CPT INTERNATIONAL: Accompaniment: Breathing in a new world together


An illustration of three birds sitting on a branch in the moonlight. The base of the tree is strewn with guns

By Melissa Berkey-Gerald and illustrated by Rebekah Dowling

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
  — Arundhati Roy

“Embody creative nonviolence and liberating love.” This core value of CPT is aspirational. It calls us to work together with our partners in ways that go beyond acting strategically and efficiently. Our work is grounded in love that is creative, free, and liberative.

Last summer, in Cali, Colombia, we celebrated the completion of the CPT training with a huge barbeque, prepared by CPTers from Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, and Turtle Island. The trainees had worked hard for five weeks, including on a successful solidarity action to protest the murder and disappearance of Colombian social leaders. Earlier in the day, CPTers had received their certificates, and started to pack up the training center. After our feast, a few of us gathered around the remains of the fire from the barbeque. We shared stories about the training, and some long-term CPTers recalled significant moments in their accompaniment work. We talked about the intensity of CPT training, especially the role plays that prepare us to interact with armed actors nonviolently. Sharing stories helped us to process those stressful moments. We decided we needed to dispose of the cardboard weapons we used in these role plays, to really clear our minds and bodies of the experience. We tossed the cardboard cutouts one by one into the flames and watched as the fire consumed them. It was a ritual that reminded us of the power of creative nonviolence to destroy the weapons of war. I felt myself relax, release, as the flames leapt high and the guns dissolved to ash.

CPTers are wildly creative at nonviolent resistance. And since the start of the pandemic, teams have worked hard to adjust the way they accompany partners while preventing the virus’s spread. We have created online actions and webinars that share our partners’ stories worldwide.

But, in reality, these months have been challenging and exhausting.  Teams were separated; CPTers were (and some still are) in harsh lockdowns; several CPTers and their family members became ill with Coronavirus, and a few CPTers consequently lost loved ones. Oppressive governments have exploited the pandemic to further oppress our partners.

Amid such harsh realities, how do we not just pivot to the virtual world? How do we stick to our core and embody liberating love? It’s easy to lose sight of why we are in this work, especially when many of our teams can’t be physically present with our partners.

In my role as Care Coordinator, I seek to create space where we can hear the breathing of the new world that is on her way. Where in the midst of chaos, we can feel our own hearts beating and listen for what our bodies and spirits need to stay in this work. The day-to-day work of accompaniment and administration can take its toll on CPTers. This work can be traumatic for every team member.

The pandemic can exacerbate trauma, so it’s been important to always offer space to process our experiences, both as teams and individuals. When tensions run high due to stress, we provide space to name what is hard, to speak about the impact of oppression, to heal as individuals. We need space to ask for what we need from our teammates, to draw out the strength and courage that we see in each other. And we need to remind each other of what keeps us hopeful, why we do this work, what matters at the deepest part of our beings. We need to stop together and listen for the quiet signs of liberation that break through even during tremendous suffering.

I miss being in person with my colleagues. There is something lost when our only connection is virtual. But we are finding each other. We are reminding each other of why we are here. Sharing what keeps us hopeful. Sharing songs of freedom and resistance. We join across time zones and light candles together, whisper our griefs, witness each others’ pain and hold each other in the love that liberates. We remind each other about the world we are working for, the one in which everyone is free.

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