What is Violence?

One of the exercises we do in a Basic AVP workshop is a brainstorm on the topic, “What is Violence?” Participants say whatever word or short phrase comes to mind when they think of violence and it is transcribed onto a sheet of poster paper. It is a word storm of ideas. No one’s idea is censored. When the storm passes and the ideas cease, we look at what we have written, noting the things that surprise us and the things that confuse us. Usually a good discussion follows on violence and how the group has experienced it in their lives.

Sometimes a word like “babies” ends up on the page. When that word was challenged once, I defended it, even though I had not been the one to add it. From personal experience, I came to realize after the birth of my first child, that there is a very fine line between self-control and child abuse. Working full-time in a demanding, stressful job, breast feeding at night, being constantly sleep deprived, I remember the moment I realized I could see that line clearly. The scary part was recognizing how easy it would be and how perfectly capable I was of crossing that line.

Occasionally, a participant is surprised to realize that something besides physical aggression could be considered violence. I have been fortunate never to have personally experienced physical violence. However on numerous occasions over the years, I have been the giver and receiver of verbal violence. Words carelessly or intentionally spoken can do tremendous violence to a person, creating wounds that fester for years, causing harm over and over again whenever they are remembered. I have carried such wounds with me for most of my life. Through AVP, I discovered their origin and was finally able to heal. What is violence in your life?

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The Power of the Process

As a life-long avoider of conflict and an acknowledged introvert, I find it ironic that I spend so much time facilitating Alternatives to Violence Project workshops. It seems so out of character to willingly go into a minimum or medium security prison and spend essentially 18-20 hours over a weekend, once a month, with a bunch of guys dealing with conflict and talking about feelings. It is difficult for me on so many levels. And yet, I keep going back.

For me, it was the power of the process that kept pulling me back. An AVP workshop is packed with interactive, immersion type experiences. It very successfully builds a sense of community and level of trust I have never experienced anywhere else before. It was the power of this community that drew me. I kept learning things about myself and changing, and even though it was challenging, everyone else was being challenged at some level at the same time. I was not alone.

I used to be afraid of doing anything that put me in a position of making mistakes in front of others. The first community workshop I helped facilitate was a baptism in fire. I made all kinds of mistakes, but the process worked so well that in spite of my mistakes, all of the participants grasped what we hoped they would. As one person said at the end of the workshop, “I realize now that non-violent resolution of conflict is inside everyone of us and what we need to do is reach down inside ourselves and pull it out.” I learned to trust the process, because it works.                          — Magical Miriam

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Basic AVP Workshop – Plainfield Correctional Facility – January, 2017

An Invitation to Join Us

AVP USA

An invitation to join us (from the national AVP USA organization):

We are volunteers who use interpersonal tools for peace, working around the corner and around the world to prevent violence and promote healing. We don’t lecture, or show slides, or sing anthems. Instead, we work face-to-face with people to help them discover their connectedness, their empathy and their common bonds – even where there is bitter animosity or a history of conflict.

In 2013 we shared our journey with nearly 16,000 people across 29 states. We are more than 2,000 volunteer facilitators, working in prisons, gang intervention, drug
recovery, with veterans and refugees, in schools, churches, colleges, community organizations, and more. Our story is told in many languages, by people of all colors and beliefs, and it’s captured in this first-person witness of one participant in a prison in New York: “I finally found something that cracked the wall around my inner energy and allowed me to see that other person I always wanted to be. . .that person I am now.”

We need your help, to grow our community and reach more people with our workshops. We have launched the Campaign for AVP-40, to celebrate our 40th anniversary of service and engagement with people who need our help. There are waiting lists for workshops – we need to recruit and train more facilitators. There are people in remote locations who can’t afford to travel – we need to meet those costs. There are models of success – we need to share those models with each other.

At our National Gathering in Philadelphia in May, we started our own drive to reach 100 percent participation in the Campaign. Now we invite you to join the Campaign for AVP-40 with a contribution. Please give what you can to:

AVP/USA
1050 Selby Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104

Our website is http:www.avpusa.org. You can donate there, too. It is all welcome, all appreciated, and all in the service of peacemaking and healing.

Thank you.
The men and women of Alternatives to Violence Project – USA