Campaign Nonviolence’s social media coordinator, author/activist Rivera Sun, kicked-off her 40 city speaking tour by traveling through Florida for ten days, teaching nonviolence workshops, connecting with local organizers, and reading from her novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, which depicts a nonviolent movement in a fictional United States. At each of the cities she visited, Rivera listened to local organizers describe the challenges and success stories of their efforts.
In St. Petersburg, Bruce Wright, Green Shadow Cabinet member and co-director of the My Place In Recovery Drop-In Center, and organizer James Jones explained how the center’s eleven low-rent homes and drop-in facility provide a housing-first model that aids people in moving out of addiction and homelessness. The center and houses are run through the shared efforts of the occupants who cook, clean, organize, attend daily meetings, and run the affiliated thrift store. Rivera spoke with the community about Campaign Nonviolence’s three practices of nonviolence: to oneself, to each other, and to the whole world through the nonviolent movements for justice.
“This is a group who intimately understands the culture of violence – especially the systemic forms of violence that keep people in debilitating poverty,” Rivera observed, “and they are working together to create a refuge where the work of recovery, healing, and change can occur.”
In St. Pete’s, Rivera also spoke about strategic nonviolent action and how to build a culture of active nonviolence at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg campus, presenting a lecture to students in the morning and a public presentation in the evening.
In Tampa, Green Party organizer, Anita Stewart, arranged for an evening reading and book-signing event. Rivera Sun read from her novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, discussing the factual parallels to the fictional story and also contemporary movements for change.
The next afternoon, she facilitated a workshop on Creative Nonviolence using exercises from her newly published study guide to nonviolent action, emphasizing the importance of what Gandhi called “constructive programs” in strengthening nonviolent movements. Held in the welcoming and friendly, Sacred Grounds Coffee House, this workshop engaged community members and local organizers in tools for taking action.
In Sarasota, the Peace Education and Action Center at the Fogartyville Media and Arts Center invited Rivera to kick-off their sixty-day Season for Nonviolence with an evening talk on Campaign Nonviolence and what a culture of active nonviolence would look like. The next morning, Rivera facilitated a three-hour training in “Social Media for Social Justice”, bringing the tools she uses to support Pace e Bene and Campaign Nonviolence online to a group of community members in Sarasota. Arlene Sweeting organized both events, and has been a long-term supporter of Campaign Nonviolence, hosting an Engage Study group, participating in the 2014 Week of Actions, and inviting John Dear to speak in Sarasota last year.
In Gainesville, Rivera spoke at the Civic Media Center on the theme of “Love In Action For the Times We’re In”. This event was cosponsored by the Civic Media Center, RealLife Scripts, and the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. Afterwards, Rivera spent time with Heart Phoenix and Jeffrey Weisman, listening to their powerful work using inter-personal nonviolence to break down barriers between youth and law enforcement in their community.
In Orlando, Rich Hillwig of the Orlando Light Brigade and Miguel Adams with Speak Up Florida worked with Rollins College economics professor Beni Balak and City Commissioner Regina Hill to present several workshops on nonviolent action to students and the general public, as well as hosting an Open House at the Speak Up office, and a two hour radio interview on the Punkonomics Radio Show. There is already a conversation happening about a return visit for a weekend intensive in the fall. On-going statewide connections and collaborations were also fostered by Rivera Sun’s “Seeds of Change” tour and the Campaign Nonviolence network.
The final stop was in Coral Springs, a surprisingly multi-cultural suburb of Miami that participated in the 2014 Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions with their beautiful Silent Peace Walk organized by Piero Falci. This once-a-month event has been held for nine years, bringing people together and sparking numerous dialogues, initiatives, and public events for peace and understanding. In Coral Springs, Rivera participated in the Silent Peace Walk and inter-faith breakfast and dialogue. She also facilitated a transformative workshop on the three practices of nonviolence, emphasizing the connections between interpersonal nonviolence and the systems of structural violence that thrive on isolation, separation, and fear.
“My experience in Florida revealed that we are a culture in crisis – or perhaps a culture on the verge of necessitated breakthroughs and major transformation,” Rivera said, reflecting on the criminalization of the homeless, increasing poverty, student debt, police brutality, mass incarceration, income inequality, labor struggles, the formerly incarcerated who are denied equal access to voting rights, housing, employment, and social services; and also the rising sea levels that threaten to submerge much of the state of Florida, despite the political denial of climate change.
“The good news is that there is a rapidly growing willingness to connect the dots between our issues and work together. Creative responses to our predicament are erupting left and right. By the end of the ten days in Florida, I wasn’t telling stories of Gandhi and King. I was talking about what people in St. Petersburg are doing to break cycles of homelessness, or what the folks in Gainesville are doing to build bridges between police and youth. The movement is growing . . . and we’re learning from one another.”
In every city, the organizers said increasing community participation would help their efforts. Each organizer could use another 10 organizers and another 100-1000 active participants.
“We spoke a lot about how to reach into the local community and build a culture of active nonviolence, a culture that does nonviolence as a way of life, not a response to a crisis,” said Rivera. “We spoke about how to excite, engage, and mobilize people. We also discussed how to develop and implement organizer training programs that take our friends and fellow activists and give them the skills they need to help organize for social change.”
Currently, the Florida organizers are working together to hold a statewide meeting in Orlando, FL sometime during 2015 to discuss strategies, solutions, and ways to collaborate. Initiated by David Gibson, a Campaign Nonviolence promoter, the gathering would give organizers that invaluable face-to-face time that can strengthen connections and collaborations. To find out more about the timing and details, please contact David Gibson at peacehome.campaigns(at)gmail.com
Rivera Sun will continue touring to an ever-expanding list of 35+ cities this spring, promoting Campaign Nonviolence and speaking about nonviolent action and her novel, The Dandelion Insurrection. To find out more about her tour and how you can join in, please visit her page.
The following organizations and individuals were invaluable to the success of Rivera Sun’s visit to Florida: Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene, David Gibson, Bruce Wright, James Jones, My Place In Recovery Drop-In Center, University of South Florida, Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop, Karen Lowman, Anita Stewart, Michelle and Joann Dalnoky, Arlene Sweeting, Peace Education and Action Center, Fogartyville Media and Community Center, Burt Kempner, Heart Phoenix, Jeffrey Weisman, Civic Media Center, Wild Iris Books, RealLife Scripts, the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, Rich Hillwig, Orlando Light Brigade, Speak Up Florida, Miguel Adams, Sue Thompson, Global Peace Network, J.B. Callahan Community Center, Beni Balak, Rollins College, Punkonomics Radio Show, the Orlando Quakers, Piero and Maria Falci, One Planet United, Silent Peace Walk, Royal Palms Christian Church, Craig Watts, all the workshop participants, talk attendees, and many more.