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Beautiful Trouble is one of my most dog-eared books!

Mary DeMocker, Co-founder and Creative Director of 350 Eugene

Generating Momentum — Activist training with Beautiful Trouble

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Generating Momentum with Beautiful Trouble

by Dave Mitchell, co-editor and author of Beautiful Trouble

“Our annual activist leadership training camp provided a copy of Beautiful Trouble to every participant this year, and it instantly became an invaluable (and favorite!) training resource. Used as a reference point in many workshops, the book advanced the goal of the camp: to empower youth by giving them the concepts and skills necessary to take action on issues they are passionate about.”

—Jenn Bergen, Director, Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation

One of the most exciting developments on the Beautiful Trouble front in recent months has been the growing interest we’ve seen in using the book as a teaching resource — either as a textbook in the classroom or a handbook in activist trainings.

I recently got to experience firsthand Beautiful Trouble’s usefulness as a training resource when I was invited to participate in Generating Momentum, a youth activist training camp organized by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC) and the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG).

The organizers had generously decided to provide copies of the book to all 50 participants (thanks to an equally generous 50% discount from our publisher), and a number of the presenters were quite familiar with the contents. Over the course of the three-day training, I was excited to see more and more participants referencing and referring to ideas in the book to illustrate their points.

This culminated in a creative activism training session I co-hosted with Dr. Michelle Stewart, a professor of Justice Studies at the University of Regina. We ran through some key ideas from the book, divided participants into groups, presented each group with a scenario (see below for the scenarios we used), for which they had to design a creative action. We were a bit worried that we might be asking too much (it had been a long day, at the end of a long weekend), but when we reconvened to share the actions that each group had come up with, Michelle and I were blown away by the creativity and effectiveness of what all of the groups came up with.

Then it got even better: one of the participants came up to us afterwards to ask if we could actually DO the action that another of the groups had designed. It turns out that the scenario we’d given them — changes to immigration law that made it harder for refugees to sponsor family members — was exactly the struggle that she and her family were engaged in.

Since the workshop, students at the University of Regina, including many who left the training armed with the ideas presented in Beautiful Trouble, have organized a whole series of actions around refugee and immigrant rights — showing firsthand how everyday folks, if they’re hungry enough for justice, and have the right tools in hand, can change their world for the better.

 

Participants at Generating Momentum end the weekend with a group hug. Photo: Dave Mitchell

 

Creative Activism group activity

#1
The scenario: An apartment block that offers affordable housing to 30 families in the downtown core of your city has been slated for conversion to luxury condominiums. City Hall has approved the conversion, in spite of resistance from renters, an acute housing crisis, and one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country. Eviction notices have been served, and a few families have already vacated the building. You are part of a small group that has come together to fight for affordable housing in your city, and have identified this apartment block as a strategically important one to rally around.

The assignment: Design an action that seeks both to reverse the condo conversion of this property and to build public pressure for government action to address the housing crisis.

Beautiful Trouble modules to consider, but not necessarily use:
TACTIC: Occupation, p. 78; Eviction blockade, p. 44

When we reconvene, you will have 10 minutes to:
1. Present your action plan to the group.
2. Identify a couple of key tactics or principles from Beautiful Trouble that inform your chosen approach.
3. Identify any potential pitfalls, areas of risk or concern that accompany your proposed action. How would you address these?

#2
The scenario: Two cyclists have been killed in the last year in your city while commuting to work or school. A group of concerned cyclists has come together, and identified two dangerous intersections, where the two deaths, and several other injuries, occurred, and where the installation of bike-specific traffic lights and bike lanes would dramatically reduce the risk to cyclists.

The assignment: Design an action for your group that seeks to apply pressure on city hall to take action on bike safety, particularly these two intersections, and more generally that seeks to raise public/driver awareness about cycling safety.

Beautiful Trouble modules to consider, but not necessarily use:
TACTIC: Artistic vigil, p. 10

When we reconvene, you will have 10 minutes to:
1. Present your action plan to the group.
2. Identify a couple of key tactics or principles from Beautiful Trouble that inform your chosen approach.
3. Identify any potential pitfalls, areas of risk or concern that accompany your proposed action. How would you address these?

#3
The scenario: A private consortium with support from the leadership of a nearby First Nation have announced the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility in northern Saskatchewan. A broad coalition of individuals (both settler and indigenous) and environmental organizations have vowed to stop the project from going ahead. The project is scheduled to break ground in three months.

The assignment: Design an action that contributes to a broader campaign that seeks to stop the nuclear waste storage facility from going ahead.

Beautiful Trouble modules to consider, but not necessarily use:
TACTIC: Blockade, p. 14

When we reconvene, you will have 10 minutes to:
1. Present your action plan to the group.
2. Identify a couple of key tactics or principles from Beautiful Trouble that inform your chosen approach.
3. Identify any potential pitfalls, areas of risk or concern that accompany your proposed action. How would you address these?

#4
The scenario: The provincial government has announced a major change to a regional immigration program. This change takes effect immediately and no longer allows families to sponsor relatives unless they have work permits for high-skilled labor. There is outrage in the community as families are no longer able to bring relatives into the province as planned. A group of local residents are outraged and want to plan an event that will put pressure on the government to reconsider this change in policy.

The assignment: Design an action that would shine a spotlight on this issue of fast policy changes (without consultation) and the plight of lesser-skilled workers and their rights to immigrate.

Beautiful Trouble modules to consider, but not necessarily use:
TACTIC: Flash mob, p. 46.

When we reconvene, you will have 10 minutes to:

1. Present your action plan to the group.
2. Identify a couple of key tactics or principles from Beautiful Trouble that inform your chosen approach.
3. Identify any potential pitfalls, areas of risk or concern that accompany your proposed action. How would you address these?