Notes from a Nonviolent Training Session
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
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.
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
- 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.
- 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
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,
- Violence diverts from political goal. <Whichstand mob>
- Nonviolence accrues support and participants. <Whichstand
- Police aspect <Albany vs Birmingham>
- Parents & children, <L.A. Board of Education, Birmingham>
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):
- Violence begets violence (nonviolence breaks escalation pattern).
- Forces attackers to violate deeply-held social "rules" of
violence. <bar-fight vs SunRay Estates picket>
- Less threatening = less stimulation of violence, smaller numbers
of attackers. <Van de Kamps sit-in>
- Physical realities. <McComb, Greenwood, Freedom Rides>
- Less "cause" for arrest, misdemeanors vs felonies. <Van de
Kamps, BofE marches>
- 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.
- Format of:
Direct action: Plan, >Act, >Critique.
This training session similar pattern: Discussion, >Role Play,
B. Direct Action Fundamentals
- Attitude. Serious. Committed belief. Passion (for issue not
against other people). Calm confidence. "Love" is up to individual
- No Retaliation. No physical retaliation, no verbal
response, no non-verbal reaction. The "song exception" and how to use
song as a dialog.
- 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
- 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.
- Planning. Importance of pre-planning and making sure
everyone knows (and agrees to) the plan.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't have on you. Nothing that can be construed as a
weapon (e.g. roll of pennies). No illegal drugs (including no pot).
- Handling press & public. Designated press spokesman. No one
else talk to press. Preventing press from disrupting the action.
Designated leafletter(s). Discourse & disengagement techniques.
- 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.]
- 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
- Purpose. What it is. What it for. What it does and doesn't
- 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
- Turn Post. Role & function of turn post. Spacing. Being the
focus of hate & apparent leadership. Hiding the captain in plain
- 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
- What. The "Non-Violent Position." Dropping to ground and
protecting self. Squirming to walls & curbs to protect back.
- Why. Best protection. Least threatening. Startles/scares
attackers. Clarifies situation to onlookers and press.
- When. When to use, when not to use. <Gaston's drop.>
- Rescue. How to help someone under attack or being dragged
*** Practice. Role-playing both sides. Hitting, kicking,
jumping on, dragging away. Singing.
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
- Purpose. Publicity, disruption, force arrests & costs
- Formations. Line, double-line, circle, mass,
- Logistics. Assemble elsewhere, >go to, >sit.
Designated spokesman & leafletters. Observers/photogs if arrests
expected. Supplies. Signs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.]
- Typical arrest procedure. What to expect.
- Going limp. Pros and cons. How to do it. Styles:
- The Buddha style
- The Flabby-limp style
- The Walking limp-collapse
- Going rough
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Court. Trials and lawyers. Telephones, taps, and bugs.
***Practice. Role-playing both sides. Going limp, arm locks.
Singing. Post-arrest interrogation.
Note — This training session was held before mass
street marches became the norm. This training was for non-permit
sidewalk marches two-by-two.]
- Legal rules & requirements.
- Preparation. Assembly site, march route, rally site,
dispersal plan. Assign & train marshals & runners. Designate rally
point if attacked.
- Marching. Two-by-two. Orderly column, spacing, close up, no
bunching. Obey traffic laws. Stop for lights. Sing.
- 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).
- Logistics. Signs. Flyer teams. Flags & banners. Water.
Footwear. Old folk. Kids.
- Hecklers. Line control. Keep the march moving, no stopping
to jaw. Marshal interposition if needed. Singing.
- 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.
- Police attack. Police formation-attack: retreat,
kneel/pray, sit. Police clubs: swinging vs pushing and what each
- 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.
Two Kinds of Nonviolent Resistance
Nonviolent Resistance & Political
Nonviolent Resistance, Reform, &
Copyright © 1963 & 2004, Bruce