An Interview with Eli McCarthy from DC Peace Team
Over the past decade there has been a quantitative growth in organized unarmed civilian protection groups and violence de-escalation trainings within the United States. As people begin to awaken to the fact that the best way to defend democracy and achieve mass-participation in a democratic struggle is through creative nonviolent action, these organizations have seen an increase in the demand for their work and trainings. Especially during the period of this pandemic and increased civil unrest, they have had to work even harder to translate their best practices and trainings from in-person to online. Not an easy task!
One group who has been able to establish dynamic, effective unarmed protection and bystander intervention trainings is the DC Peace Team. To meet the needs of these times, they have included new nonviolent trainings in post-election violence scenarios and restorative practices for healing community tensions. You can find a list to sign up for a training at this link.
I had a chance to ask Eli McCarthy, who helped co-found the organization, a few questions about their work and what makes their trainings practical for these times.
What’s the story of the DC Peace Team? How did it come to be?
In late 2010 Cortez McDaniel, a Community Change Agent with the National Homecomers Academy, as a returning citizen from experience in prison, met Eli McCarthy, a local social justice activist and a Professor at Georgetown University. Cortez has been committed to building and rebuilding family and community networks of mutual support, including caring for persons living on the streets at the McKenna Center. Along with community organizing experience, Eli had received training from the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which offers unarmed civilian protection and accompaniment to communities in conflict. The two shared their stories and discovered a common commitment to bringing a sustainable just peace to the city’s most violent and longstanding conflict zones. After sharing in an introductory session on the Nonviolent Peaceforce, Cortez and Eli created a coalition of individuals and groups to establish the DC Peace Team.
Over the last ten years, the DCPT has evolved to focus on unleashing the power of ordinary civilians to increasingly become nonviolent people who serve our communities using creative nonviolent skills, with a focus on unarmed accompaniment and protection. We have trained thousands of participants in nonviolent communication, bystander intervention, restorative circles, and unarmed civilian protection. We have offered training in DC, NY, TX, CA, and even China as well as reaching people in Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Belgium, Palestine, and the UK through our online training. We have trained staff at the U.S. Institute of Peace, teachers, social workers, religious communities, farmer’s markets, art stores, young adults in juvenile detention, police officers, etc. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have offered online sessions 2 or 3 times a week with a significant increase in participation and hunger for these skills.
We also deploy unarmed civilian protection units to places of potential hostility, such as local neighborhood spaces or events as well as political demonstrations to prevent violence, interrupt dehumanization, and when possible to generate dialogue and empathy. These have included demonstrations such as the Republican national convention (Cleveland, 2016), Unite the right rally, March for life, Black Lives Matter marches, and migration events in Tijuana/San Diego, etc. We have also trained nonpartisan UCP units to offer accompaniment to high profile BIPOC individuals at risk for their just peace work and seeking congressional office.
We also offer restorative circles for the public and various groups such as community leaders in Garfield Hills (Anacostia, DC), returning citizens, persons experiencing homelessness at Fr. McKenna Center, and groups dealing with internal racism issues.
You’re really refining the experience of using online technology for skills to de-escalate violence in face to face interactions. What are some key features of your trainings that help engage participants more than just a webinar or online seminar?
We have had an enormous growth in participation through our online training. We use a very participatory process with breakout rooms, stories, and participant google docs to help them follow along and get the key points. We create a safe and brave space for us to learn from each other in a process of mutual discovery.
You’re creating trainings for post-election violence scenarios for people across the country. What do these entail and why are they different than other trainings of the DC Peace Team?
These training draw on our core modules of active bystander intervention, unarmed civilian protection, and nonviolent communication. They entail specific plausible scenarios such as at a polling station or at a board of elections office in light of a delay in announcing the winner. The ABI training is for individuals who may happen to be around a harmful or violent situation. The UCP training is for those who might deploy as a team to a potential hotspot. We have an ABI training on Oct. 17th and an UCP training on Oct. 31st focused on election scenarios. We are also happy to set up a specific training for your group at a date/time that would be convenient.
What other trainings do you offer and how do they fit into the larger picture of unarmed civilian protection?
We also offer restorative justice circle training as well as nonviolence and meditation. These along with ABI and NVC training provide essential skills for UCP but also cultivate the habits, character, and way of life or spirituality to actualize UCP well with a broader imagination and commitment to nonviolence even in more difficult situations.
Can you share a story of someone who was changed by your work?
Recent Testimony from a participant:
“I wanted to share with you all an experience I had last Friday that has really validated for me the importance of the work you all are doing.
I’ve just been learning how to drive, and was out with my cousins Friday night practicing driving through a residential area. I had stopped at a stop-sign and was about to make a turn when a car came speeding down the road, started skidding, there were sparks everywhere, and then it slammed into a tree, all right in front of us. The car started smoking, and I was scared it was going to catch fire and combust.
I took a breath, calmed my mind, and told my cousin to call 911, while I darted out the car, into my trunk, grabbed my pocket knife, and ran towards the car. I was scared it would explode, which is why I had my knife to break open the window or cut the seat belt, if needed. I got to the car, opened the door easily, and there was a 15 year old kid in there. I’m first aid certified, and I did the initial assessment, and helped carry him out of the car and away. People started crowding around the car, and I started yelling at them to stay away from the car because it was smoking. Paramedics came, the kid was okay, and I gave an incident report.”
I share this experience for two reasons:
1. First, without realizing it, I had applied the CLARA method which I learned in DCPT training, and was able to find calmness, before reacting very quickly. In past situations like this, I’ve frozen and not been able to act. I also knew to delegate responsibilities so I could focus on what I could do. and;
2. I knowingly ran into danger, and knew, before I even picked up my knife, that there was a chance that the car could catch fire. However, unlike the time when I was held at knife point and stepped in front of an elderly man, I’m not second guessing my decisions or tormenting myself over it. Eli and Sal, I actually thought of what you said to me, was that in moments of intense stress, we learn things about ourselves and what we’re capable of that we weren’t expecting. Probably the reason why I’m not going crazy thinking about that night, the way I did after nearly being knifed, was thanks to what you guys said to me all those weeks back, so thanks.
I’m proud to have been an active bystander in that situation, and I credit what I feel was a successful intervention to what I’m learning from you all. Briana and I talk about the DC Peace Team a lot, and we were saying that we learned from you all that we need to practice moral courage in our daily lives, so that we have the strength to step into brave spaces when we need it most, and this Friday all the training paid off.
What kind of training or skills should people have before coming to your training?
Our introductory training sessions are open to anyone. For the UCP or ABI training, it can help to have taken an intro. to NVC and/or have been practicing NVC in one’s daily life. We have more advanced training or training for trainers, which we ask participants to have taken the same topic’s introductory session.
Where should they go to learn more?
You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; see our website (https://dcpeaceteam.com/) and sign up for our e-list to get updates on training, deployments, etc. You can also contact Eli McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-717-8867.