by Erin Moberg / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

On Saturday, February 4th, several members of DGR Oregon attended a day-long NVDA training in Eugene, Oregon. The event was organized by local and regional activists. Over 200 people attended, including local activists, community members new to direct action, college students, youth, retired people, and others from nearby towns.

DGR members attended this training as part of an increased effort to connect with Eugenians from other activist groups and to invite community members to two upcoming events: (1) a DGR Open House in downtown Eugene (March 8) and (2) an Advanced Direct Action Training to be held just outside of Eugene over Earth Day weekend (April 22-23). We also, of course, wanted to see what we could learn.

The Keynote Speaker was Leonard Higgins, who shared a short film documenting his experience as one of the “valve turners” who shut down oil pipelines in five states in October of 2016. Higgins described direct action as “not the only important work to be done” but crucial in that it supports other activist work, including: changing the economy, transitioning to alternative energies, and expanding community organizing strategies.  Although his remarks and the entire training focused on “preserving life as we know it and civilization” and “ensur[ing] a future for human civilization,” Higgins and the film did help to normalize and demystify direct action for those new to environmental activism.

People who want to support the valve turners can attend a legal costs fundraiser event on the evening of February 24th at 6:30pm at the First Methodist Church near downtown Eugene. The suggested donation for the event is $20, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

The workshops (Medic Training, Encryption Basics, Jail/Arrest Support, Action Planning, “Artivism,” and more) emphasized peaceful resistance toward the end of sustaining or bettering life for human beings.  Even when referencing the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, there was no concrete mention of the destruction of the land and little reference to the occupation of indigenous communities and territories by the culture of empire.  While this may be simple omission, it’s a trend in mainstream activist groups—especially in predominantly white groups—to avoid naming the problem, and to avoid being “negative.”

Most frustrating in the workshops was the lack of organization and structure; many facilitators had poor presentational skills, little understanding of key semantic nuances of relevant terminology (ie: violence, use of protective force, and violation), and an overall lack of consciousness around anti-oppression strategies necessary to foster equitable engagement and collaborative environments.

This is unsurprising, as in our experience mainstream activist groups and NGOs such as this often serve as a sort of buffer against truly revolutionary change by funneling energy, donations, and volunteers into minor reforms.

In the workshop on Action Planning, the facilitator (a Portland-based activist) did share several strategies that could be useful for DGR meetings, direct action trainings, and forum culture.  One is the acronym WAIT/WAINT (Why Am I Talking? / Why Am I Not Talking?), a variant of the Step Up/Step Back framework designed to encourage those who occupy positions of privilege and tend to dominate (white people, men, documented folks, etc.) to hold space for those whose voices and experiences are often silenced or ignored (people of color, women, undocumented folks, etc.).  She also explained the “Points of Intervention Model” as way for activists to identify how, where, and when to plan a concrete direct action.  This model asks organizers to consider points of production (ie: labor site), destruction (ie: mines), consumption (ie: households), decision (ie: corporate head), assumption (ie: segregated spaces), and potential before then deciding on:

  • vision –> (2) campaign–> (3) strategy–> (4) tactic–> (5) action

 Her example was:

  • Stop climate change–> (2) Halt proposed pipeline construction–> (3) pass anti-pipeline legislation–> (4) forums, petitions, lawsuits–> (5) Not specified during the workshop

While the training was a good first step for first-time activists interested in learning more about political organizing, this day of workshops didn’t provide a compelling vision of the application of political power. For those with little to no activist experience, there were no clear articulations of the history, potential, and goals of direct action. For those who attended as experienced activists, there were no hands-on workshops offered for specific direct action skills trainings (ie: how to build and use lockboxes). The legal presentations, encryption info, and medic training did offer concrete skills that are valuable to organizers. In terms of community representation at this event, there were no facilitators of color, few female facilitators, and few opportunities designed to connect training participants one-on-one.

Overall, this training focused on issues leading up to or arising in the aftermath of direct actions, not the actions themselves. For organizing large groups to achieve reforms, it was a potentially useful training. However, for people interested in deep revolutionary changes, it was lacking.

Thanks to the organizers for hosting this event.

People interested in learning more advanced skills should contact DGR Eugene to inquire about our advanced direct action training scheduled for Earth Day weekend, April 22-23.