Notes from a Nonviolent Training Session (1963)

Bruce Hartford

This is an edited description of the syllabus used in a two-day training session in Tactical nonviolence given by members of the Non-Violent Action Committee (N-VAC) for Bruin CORE activists in late 1963. Bruin CORE was a newly formed CORE chapter at UCLA and this session was designed to train their organizers/leaders for the kind of situations that they were likely to face in the Los Angeles area at that time, — particularly in preparation for the state-wide campaign against employment discrimination at Bank of America that was about to enter the direct action phase that ultimately led to a major victory.

Note that training sessions held in other areas of the country and at other times varied widely according to the different circumstances. Because this was a session aimed at direct action organizers/leaders it was much longer and more comprehensive than the training usually given to demonstration participants. Items in <angle brackets> identify specific examples used in discussion to illustrate particular points.

A. Introduction

Nonviolent direct action is like fine jazz. Flair of improvisational creativity, never the same twice, your sound, my sound, our harmony. But harmony requires unity & discipline. The ensemble, not the soloist.

  1. Violence. Discussion and analysis of violence in America. How violence is woven into the fabric of our culture. The political uses and function of violence in maintaining the status-quo. Intimidation and elimination of dissent. The Freedom Movement triggers and exposes the latent violence of racism. "Creative tension." List recent examples of violence used against local demonstrators. Conclusion: THIS IS NOT A GAME.

  2. Nonviolence. What is nonviolence? Wide range of definitions. Philosophical vs Tactical. Tactical = non-retaliation (this training is tactical). "Passive Resistance" is not passive but it is resistance. Direct action, — what and why?

    The political aspects of nonviolence. The organizing aspects of nonviolence & different constituencies. <Birmingham, March on Washington, BofA> Machismo as a cornerstone of social & political control. Violence diverts from political objective. Pride & shame, moral superiority.

    Violence is a social act that follows predictable patterns, patterns that can be disrupted, altered, or re-directed through nonviolent techniques. Individual violence vs mob violence vs organized/disciplined violence (police, army). Habit patterns create mental patterns (channels). Breaking the reaction patterns forces people to think anew.

    The safety of nonviolence compared to self-defense with violence: physical and political/legal. <Nashville sit-ins, Freedom Rides> Why nonviolence is safer (physically & legally):

  3. Purpose of nonviolence training. This session to simulate common situations and practice techniques & tactics for dealing with them. Familiarization. Remove fear of unknown & not knowing what to do. Increase understanding of dynamics of violence through direct experience. Develop generalized response patterns/habits. Instinctive reactions. Learn the songs.

  4. Format of:

B. Direct Action Fundamentals

  1. Attitude. Serious. Committed belief. Passion (for issue not against other people). Calm confidence. "Love" is up to individual choice.

  2. No Retaliation. No physical retaliation, no verbal response, no non-verbal reaction. The "song exception" and how to use song as a dialog.

  3. Captain. Importance of leadership & discipline. The captain is in charge. Obey orders in action. Later, the captain must accept criticism in after-action discussion. Exceptions to the captain is in charge.

  4. Singing. Creating unity, easing fear, establishing moral superiority, forcing attackers to deal with demonstrators as a group rather than focus on an individual, communicating political message, setting rhythm (pickets & marches). Performance singing versus protest singing. Everyone sings, no exceptions. If you can't sing, — sing louder.

  5. Planning. Importance of pre-planning and making sure everyone knows (and agrees to) the plan.

  6. No one goes alone. Never leave or arrive at an action by yourself. Go to toilet in pairs or relay teams. Allow no one to be arrested alone, girl-girl boy-boy. Park & walk so opponents don't identify & vandalize your car.

  7. No one takes all the punishment. Tactic of racists & cops is to isolate attack on one individual. Easier to escalate violence if against a single individual. How to prevent.

  8. Don't have on you. Nothing that can be construed as a weapon (e.g. roll of pennies). No illegal drugs (including no pot).

  9. Handling press & public. Designated press spokesman. No one else talk to press. Preventing press from disrupting the action. Designated leafletter(s). Discourse & disengagement techniques.

  10. Clothing. Looks versus comfort/cost. Men: clip-on ties vs regular ties. Women: no pierced-ear earrings, kind of skirts to wear on sit-ins, no heels on picket lines & marches.

    [Note this training session took place just as the Movement was shifting over from wearing a coat & tie or skirt & blouse on a demonstration to the blue-jean, t-shirt, overalls, and war-surplus look of the later years.]

  11. Sign-in lists. Why needed (so we know who was busted). Organizing uses of.

    ** Practice role-playing of verbal abuse. Non-response & singing in face of.

C. Picket Lines

  1. Purpose. What it is. What it for. What it does and doesn't accomplish.

  2. Organization. Pre-action evaluation (phone, restrooms). Picket captain. Sign-in list. Pre-picket assembly point (why). Clumping and spacing <Krinski's syndrome>. Line vs Oval (which is appropriate when). Singing. A picket line is not a meeting. Driveways & doorways. People passing through. Signs (string vs stick). Leafletting (legal aspects of). Press. Where you can picket, where you can't.

  3. Turn Post. Role & function of turn post. Spacing. Being the focus of hate & apparent leadership. Hiding the captain in plain sight.

  4. Threats & Counter-Tactics. Handling hecklers. Verbal harassment. Threats (explicit/implicit). Leaflet thowback. Spitting. Pulling down/off sign. Things being thrown. Slapping, poking, hitting. Holding the line and when to retreat.

    *** Practice. Role-playing both sides. Firecrackers, water balloons, & eggs. Singing.

D. Defending Against Physical Attack

  1. What. The "Non-Violent Position." Dropping to ground and protecting self. Squirming to walls & curbs to protect back.

  2. Why. Best protection. Least threatening. Startles/scares attackers. Clarifies situation to onlookers and press.

  3. When. When to use, when not to use. <Gaston's drop.>

  4. Rescue. How to help someone under attack or being dragged away.

    *** Practice. Role-playing both sides. Hitting, kicking, jumping on, dragging away. Singing.

E. Sit-Ins

[ Note — This sit-in training was for northern-style "blockade" type sit-ins used to block doorways, lobbies, driveways, and so forth, at businesses and government offices. This kind of sit-in was quite different from Southern "lunch-counter" type sit-ins.]

  1. Purpose. Publicity, disruption, force arrests & costs thereof.

  2. Formations. Line, double-line, circle, mass, advantages/disadvantages.

  3. Logistics. Assemble elsewhere, —>go to, —>sit. Designated spokesman & leafletters. Observers/photogs if arrests expected. Supplies. Signs.

  4. Attacks. Being kicked & stepped on. Stuff being poured over head. Being hit. Being stabbed in back with pens, forks, etc. Being pulled out of line. Arrests.

  5. Arm locks. Pros & cons of arm-locking. Right way & wrong way to lock-arms. How not to get your fingers dislocated.

    *** Practice. Role-playing both sides. Pouring. Stepping over & on, kicking, pummeling. Drag apart. Singing.

F. Arrests

  1. Cops. Peter Pat the Policeman is not your friend. Role of cops in enforcing the status-quo. Fuzz mentality & training, avoiding and disrupting their trained-response habit patterns.

    [Note — the slang term for cops at that time and place was "fuzz." The more famous term "pigs" only came into wide usage in the mid-60s.]

  2. Typical arrest procedure. What to expect.

  3. Going limp. Pros and cons. How to do it. Styles:

  4. Police brutality. What is and isn't police brutality. To fuzz the most heinous crime is "Contempt of cop." How to avoid provoking brutality. Badge numbers. Confrontation vs professionalism on both sides. Red squads. Cops in the KKK, Nazis, etc. <Lincoln Heights Jail.>

  5. Preparation for arrest. Sign in. Sign release form (for planned arrests). Leave car keys & other items with someone not being busted. Carry bandana, toothbrush, cigarettes (for other inmates), some cash (minimum $.10 for the one phone call). No single-gender arrests.

  6. Busted. In the paddy wagon (call out name if not certain others know you been busted). Jail no bail? Booking procedure. Identify self, don't answer any other questions. Don't chat with "friendly" cops. The "regular" prisoners. Harassment & sticking together. Bail bonds.

  7. Court. Trials and lawyers. Telephones, taps, and bugs.

    ***Practice. Role-playing both sides. Going limp, arm locks. Singing. Post-arrest interrogation.

G. Marches

[ Note — This training session was held before mass street marches became the norm. This training was for non-permit sidewalk marches two-by-two.]

  1. Legal rules & requirements.

  2. Preparation. Assembly site, march route, rally site, dispersal plan. Assign & train marshals & runners. Designate rally point if attacked.

  3. Marching. Two-by-two. Orderly column, spacing, close up, no bunching. Obey traffic laws. Stop for lights. Sing.

  4. Marshals. Leaders provide the political leadership at the head of the march. Marshals actually run the march. Stop lights. Column order. Maintaining discipline & nonviolence. Communications. Spacing out of marshals. Dragging the rear (most experienced marshalls if danger of attack).

  5. Logistics. Signs. Flyer teams. Flags & banners. Water. Footwear. Old folk. Kids.

  6. Hecklers. Line control. Keep the march moving, no stopping to jaw. Marshal interposition if needed. Singing.

  7. Physical attack. Retreat if possible & reform later, don't try to hold ground. Drop & curl only if surrounded. Keep together, no stragglers, slow everyone down so weakest can keep up. How to keep people calm. Singing.

  8. Police attack. Police formation-attack: retreat, kneel/pray, sit. Police clubs: swinging vs pushing and what each signifies.

  9. Tear gas. CS vs CN. Cans, bombs, gun-shells, foggers. Don't rub eyes. Keep calm — yes you can breath — you just think you can't. Shallow breathing. Wind direction. Retreat as a group (upwind or crosswind if possible). Wet towels. Cops have to prepare for tear gas attack, if you see them start preparing, then you start preparing the marchers for what to do. Wash with lots of water, dampness (sweat) re-activates gas.

See also
      Two Kinds of Nonviolent Resistance
      Nonviolent Resistance & Political Power
      Nonviolent Resistance, Reform, & Revolution
      Nonviolent Training

 — Copyright © 1963 & 2004, Bruce Hartford


Copyright © 1963 & 2004
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