I have done a lot of reflection in regards to the suitability and the appropriateness of this activity and I cannot with one hundred percent certainty that it was a success. On the very first day of the workshops, I risked an activity that I created myself based on workshops that I had done, pedagogical readings, and my own experiences as a student. The goal of the activity was to meet some of the bigger goals of the workshop as a whole such as teamwork, self-expression, and the development of creative and pacific resistance to various forms violence and oppression.
On the first day, my partner and I played the oppressors. We dressed up in suits, walked into the classroom with very stern looks on our faces, and then, in true Orwellian form, we began to explain that we would learn how to achieve peace through obedience, quietude, and silence. Then I declaimed that this was a most serious matter that must be treated with the most serious of attitudes. No talking. Absolutely no laughing. And as a final component, we imposed several rules that made participation in the workshop more difficult and marginalized different individuals in the group.
At each stage of the activity, we checked in with the participants to assess their agreement or disagreement with the progression of the activity. Once we had determined that all had unanimously accepted the rules and the methodology of the workshops, we stopped the activity and started the debriefing. What had gone wrong? Who had been treating whom unjustly, unfairly, oppressively? What tools/methods did we as facilitators/dictators use to submit the group to our exclusionary and despotic rules? How could they have acted differently in order to resist/change the negative elements of the situation?
Finally we described what would be the purpose and plan of the workshop for the following 3 weeks. We would be reading the writings of people who offered examples of peaceful resistance and expressed their struggle through “the word” written, spoken, sung, or shouted.
This was the first day. The last day we revisited the scene, same characters, same set-up, but possibly different results. Equipped with the skills that we had learned in our workshop and the other workshops especially the one on Leadership, the kids now had a new voice. The first time we ran the activity on the last day, not much changed. Every kid still was willing to follow all of the rules despite their undemocratic and demoralizing nature.
So, with only a short discussion in between to identify the problems that were still present, we ran it again. This time the creativity started to flow. They refused to participate in the workshop until we treated them with respect, some ripped the papers with the rules on them, some of the boys stood in solidarity with the girls when the girls were told that they had to participate in the workshop from behind, and some began chants such as "Alumnos unidos, no serán vencidos" (the students, united, will not be defeated). At one point one of the girls, who at the beginning had declined to participate because she was still too uncomfortable from the first time, stood on a chair to have a height advantage and explained tom y partner and me how and why were were violating their rights.
In the final run-through, we changed roles. Two students assumed the the position of teacher/dictator and my partner and I stepped into the role of the students. The two students who volunteered to be the teacher/dictator turned out to be two of the students who had been most affected by the activity from the first day. They were the ones who had begun to tear up and to become very frustrated. Now, with the opportunity to take on the role of the oppressor, they began to understand the true meaning of the activity and to take ownership it.
Although I would never claim that this activity or our workshop has forever changed the way that the kids deal with violence and oppression in their own lives or that we have created a strong alliance of creative resistance that will have a significant influence in Colombia, Bogotá, or even their neighborhood. What I would like to claim is that we sowed, and maybe cultivated a bit, the right seed for the plant that is not rooted in hostility and that can continue to grow to eventually be that impact of peace that is needed. The activity, to me, showed that we had created a relationship with the kids in which problems were solved through collective agreement and action. And it demonstrated that we had begun to develop those three goals that we had set at the beginning of teamwork, self-expression, and peaceful resistance to violence.
I will continue to reflect on this activity and its merits/faults. I hope to have many conversations with educators, organizers, and others as to its validity and value. And I welcome any comments, ideas, criticisms, suggestions, etc. I am glad that I took the risk to try the activity as I believe that myself and the kids learned a lot from it and we grew closer as a community.