Last month, Third Act organized a training in Washington DC on nonviolent direct action (NVDA) for volunteers to build skills and explore the history and tactics of civil disobedience together. This training replaced our sit-in at the Department of Energy, which was thankfully canceled when the Biden administration paused approval of new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals.

Image from NVDA training

The training focused on skills that are best developed through in-person instruction and practice. It brought together 65 Third Actors, and even a few “first actors,” ranging from age 24-88, to learn how to apply nonviolent direct action principles within the arc of our campaigns, grounded in a shared history of direct action movement building as well as in Third Act’s Working Principles. Trainers from the Climate Disobedience Center helped sharpen our skills using real-life scenarios, from de-escalation to street actions.

Robert Wald shares his experience below.

Peace of Mind

I was in sixth grade the last time I had a fistfight. Our teacher, who believed students could learn better without actually being taught (this was the 1970s), stepped out of the classroom. Soon a classmate began poking kids with a pushpin, and when my turn arrived, I exploded in rage.

At one point, I had pinned my classmate against the teacher’s desk. I grabbed a pair of scissors and attempted to stab him. I missed, and the scissors embedded harmlessly in the desktop. Our teacher returned before much else happened, and I spent the rest of the morning in the principal’s office. 

I’ve avoided violent confrontations since then, and most people today view me as a laid-back person. Occasionally, though, I fantasize about throwing a brick through the window of a Bank of America or blowing up Exxon’s headquarters. You know, something for the good of humanity.  

So when Third Act offered training in nonviolent direct action, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to learn how to fight nonviolently against the carbon barons, who wage industrial-scale violence on us and the planet. 

NVDA training

The training took place in a large room on the ground floor of The Festival Center in Washington, D.C. Upon entering the room, I sat in one of the 50-odd chairs arranged in a circle. There were a few conversations among those Third Actors who knew each other, but the room was mostly quiet, the way rooms are when filled with strangers. 

Being a member of the Maryland working group, I knew a handful of people there. As the day progressed, however, I came to know many more of my Third Act brothers and sisters. And that’s exactly how I came to think of them over the course of the training. 

NVDA training

Some of the attendees had participated in nonviolent direct actions before, but others had never joined a movement, let alone risked arrest. They’re the ones I admired most, because they were just then embarking on a journey. 

Over the next one-and-a-half days, we learned and talked about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence and those of the War Resisters’ League. We also learned about the history and power of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. We learned how to plan and execute such actions, the right way to get arrested, and how to deescalate tense situations. The training also included a role-playing scenario based on Third Act’s nonviolent actions targeting dirty banks. 

I’d never gone to therapy or expressed inner thoughts and feelings in a group, but sharing my stories and hearing the stories of my fellow Third Actors turned out to be the most gratifying part of the training. It just may have been the most important, too, because it helped us get to know and trust one another. I know that if I am arrested for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, there will be caring, deeply committed Third Act brothers and sisters by my side, backing me up. And I, of course, would do the same for them. 

After the training, I hung around and chatted with other Third Actors. My head and my heart were buzzing. I wanted more, as if I had just read a great novel that I never wanted to end.

Rob Wald

Rob Wald grew up in the Bay Area but has made Silver Spring, Maryland, his home since 1996. He retired from a career in health and science communications in 2022, just in time to find Third Act. He serves as Third Act Maryland’s communications coordinator and volunteer coordinator. When Rob’s not getting into good trouble, he’s biking, hiking, gardening, cooking, reading, or napping. He also curates a 4,000-song Spotify playlist, “In the Spirit of KSAN,” which is inspired by his favorite radio station.