De-escalation

I received some pushback regarding yesterday’s post, Non violence / No violence. The objections related to this:

As expressed in many ways in the following, the point of nonviolence is to de-escalate situations. The goal is to create a space, to step back from violence, so the underlying issues can be identified and addressed. It is up to the protesters to try to make this happen. Up to the protesters to refuse to react to the provocations.”

I think my mistake was to say the point of nonviolence is to de-escalate situations. Rather, civil disobedience is used to directly confront unjust decisions nonviolently. This can generate a certain amount of conflict. Training for nonviolent actions involves teaching how to deal with such conflict if it occurs by using de-escalating techniques.

The following is from the Keystone Pledge Participant’s Guide, which was used by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to train people to participate in nonviolent direct actions. This was how I was trained to be an Action Lead. And it was from this manual that I trained others to participate in local nonviolent actions.

Dealing with and de-escalating conflict 

An integral component of civil disobedience is directly confronting unjust decisions or actors. Often, this will involve a certain amount of conflict. This section is designed to keep you safe during instances of conflict and confrontation. It is more important to be safe and de-escalate conflict than it is to debate with agitated people about climate change or the Keystone XL Pipeline. 

Finding the courage to step up and act is the first step in de-escalation. The second step is to learn how to act in a disciplined, non-violent way, making intentional choices. 

Before entering into your action think about your intentions. Remember that in the heat of the moment, if you are prepared and have developed “muscle memory” on how to respond to conflict that you’ll be much safer and successful in your action. That’s why it’s so important to practice. 

Here are some tips on verbal and non-verbal communication in de-escalation: 

Body language– Keep your hands in front of your body with palms out. Put the center of your gravity in your stomach. Ground yourself. 

Eye Contact– Maintain limited eye contact.  Loss of eye contact may be interpreted as an expression of fear, lack of interest or regard, or rejection.  Excessive eye contact may be interpreted as a threat or challenge. 

Volume- How do we get someone to lower the volume in their voice? Listening. Matching their volume. “I can’t hear you.” “I want to understand what you are saying.” 

Speed, motion– De-escalation favors slower rather than faster. Smooth over choppy. 

Content– Introduce yourself. Clear. Compassionate. Non-judgmental. Humorous. “I want to understand what you are saying.” Refer agitated people to police or police liaison. 

Touch– Don’t touch unless a person’s hand is extended to you. Never touch the police, their vehicles, their equipment or their animals (horses, dogs). 

Keystone Pledge Participant’s Guide


Nonviolence is one of the core principles which is non-negotiable for everyone who wants to take action under the name of XR. De-escalation is a key skill for anyone involved in any action. It helps maintain nonviolent interactions and atmosphere.

XR’s nonviolence has both a strategic and ethical dimension: Strategically, nonviolence is an effective tool in mass mobilisations, as evidenced by social science research. Upholding nonviolent tension means actively creating a respectful culture and basis for trust whilst also exposing and confronting injustice. Ethically, XR takes the view that by undertaking the conscious, often challenging work of removing violence from the way we act and interact, we can connect more deeply and positively with each other and the world around us. Through this deliberate practice we can model, or ‘prefigure’, the future we hope to create.

Large Crowd and 1to1 Nonviolence & De-escalation Training, Extinction Rebellion

Philosophy of nonviolent security

  • Security has an eye out for the safety and well-being of everyone. They are looking for, and are prepared to deal calmly with unusual events and avoid unnecessary violence.
  • In any action, both escalation and de-escalation of conflict may be called for. Security works with these ebbs and flows, for the sake of the group, its message, and its overall goals.
  • De-escalation requires treating people with respect and dignity. Folks in security roles may have to be firm, in the interests of everyone’s safety, but shouldn’t be “bossy” or assume any authority over other protestors.
  • Security folks are centered in their own resilience; they leverage self-awareness for the safety and power of the group.

De-escalation tactics

  • Draw disrupters away from the crowd and out of attention.
  • Listen attentively to argumentative people, occupying their time, allowing the rest of the group to focus on action goals.
  • Move your group of protestors away from disrupters or create a neutral area between them.
  • Surround disrupters with de-escalators; link arms if necessary.
  • Invite the group of protestors in your group to sit down to help isolate a person.
  • Divert attention: Start singing a song, do something silly or funny, create some theater, pass out balloons or flowers.
  • In the event of violence against protestors (by police, for example, or an organized attack by counter demonstrators), remind people to cover their heads, don’t grab legs, etc, and help people make quick decisions for their safety.
  • Keep thinking creatively!

Training for Change. De-escalation and Nonviolent Security


This entry was posted in civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s