VOICES Peace Team to safeguard people, rights


The Minnesota Peace Team (MnPT) is holding training sessions for service during the Republican National Convention (RNC). I plan on being in St. Paul with the demonstrators during the RNC. I want it to be as large and as peaceful as possible. So I attended an evening orientation and a full day’s workshop held at Walker Community United Methodist Church on August 8th & 9th.

Active Listening manual, to accompany role-playing training

One of two facilitators, Katherine led in the role-playing and guided the discussion groups.

I am not a theater guy, so I have never done any of the Minnesota Fringe Festival things, yet I think I stumbled into a bit of what I imagine a Fringe event to be like, mainly amateur theater. The training is built around role-playing. The group of around 25 people invited me into “the circle”. They were open and gracious enough to allow me to participate in an observer way, outside their circle. I thank them all. The Theater arts give this studio artist the heebie-jeebies.

The evening orientation was to set up some group ground rules and to define the objectives, as well as to become acquainted with the other people. The stated goal is to be nonpartisan, to protect people on all sides of a dispute from physical violence. Their intent is to not interfere with civil rights, not to protect property, and not to enforce laws. The training is to teach nonviolent techniques to protect life and human rights in potentially violent situations.

Be Mindful. Discernment. Peace Team practices center on individual safety and human rights.

A good deal of discussion was held about various levels of a team member’s willingness to expose oneself to violence. As with their acceptance of my non-participation in role-playing, the group recognizes individual need to limit personal vulnerability. They would welcome any assistance people are willing to extend in terms of supportive staffing. A Peace Team member may be a provider of nourishment or a co-counselor in helping other team members to unwind. There are many ways to contribute, without the need to be in the heat of action.

People make a difference by knitting a fabric of caring in their lives.

Walker United Methodist Community Church proved gracious hosts, with vegetarian options for the provided lunch, and desserts as well.

In the role-playing, the group split into sub groups with some people acting as police, some as peaceful demonstrators, some as agitators / provocateurs, or sometimes as two individuals in an argument, and other members being the Peace Team members, defined with bright yellow vests.

The Peace Team are to be clearly identified in a fluorescent yellow vests and caps, but remain un-affiliated with any but peaceful, non-violent people.

One scenario had peaceful demonstrators, disruptive demonstrators, and a police contingent set up with a prescribed role-playing objective. As they were directed into a confined area, an intentionally surprise situation occurred, exhibiting the abruptness and confusion of an individual act within an already chaotic event. However well planed activities may be, an unplanned event may likely happen. So the training is to provide a safe exposure to similar happenings, and a guide for possible positive reactions.

Some of the role-playing was geared to feeling empathy for other sides, the feeling of being lost and how to regain composure, how to rely on other team members and how it is possible to be connected to and supportive of your team. They will be in clusters of four of five people.

Members of the St. Paul and Minneapolis police made an appearance. The Minnesota Peace Team does not want association with the police or with any protest group. This writer however, was encouraged that there are liaison activities. If enough people on all sides strive for peaceful cooperation, a better chance exists for nonviolent demonstrations. And the Peace Team is willing for dialog with any group or organization with sincere desire for respectful and peaceful protesting.

St. Paul Police Lieutenant Jane Laurence, front, Lieutenant Connie Leaf of the Mpls Police, in back, Mpls Police Sergeant Bill Blake, answered questions and explained some of their perspectives.

If you want to be on a Peace Team …

There will be three training sessions on the three remaining weekends before the September 1 gathering in St. Paul. Training consists of a two-hour evening orientation and an eight-hour interactive workshop. To be a peace team member, you must believe in non-violence, and be able to stay non-partisan – working to protect individuals from any side of a conflict. There is a small fee for the workshops, but a sliding fee or no charge may be worked out, so money will not prevent you from being one of the Peace makers.

Orientation on Friday evenings. (7 p.m. – 9 p.m.)
Training on Saturday and/or Sunday (8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.), depending on what people request on Friday evening. Register by emailing “Minnesota Peace Team” minnesotapeaceteam@gmail.com or calling 612-483-6041.

August 15-17 Friends for a Nonviolent World, 1050 Selby Avenue, Saint Paul, MN
August 22-24 Hennepin Avenue United Methodist, 511 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
August 29-30 Hennepin Avenue United Methodist, 511 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

4 thoughts on “VOICES Peace Team to safeguard people, rights

  1. As a seasoned anti-racism and human rights activist, my experiences with these peace teams have not been as rosy as the writer portrays.

    The very existence of such teams feeds into the popular media’s notion that the exercise of First Amendment rights is inherently violent. This ignores the reality of the source of most violence at protests–the police themselves. That police would be welcome at this training underscores the point, even as this group claims they want no affiliation with police (a dubious claim at best).

    Much of the energy of these teams is focused on chilling people’s righteous anger at the oppressions perpetrated by this system. What’s needed are not hoses to put out the fire, but real means of empowering the community to take on this system. These people shouldn’t fear people’s anger–they should welcome it and help to focus it into a powerful force for change.

  2. I was at the training and the trainers did mention several times that their expereince is that most of the violence comes from the police. After the cops left they also makde a point of telling us things like the police are legally able to lie, that conversation in the guise of “relationship building” can really be a type of interrigation and that while it is critically importnant not to demonize the police it is also important not to assume those domonstrating will be violnet.

  3. As the writer of the Peace Team article, I agree the exercise of legitimate protest is only interesting to large scale media concerns, if it involves violence. A local television crew of two, did spend a bit of time shooting and interviewing, after the access was discussed in the group. That access was similar to how my involvement was granted by this group of very open individuals.

    I do not speak for this MnPT (Minnesota Peace Team). In the group I observed, there was debate whether they should even have the police liaison present. Very strong feelings existed along the lines that “most violence at protests—the police themselves.” as expressed by; Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/12/2008 – 00:53.

    I have righteous anger as well. My struggle is how to best apply that anger to obtain some positive results. I disagree that this group of people is focused on chilling other’s righteous anger. A very strong statement of “I will not be part of crowd control” was a rebuttal of one person when I expressed that their efforts would best be directed towards radical protestors.

    It was my decision to include the paragraph and photo about allowing some dialog with the police departments. I also hoped it was clear that dialog was just that, communication and not affiliation. The current administration’s policy has been “no dialog” with anybody that did not toe their line and I am angry at that stance. This group of people impressed me as listening and caring and righteously angry, but most importantly holding to the principle of non-violent action. And I do not think they fear other’s anger their goal is to focus the anger into a powerful (non-violent) force for change.

    I hope Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/12/2008 – 00:53 is there at the RNC protesting loud and strong. But I will not condone any protestor’s violence, just as I cannot accept uncontrolled police brutality. Protest, but help force change non-violently. Do not let your message be overshadowed by violence.

  4. I had similar concerns myself until I attended the training. The trainers made clear from the start the majority of violence we could expect to see would come from the police and other law enforcment. One of the trainers, who had come from Michigan went out of her way to reinforce this through the personal stories she told of her own experiences at actions at through role-plays where the violence that the peace team tried to stop came from the police.

    They told us in an orientation the night before that the police had asked to come, but made it clear we could tell them no. When the group choose by consensus to let them come it was clear we would hold them to a time limit and that anyone who wanted to block the decsion or stand aside and step out for the 15 min. the cops were there. After they left one of the trainers made the clear point that the people who came were PR folks and to remember that cops can leagally lie.

    The trainers also spoke a great deal about how it is in the interest of those in power to divide those protesting by setting up some as “the evil bad, outside agitators and anarchists.” but that in reality that is not the case.

    I went to the training expecting to find organizers afraid of anger and interested in keeping things calm. What I found were individuals with good analysis of the situation, a willingness put themselves out there for what they believe in and a belief that we can do this differently.

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