For activists at Occupy, class is now in session

By Madhu Srikantha

University students joined dozens of activists on Saturday for a crash course in civil disobedience, led by the one of the nation’s most prominent pagan spiritual leaders.

Guided by Starhawk (born Miriam Simos), attendees of the workshop learned the basics of handling police force with pacifism. The event was organized by Kyla Bourne, a student in the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), and drew a turnout of 35 to Workers United Hall on the Near West Side.

Well known for her decades as a feminist and environmentalist, as well as her work as a spiritual leader among pagan and Wiccan faiths, Starhawk sought to promote nonviolent action as a method of strengthening the Occupy movement.

This was one of many similar appearances Starhawk has made recently, as she has toured other cities with strong showings from Occupy, such as Oakland.

Attendees ranged in age and profession, from students such as Bourne to older pacifists and environmental activists, both who eagerly participated in Starhawk’s interactive training session.

“She had fake police batons and was hitting us over the head with them. She was running drills on how we should blockade or how we should deal with police squads,” said Bourne. “That’s the stuff we need to be prepared about.”

After a few role-playing scenarios, Starhawk facilitated a group discussion on the democratic decision-making process that the Occupy movement has sought to use in order to promote a collaborative and equalizing, rather than competitive, decision-making process.

The objective of the session was to better prepare activists for police force, keeping in mind the NATO summit on May 19, which will see an uptick in the Chicago Police Department’s presence.

Kristin Pomykala, a second-year M.A. student at the Divinity School, was glad that she was able to learn a few skills, even though she doubts that she will be clashing with police any time soon.

“It recognized different levels of participation, different levels of risk in engaging in these sorts of actions. I myself have a two-year-old daughter, and you know I’m not going to be on the front lines of such [activities],” she said.