18 August 2017
CPT UNITED STATES: Christian Peacemaker Teams supports clergy and community members in Charlottesville through trainings in nonviolent action
by Sarah Thompson
On behalf of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) community, first and foremost we want to extend our condolences to the families of the victims of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Though Trump’s denouncement of the horrendous “Unite the Right” rally on 12 August 2017 was weak, the Charlottesville community’s response was very strong. From clergy to anti-fascist (Antifa) mobilizers to street medics to students, they all came together to confront the misdirected anger and brutalizing violence of the ultra-nationalist right wing—mostly young white men were in attendance—in the United States.
Already in July, the local clergy group knew they needed more reinforcement and training to prepare for the violence their city would experience at the hands of white supremacists on 12 August.
Image from the online invitation to "Chicago Interfaith Service in Solidarity with Charlottesville"
They called us.
Local Charlottesville activists had heard of the work and training of CPT. Up until we arrived most of the nonviolence training dealt only with how to interact with the police. Since Virginia is a state that allows to openly carry a firearm in public, there are multiple groups with guns and weapons, not just the state troopers. Wanting to take CPT’s founding questions to heart, the activists asked for training on how to confront this type of precarious situation with powerful, disciplined nonviolent action. “What if we, as people whose faith calls us to peace and to denounce white supremacy, trained as hard as the police and the alt-right will train for their raids?” And, “what if we are willing to give of our lives in the same way that soldiers are expected to give of theirs?”
Sarah Thompson, Executive Director of CPT, responded to the invitation to go to Charlottesville. In early August she led a series of trainings for a broad range of community members.
She shared with the community members about the work that we've been doing as CPT, walking alongside those who are creatively resisting oppression and lethal violence worldwide. What we have learned in the streets and in conversation with our grassroots partners over the last 30 years was invaluable information for those facing it for the first time in the United States. The trainings examined both background work and in-the-moment things needed for being able to be as present as possible when guns are all around. The trainings covered bullet dodging, verbal/body language de-escalation tactics, paperwork prep such as advance medical directives, self-care and activist accompaniment, and undoing oppressions. She also engaged in many prayerful conversations throughout her time in the city.
Sarah Thompson (upper left with a microphone) at a Chicago interfaith service in solidarity with Charlottesville. Photo by Patricia Brugioni
To many people of color--indigenous and immigrant and internationally--this type of violence and intimidation are not new. CPT has responded this year with an increasing number of trainings for communities. Our reservists especially stand ready to equip their communities with the resources they need to do nonviolent direct action for the purposes of building partnerships to transform violence and oppression, and to stop hate. Being a part of the growing movement to challenge white supremacy is also a priority for CPT Canada, especially in Toronto. Please contact us if your community would like a training.
For further reading about the work of Sarah Thompson and others in Charlottesville we woud like to recommend this article from The Mennonite.