Preamble: Where We Began and Who We Became
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a nonprofit corporation that holds a vision for peace, justice, and community throughout this nation and world. Since its inception in 1975, AVP has constructed a programmatic philosophy and methodology aimed to promote a balance of rational self-care and personal transformation with active attention to equality, inclusive community, dignity, and justice for all.
In 1975, some incarcerated men at Greenhaven Prison in Stormville, New York formed what they called a “Think Tank.” An aim of the “Think Tank” was to help incarcerated youth break out of a culture of violence. This group of men asked some Quakers, who were volunteers at the prison, for help in preparing a program to train youth in nonviolent conflict resolution.
One of the Quaker volunteers willing to help the “Think Tank” was Larry Apsey. He went to Mississippi as a volunteer lawyer to represent civil rights activists being detained and to train civil rights demonstrators in nonviolent approaches. There he met civil rights activist Bernard Lafayette Jr. who played a major role in designing nonviolent strategies and approaches to protesting violations of civil and human rights of Black and poor people in this nation. Together they adapted their nonviolence training and drew the agenda format from alternative educators to form the first AVP workshop for men incarcerated in Greenhaven Prison, New York.
From the collaboration between the “Think Tank,” Quaker volunteers, and pioneer civil rights leaders in nonviolence AVP grew as we know it today. It has become an organization committed to core values and practices that:
- Cultivate affirmation of self and others
- Build engaging and beloved community
- Foster peaceful human relations
- Promote awareness of systems of oppression and racism—individual as well as institutional
- Provide tools and strategies for nonviolent conflict resolution and resistance against injustices in all possible forms.
AVP strategies and tools rely—not on manipulative techniques —but on Transforming Power, that deep indomitable will to change and bring about change. Gandhi called it the truth force within each of us that guides us to develop and value a consciousness of daily nonviolence, and yet an attitude of active resistance to injustices of all forms.
As keynote speaker at the AVP-USA Annual National Gathering in Massachusetts 2017, Lafayette called AVP-USA to honor our anti-racist foundation of nonviolence and beware of potential complicity in institutional racism and social inhumanity:
If we seek deep and lasting change, we must seek transformation not only of the conflict at hand but of ourselves. We must continually ask how we are contributing to it. What of our own distorted thinking is fueling or informing the conflict? How are we connected to the violence in the [larger] situation? How might we even rely on violence — perhaps the violence of others — to sustain our own wellbeing? Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ As we seek to transform violent conflicts deeply, how must we ourselves transform? Come, share, and journey courageously together — towards change.”
The founders of AVP opposed stereotyping and prejudice and expected every workshop, particularly the Second Level Workshop, to have at least two sessions on these topics before practicing consensus. They understood that collaborative thinking and decision-making required a direct understanding of and opposition to patterns of oppression. Today we see more clearly how centuries-old systems of oppression, injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and violations of civil and human rights of all individuals become embedded in our thoughts, behaviors, cultures, and institutions. AVP-USA joins others in an anti-racist movement to make the structural reforms and sweeping changes that are desperately needed.
Changes Demanding Our Attention
Today we know everyone is affected by the false and cruel notions of white supremacy and racism, brutalizing people of color on a regular basis and blinding white people to their complicity. We have come to learn that to oppose oppression we must oppose both prejudice and privilege. Privilege is not an honor, blessing, or pleasure; it is unfair and unnecessary power over others at their exclusion, used with impunity. Challenging privilege does not change the fact that some people have advantages, but it recognizes advantages accrue from a social context and should be used for the development of all within that social context. Rooting out prejudice and privilege from our everyday thoughts, actions, words, and institutions and designing a society supporting the development of all will require vigilant self-reflection, feedback, listening, and change. Gandhi warns us that to commit to nonviolence we must commit to dialogue, to listen deeply to each person’s experiences of violence in order to learn how it occurs and how to oppose it.
AVP-USA acknowledges that people have experienced racism in workshops and in the organization, both in offensive interpersonal interactions, intentional or unintentional, and in systemic patterns of power imbalances. AVP-USA recognizes the harm that any racist comment or action that occurs in our community does, particularly to historically marginalized groups or individuals. AVP-USA resolves to hold ourselves accountable on all levels and seeks to be increasingly explicit in recommending active anti-racism actions.
AVP does not engage in partisan political action or lobbying, but it does challenge violence in any form and works to transform personal lives, both private and public. In the case of racism, oppression, and denigration of human beings, silence is complicity. To be anti-racist, we must say out loud to one another and to the world that we are anti-racist and any notion of a white race or its superiority is utterly false, inhumane, and unfounded. We acknowledge that anyone can perpetrate racist words or actions, intentional or unintentional. If someone feels a racist statement or act has occurred, we ask them to speak up, and we will stop, listen, respect their experience as true for them, and change our language or behavior without defense or antagonism. We commit to working together to transform our own complicity as individuals and as an organization with violent racist practices. We will continue to identify concrete actions to be actively anti-racist to become peaceful, just communities grounded in nonviolence and transforming power. Come, share, and journey courageously together — towards change.
AVP-USA is committed to:
- Social justice as a human right and an essential to the consensus process in AVP.
- Investing in life-long learning about anti-racism. We are committed to continuously redirecting conversations and attention towards anti-racism and social justice.
- Making the system of justice work for all people and the environment.
- Refocusing ownership of AVP-USA for youth and inside facilitators. Ensuring that AVP practices and policies reflect the voices and perspectives of our inside facilitators and youth. This will help us to reroot AVP-USA to its original devotion.
- Assessing our internal policies. Reviewing our policies and program practices to ensure adherence to structural and systemic nonviolence.
This is the beginning, not the end. As a grassroots organization, we acknowledge our local communities are our foundation which is the lifestream of AVP-USA. In our commitment to build on this anti-racism statement, we reflect on the strength of our local members who have championed this work and we thank those who uphold the integral pieces of this cause. Let us continue to speak up, speak out, listen, learn, and share to strengthen our actions together.
April 6, 2021
Discussed and written:
- Betty McEady
- Sarah Davenport
- Richard Chiamulon
- Sean Bell
- Alisha Kohn
- Mital Lyons-Warren
Adopted as Board Policy May 8, 2022