International Communities for Active Nonviolence, North America

Presentation to Argentine Mayors

Violence in Today’s World

When we talk about violence today, we aren’t referring only to acts of physical violence like war, torture, and assault. In our world there are many forms of violence, including economic violence (such as exploitation and inequality of opportunity), racial and religious violence (discrimination, intolerance), sexual violence (rape, harassment), gender violence (discrimination against women and transgender individuals), psychological violence (humiliation, suicide), ecological violence (climate change), etc.. Violence has spread in all it’s forms to every point on the planet, and is growing rapidly at all social levels, in all generations, and in all cultures.

Up to this point, we have had no means of stopping or even slowing this rampant violence. When physical  violence has occurred, we’ve tried to help the victims and punish the guilty through the existing social mechanisms. But we’ve had no strategies for preventing violence, physical or otherwise, much less any practical initiatives for eliminating its causes.

The Invisible Causes of Violence

This is where the Nonviolent Cities Project starts: with the root causes of violence.

We say violence originates with certain “invisible” causes that are universally present in the dominant worldwide culture. We call these causes “invisible” because most of us regard them as “normal,” and therefore do not recognize them as sources of violence.

These “invisible” causes are:

  • self-centered individualism at the personal level
  • the vertical structure of institutions
  • inequality of opportunity in cities and countries
  • the concentration of wealth in very few hands at a global level

Primary among these causes is the self-centered individualism that our culture sees as the inevitable direction of human life because “egotism and violence are just human nature.” Giving rise to over-competitiveness and possessiveness, this self-centered individualism is the ultimate root of all forms of violence.

Another Option: Giving for the Common Good 

Certainly egotism can explain many violent actions at the individual and social levels. It is also true, however, that people often act in the opposite direction, going out of their way to help each other and their community. Therefore the impulse toward “solidarity,” or giving ones best for the common good, must also be recognized as a possible direction for the human race.

Those of us involved in the Nonviolent Cities Project are part of a growing community of individuals around the world who are making a concerted effort to change ourselves and our environment in the direction of nonviolence and solidarity.

A Very Brief History

The seeds of the Nonviolent Cities project were planted in 2002, when a group of Argentine education professionals launched a research project in the marginal schools of greater Buenos Aires. For more than a decade they worked to develop what has now become a full-fledged nonviolence program that is being applied in different environments in a growing number of cities and countries around the world. In 13 countries and 37 cities in the Americas, Europe, and Africa, hundreds of trained volunteers are currently teaching Active Nonviolence and building networks of nonviolent institutions, communities and cities in such diverse settings as municipalities, education centers, correction centers, and family and other social organizations, carrying this proposal to more and more cities and communities around the world.

In certain places the process is accelerating, particularly where people and organizations in positions of power – mayors, educational authorities, public organizations, etc. – have lent their support, opening the way for this proposal to quickly reach ever widening circles of the population.

The Approach

Active nonviolence utilizes an approach called “three-level change”: the nonviolent transformation of institutions, communities, and individuals all at the same time. Inspired by New or Universal Humanism, the three-level change approach of active nonviolence aims to convert our self-centered and violent culture into a new nonviolent culture of caring and cooperation.

In contrast with simple pacifism, the three-level change approach of active nonviolence is a practical strategy that really works. This is because it calls on the human ability not only to resist physical violence, but to transform both external and internal reality at the same time.

This transforming and constructive action arises from something we all have in common: the desire for a better world. This deep desire gives rise to the impulse to humanize our society, our institutions, and our personal life, overcoming the root causes of violence on all levels at once.

It is this humanizing impulse that inspires our work to build “Nonviolent Cities” and “Nonviolent City Networks” around the world.

Objectives and Procedures

The main objective of this work is for individuals to choose nonviolent life projects oriented toward the good of the whole, instead of being restricted to the self-centered careers currently assumed to be the only “practical” option in our culture. This choice becomes possible when a person discovers through experience that nonviolence and caring cooperation are the best option for oneself and others.

The first step toward achieving this objective happens when individuals trained as trainers in the network begin to offer training to other adults from local institutions, neighborhoods, or cities.

This “initial training” lasts two to three months and follows the manual “Building a Culture of Nonviolence,” which can be downloaded free of charge at www.ICANchange.net (or in Spanish at www.consejosnoviolencia.org). The manual also includes a course for training parents in building nonviolent families, as well as the program for building a Nonviolent City.

Initial Training – Overview

The initial training consists of nine three-hour meetings spaced at least one week apart, with corresponding practical projects to be carried out between meetings. Open to anyone who wishes to participate, the training is directed especially toward groups of interested adults who volunteer as representatives from municipalities, institutions, social organizations, etc.

A key outcome of the initial training is the formation of a “core team” of volunteers. This core team becomes the driving force for building nonviolent environments locally on the three levels (personal, institutional, and social). Members of the core team also take responsibility for spreading the proposal by passing on the initial training to others.

Active Nonviolence Training – Four Stages

  1. The first stage of Active Nonviolence Training is to help participants recognize the “normalized” violence in their lives. The root of all of forms of   violence lies in the self-centered individualism that dominates our culture, from our innermost personal experience, to our institutions, to our entire social/community environment. This self-centered individualism is in turn continually reinforced by the competitiveness and possessiveness that are currently accepted as natural and normal.
  2. The second stage of the training is for participants to  get in touch with their deep desire for a better world: their yearning for a just and caring society, and for institutions and individuals that are coherent with such a society. This yearning, all the dreams and ideals we have often forgotten or ignored, are the force that can mobilize us toward a fundamental change when we manage to get in touch with them. These aspirations make up the vision of what we want to build with this proposal.
  3. The third and most time-consuming stage is to progressively build nonviolent, caring and cooperative environments on the three levels.
    – On the personal level we begin by introducing the procedures and steps for overcoming the causes of violence that our self-centered life direction generates within us, to replace that life direction with a more caring and cooperative direction. We do this by intentionally acting in a caring and cooperative way. – Observing how that feels, we compare it with what happens when we act from a self-centered point of view.
    – On the institutional level, we begin to introduce gradual changes within a vertically structured institution, making it more participatory, gradually democratizing the decision-making process.
    – Finally, on the social/community level, we begin building networks of caring, cooperative and nonviolent institutions. The objective of building such networks is to overcome inequality of opportunity among people and reinforce the changes mentioned on the other two levels.
    – This is the “three-level proposal” for building a Nonviolent City. These actions from “bottom up” can be accelerated by actions from “top down,” set in motion by the local or regional, national, etc. authorities.
  4. The fourth and final stage is expansion, which begins when the core teams begin to carry the proposal to other cities.

Children and Youth

Important: In this program, children and adolescents participate in the training within their educational institutions. The training is carried out by adult participants in the course who are applying the process of three-level change in their institutions.

We do not begin by working directly with young people to accomplish this change outside of the educational institution. If we did so, what would happen when they encountered contrary influences in the other conditioning environments that affect them: family, work, the communications media, recreation, etc.? How would they continue to transform their lives during and after their schooling?

We believe that the combined influence of all those environments on every young person is very strong, conditioning them toward the self-centered individualism that is the root of all forms of violence.

It is for this reason that we propose carrying out simultaneous change on the three levels in our institutions, communities, and cities at this time in human evolution, when suffering and violence have spread across the world to the extent that the future of humanity and all of life is in danger.

*Consejos Permanentes por la No Violencia Activa (www.consejosnoviolencia.org)