by Kevin Jordan
In the prime of social media, violent activities are more prevalent than ever before. Between Ferguson, Baltimore and Aurora, violence always finds a way to make the headlines. This past weekend, however, one group of people gathered at the 5 Star Veterans Center to devote their time to nonviolence.
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a volunteer-lead international workshop with one goal in mind: eliminating violence.
“We’re hoping to give people an experiential exercise in nonviolence… by doing different activities to get a deeper meaning of the basics of nonviolence”, said Cecilla Yocum an AVP facilitator. “Anybody can transform a bad situation within themselves or with other people by acting in a nonviolent way.”
The AVP offers different types of workshops to promote nonviolence. One basic workshop held this past weekend covered the general principles of nonviolence.
“Exercises on affirming yourself, exercises on respecting each other, and listening”, said Yocum, listing some of the principles. There are also advanced workshops that focus on a single aspect of nonviolence. The subject of an advanced workshop is chosen by its participants.
“I just did [an advanced workshop] in a women’s prison where we worked on forgiveness because a lot of the times when people have been in prison… they start to reflect on what’s happened to them”, Yocum said. “[They] really realize that they did something wrong, and they want forgiveness. So how do they go about that? So that might be an issue.”
AVP also offers a workshop for training facilitators, such as Yocum, willing to spread the principles of nonviolence all over the world.
“We want to see people use [these principles] out in their community, not just at the workshop”, Yocum said. Several activities are held during these workshops with the intention of teaching people about the principles through a fun and memorable way. According to Yocum, these activities are used in workshops to build communities and learn techniques for preventing violence.
One of the activities held on Sunday was a sociodrama. The participants act out a situation involving conflict. As a group they try to come up with solutions to these problems. According to Yocum, sociodramas are popular in prison workshops.
“A big thing in the prison is sometimes just waiting in line to use a toaster. That’s where fights break out in prison. You can get killed there. So we were looking at different ways that people could deal with their frustration while they’re waiting in line and also talk to the other people in the line”, Yocum said.
Of course not all of the activities focus on serious situations and problem solving.
“We also have ‘Light and Livelies’ where we have fun… they seem kind of silly to people, but it breaks the ice”, Yocum said. “If you just did constant heavy subjects all day long it would just be unbearable.”
AVP has been around for several decades and has spread to 45 countries including Palestine and Rwanda. Although many of these countries have more infamous histories of violence than others, the themes of AVP workshops remain the same.
“A big part of it is developing trust in those countries, and I think that’s true [with] any place where there’s conflict, like [the] Israelis and Palestine”, Yocum said. “That’s a little trickier with different situations there.”
According to Yocum, the participants in the workshop held this weekend hope to spread the AVP’s presence in Jacksonville and multiply the number of facilitators in the city.
“Somebody said ‘We don’t want to be the next Ferguson. We want to try to prevent violence rather than deal with it afterward.’ There’s a lot of talk about working with the restorative justice groups and especially help young people deal with the violence in their lives.”