I know George through various activist projects in the Philadelphia area. I’ve even gone to
folk sings at his home in West Philly—one of my unfulfilled goals is to join him in singing Handel’s Messiah. But things changed when I attended my first Training for Social Action Trainers (TSAT). George went from a friend and colleague to a mentor. My wife is also a TSAT grad and as trainers and activists George taught us new ways to think and to create learning opportunities on the spot. We’ve both participated in more of his workshops and seldom leave an encounter with George without finding ourselves creatively stretched. We joke about wearing WWGD bracelets—What Would George Do?
A Trainer of Peace Trainers
The essence of the work I do is to love.
In a family tree of activists for peace and justice, George Lakey is surely a common mentor for people in many different movements in countries around the world. He has facilitated over 1,500 workshops on five continents and has been an influence on many other leaders. He’s best known for his Training for Change center in Philadelphia, a catalytic stop for many of the world’s peacemakers.
Yeast as a Metaphor
As a bread baker, Lakey enjoys the image of yeast: Mass movements begin with the
fermenting work of a small group. Like yeast, visionary minorities have the capacity to make a huge difference in the larger group. Enabling such small groups, and then the growing movements they engender, to make a difference—that has been Lakey’s work as a trainer of trainers.
As a college student, Lakey discovered the Quakers and became a pacifist. Quaker spirituality is a major source of self-awareness, guidance and strength in his peacemaking. He attributes prayer as the most reliable means to achieving results in his life, especially this prayer,
Please, God, help me to see this from a different point of view. He points out,
That prayer is always answered!
Lakey jumped into the anti-war and Civil Rights movements in the late 1950s and 1960s. He taught at the Martin Luther King School for Social Change, inspiring the training work that would be refined throughout the years. Soon, he was involved in international activism as well. In 1967, he served on the crew of the peace ship, Phoenix, which set sail several times during the war on a mission to carry medical aid to Buddhist peace activists in South Vietnam. In 1971, along with several other leading Quaker activists, he co-founded the Movement for a New Society. Later, he founded and directed the Philadelphia Jobs with Peace Campaign. Lakey wanted his work to represent more than an anti-war message; he pushed for a transformation from war-industry employment to an economy that was life affirming. He also was a founder of Men Against Patriarchy, a pioneering men’s anti-sexism movement. His voice spread through his books as well. A Manual for Direct Action was often called the bible of direct action by civil rights activists.
Training for Change
In 1992, Lakey founded Training for Change, an organization to train leaders and groups to stand up for peace, justice and the environment through strategic nonviolent action. Lakey turned his spacious Victorian home into a training center, producing weekend TSAT workshops that revolutionized the way many activists taught and trained. He designed a three-week
Super-T program that included the TSAT as well as classes in Creative Workshop Design, Adventure-Based Learning, and an advanced workshop on emergent design and group process. Besides training the trainers, he created workshops for those interested in nonviolent struggle, undoing racism, sexism and classism, developing strategies and transformational training. He utilized the experiential education model that begins with an experience, reflects on the experience, then generalizes and applies what is learned to develop a new experience. Through it all, he modeled a willing vulnerability that encouraged self-awareness in the men and women whose lives he touched.
Wherever they were held around the world, George Lakey’s workshops touched as diverse a group of people as you could imagine: coal miners, therapists, homeless people and prisoners, lesbians and gays in Russia, Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, ethnic insurgent rebels in Burma, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. He and one of the younger activists he mentored, Daniel Hunter, developed the
Super-T to help launch the International Nonviolent Peaceforce. Activist leaders from almost every type of global struggle have come to Training for Change to refine their skills in transformative education, nonviolent activism, leadership, strategizing and group work.
Through his spirituality and activism, Lakey has found ways to welcome both the world’s grief and joy. His training programs involve tears and laughter, which Lakey uses to fuel transformation. Along the way, his playful nature saps the power of oppression inside a person and in the structures around us. He teaches not only the principles of peacemaking and how to implement them, but becomes a role model for peacemakers. If this all sounds too calculated, then these words still have not captured the full essence of George Lakey. As usual, he sums up it up eloquently:
The essence of the work I do is to love.