstígur. The incident described above was a form of role-playing, wherein the different people in attendance could act out the different players who take part during an act of civil disobedience. I arrived just as the “police” where dragging the “protestors” away.
Role playing for peace
In addition to role-playing exercises there was training in tactics and organisational skills. For example, a limp body is harder for the police to drag away than a tensed one and consensus decision-making gets things done without the need for a leader or leadership (not in this office -ed.). A complete crash-course for the budding activist.
Both Rai and Johns emphasised peaceful action throughout the course; that using non-violent means of protest draws the sympathy of the public, which in turn puts pressure on decision-makers in power. Conversely, when protestors use violence, they alienate the public, while the decision-makers can take the public’s attention away from the issue and place it on the violence itself.
Jail for ten days
After the course wrapped up, the participants’ reactions seemed divided between the unconvinced and the greatly inspired. I asked Rai some of the questions I didn´t get to ask during the course, the first one being, “What got you active politically?”
“I got involved politically while I was in school, during the British invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982,” said Rai, “From this, I got involved in the nuclear disarmament movement. It was a friend who introduced me to non-violent civil disobedience during college and I’ve been practicing it ever since. My first act was to break into the Upper Hayford Air Base, paint a hangar, and wait for the cops to show up. Since then, I’ve been arrested about a dozen times, been to court maybe seven or eight times, and been to prison twice; once for 48 hours, and once for ten days.”
“In terms of the public,” he continued, “activists often take on this very elitist idea that most people care only about watching football. I believe that most people do feel hurt by the major issues of the day, and that it’s not irrational to avoid thinking about things which cause you pain if you’re convinced of your powerlessness. We’re brought up feeling this powerlessness, and it’s careless of us to confuse a lack of action with a lack of caring.
Non-violent civil disobedience is not a panacea and it’s not the only way. For my part, I’m from Nepal, which is in the middle of a civil war. Both Bush and Blair are supporting the repressive regime there, and I haven’t done anything about that yet. But I will.”
Anyone interested in more on Milan Rai can go to the Justice Not Vengence website (www.j-n-v.org).