For many, Christmas means taking time off from work and relaxing. For others, it’s all about spending time with family. But for Connecticut peace activists of the 1960s — perhaps inspired by the radical nonviolent resistance of Christ himself — Christmas was time for training. During the week after Christmas in 1961, the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action sponsored a four-day training and study course in New York City to teach their tactics and skills. This training course, and others like it, were responsible for spreading many of the protest methods and philosophies that the era has become known for.
As shown in the “Tentative Schedule,” the organizers of the training were concerned not just with how one should protest, but also with why one should protest in certain ways — namely, nonviolently and with direct action. Much of the time would also be spent on learning and developing practical skills, such as writing leaflets and press releases. Moreover, the whole curriculum included multiple moments to reflect on recent history, current events, and both global and local issues. In fact, an early version of the “think global, act local” ethos can be seen in the CNVA’s organizing model: a mostly decentralized organization of mutually supportive locally- and regionally-based groups — all connected by newsletters, speaking tours, actions, and trainings like this one. Finally, the 1961 “Christmas Week Training” would end with an opportunity to apply some of what the participants had learned — out on the streets of New York.
These activists of decades past show us that there is no shortage of opportunities to spin the conversation to the topic of peace and disarmament — and that many of our society’s traditional practices and values contradict our government’s eagerness for war.
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“Christmas Week Training and Study Course in Nonviolent Direct Action and Peace Education.” Polaris Action Bulletin. 16 December 1961 (Bulletin #29), pages 3-4.
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