Village Exercise

This interactive, physical activity gives participants an experience of nonviolent action and can unite groups through shared experiences. It’s a great group challenge, fun, and always provides a lot to reflect on about strategy, direct action, and social change.

Time: 30-60 minutes Group Size: 15-50+ people

What you need

  • Lots of crayons/markers
  • Ideally some change of clothing (e.g. suit or tie)
  • Two (or more) facilitators

How it’s done

Tell the group that this is their chance to create an ideal community. At first, the group will perceive this as a visioning exercise. Divide into small groups (5 to 8 people in each group) and give each group large paper on the floor. (You can also do this activity at tables, but it requires—for safety—removing chairs before the “ripping” part of this exercise.)

Ask the group, “What would you like to see in an ideal community or village?” When people give examples, give them markers and encourage them to draw or write about their ideas on the paper at their feet. As ideas increase, give out markers to the various groups and encourage them to draw together. Announce they have ten minutes to draw. Give updates on the time, like “now you have five minutes, now you have two minutes, etc.

After 10 minutes, ask groups to “take a tour” by looking at the other papers and explaining their community to others. Then invite people to return to drawing for one more minute, to add anything more to their community. At the end of one minute, take away markers. For this exercise to work well, it is important each group feels attached to the community they created.

After you take the markers away, start by introducing yourself as the head of a fossil fuel company. (Feel free to adapt your role to a local situation. If it’s a more advanced group, you can make the challenge harder/more complex—for example, someone investing money in a company that claims to do good environmental work.)

As you are telling them information about your corporation, move around the papers. After a minute or so, step in and rip off a piece of one of the papers – for your factory, or plant, or mall or whatever. You could also use a marking pen to mark up their community – for example, to add an oil refinery (but make sure not to get marker on people).

Continue taking away paper in small amounts and continuing to talk about the advantages of development, etc. It is imperative to time your paper snatching so that it is slow enough that groups are not so discouraged that they give up. They need time to figure out what is happening and organise against you.

Experienced activist groups will be able to tolerate faster snatching, “Beginners” will need you to go very slowly. You do not want to create despair. Nor do you want to “win.” Continue to rip off small bits of paper until the group has organized enough against you so that they have had an experience of nonviolent action. Groups may do this in many ways: laying on the paper, trying to talk to you, hiding the paper, physically blocking you, sitting on the paper, etc. Allow their resistance to develop until it becomes very difficult or impossible for you to continue.

It is ideal if this is a successful experience of resistance, but if the group simply cannot organize against you, end the game, debrief on what they could have done, and try the game again.

Debrief: Reflect on what happened

Invite people to share their feelings — make sure to get a range of different feelings (including anger, disappointment, distrust). Ask for a variety of voices and perspectives on what happened. Be sure to bring out when they became suspicious, and what they did about it. Make sure people’s anger and frustration are expressed.

(Tip: Some trainers use a costume—like a tie or hat—to indicate that they are playing a role. It’s at this stage that they take off their costume.)

This exercise can be intense. If you need to, take a short break.

Debrief: So what?

Form small groups of four people to come up with at least four things that worked in resisting. Ask the small groups to identify at least three challenges to gaining unity and power, and three things that helped build unity and power. Make a list of these.

(Of course, change these questions if you have other goals you are trying to teach.)

This is a great time to give stories from real life about how people have used campaigns to resist or other 350 campaigns against the fossil fuel industry.

Debrief in small groups: What can we do?

In the same small groups of four, give five minutes to come up with at least five lessons for them to take back to their real-life groups and work. Come together and list the work of the small groups by listing their lessons on paper.