How to Be an Effective Activist: 90-Minute Training in Nonviolent Action Draws 400

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller, Advocacy Director at New York Civil Liberties Union, shares her session on "How to Confront Violence, Coercion, and Arrest With Nonviolence: What You Need To Know."

Amid increased grassroots protests nationwide since the 2016 elections, about 400 students and others came together for a 90-minute training on nonviolent action hosted by NYU Wagner and the school's Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership, David Elcott, on Feb. 23.

How to Be An Effective Activist”—whose New York University cosponsors included the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the School of Law's Public Interest Law Center, and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development—saw half of the audience respond affirmatively when asked to raise a hand if they'd attended one or more protests in the previous four weeks.

The training event at the Kimmel Center for University Life drew upon the expertise and experience of several practitioners in nonviolent activism.

Professor Elcott said many in the NYU community may be more likely than in many decades past to feel compelled to resist federal laws and policies that could conflict with their own views and values—whether in the realm of healthcare, immigration, education, academic freedom, or laws and traditions.

"But what if mass, spontaneous uprisings are neither spontaneous nor flash floods – what if in fact it is possible to influence the weather?” Professor Elcott asked. "Not all revolutions succeed, not all mass action delivers," he continued, "but successful campaigns have an overarching framework through which acts of personal sacrifice can be channeled into concrete efforts; that highlight issues and increase tension; that focus on real and specific demands; that have carefully developed strategies and tactics; that provide the language that motivates and inspires; and that break the back of opposition by meticulously finding the weakest points, and then proceed to change the course of history."

The focus of the training sessions was how to translate the desire for civic engagement into constructive and lasting impact, regardless of one's political leanings.

Among the trainers were:

Daniel Altschuler, Managing Director, Make the Road Action Fund  (Developing a Strategy of Protest: Target, Demand, and Power).

Rev. Noelle Damico, Senior Fellow, Work with Dignity, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (Into the Streets in Civil Resistance: Engagement, Mobilization, and Action).

Jamila Brown, Digital Communications Strategist, The Opportunity Agenda (Telling the Story and Massaging the Message: How to Communicate an Unarmed Struggle).

Johanna Miller, Advocacy Director, New York Civil Liberties Union (How to Confront Violence, Coercion, and Arrest With Nonviolence: What You Need To Know)

"In 2017," summed up Elcott, "it is critical how we learn to engage the world as effective activists. You have been invited here because we believe that popular protest requires passion to be effective, but also planning, organizing, training, and discipline."

Rewatch the entire training below.