The The Connection Action Project evolved out of a small group of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practitioners that started meeting in 2008. NVC is a process that helps people nurture a consciousness of generosity and compassion in thought, word and action. Developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, NVC is frequently applied in the therapeutic and interpersonal realms, but our little group was called to integrate our passion for social action with our NVC practice. The current manifestation of the Connection Action Project references the contributions of spiritual, systems and process thought leaders such as Rudolf Steiner, Joanna Macy, Dominic Barter, and Charles Eisenstein.
Among our first public offerings were free public empathic listening services. We deployed a dozen Empathic Listening Posts (ELPs) around the Bay Area, including at multiple Bay Area farmers’ markets (in 2009), the New Living Expo (2009 and 2010), the Harmony Festival (2009), and Power to the Peaceful (2009 and 2010).
We began to mobilize in response to charged social discourses. For example, over a half dozen of us deployed at the highly conflicted Israel in the Gardens a couple weeks after the Gaza Flotilla incident in 2010. That same year, we responded to the shooting death of Oscar Grant in Oakland by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. In the weeks leading up to the sentencing, we co-facilitated an eight-part city-wide Oakland Dialogue Training Series with the Oakland Mayor’s Office and the Rev. Mutima Imani.
We also organized empathy circles to help people metabolize their feelings and needs with regard to discourses around situations as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Japan earthquake triple disaster, the Tucson shooting tragedy, the Troy Davis execution and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Please see our Mission.
Last year we published and distributed hundreds of copies of “Simple Practices for Complex Times,” by Carol Wolfley, which presents some of our core principles and practices in a user-friendly booklet format. We also facilitated trainings around the Bay Area and on the web, and spearheaded author Charles Eisenstein’s 4-day regional speaking tour. We are currently involved in preparations for a liturgic dance ritual this Earth Day.
Our hope is to catalyze widespread system transformation through our work. Our means are the same as our ends. We are building increased centrifugal force around the values of mutual connection, appreciation, and reverence for the mystery of life through our efforts to think, speak, and act with love.
* * * * * * *
Interview with Judith by Willi –
What is sacred to you?
I like to think of all phenomena as a sacred manifestation, a divine gift, if you will.
Does your team agree with you?
I believe that others on our “team” resonate with the practice of gratitude as a sacred one.
How do you select your clients or issues? Is there a fee?
We work with the practice of gift economy, which might be described as the opposite of scarcity-thinking. It requires a kind of trust in the universe’s care, and a conscious intention to give in accordance with what’s needed.
Per “passion for needs and values consciousness,” whose values are you using? What values are you avoiding from your past?
A critical piece of our work is to untangle blame and shame in situations involving “right or wrong” constructs, uncover the deeper needs and infuse more conscious choice into our actions. Rather than judge or criticize, we seek to understand what needs are most alive for ourselves and others in the moment. These needs or “values” might include for example, physical needs for sustenance, like food, air and water, as well as intangible qualities like connection, respect and community. While we often may differ with others’ particular strategies, we see all behavior as attempts to meet beautiful, universal needs. This approach has emerged out of the humanistic psychological tradition of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication.
Your reference to “evil” sounds like a Christian good vs. evil thing. What formal prescripts from world religious thinking is part of your practice?
As the needs are universal we can trace them through many traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Quakerism. Our practices are aligned with the typical religious values of compassion, forgiveness, love, etc.
Please explain more on the mystery of life. Can you call-out some of our common experiences?
We often attempt to explain things from a scientific or empirical perspective, but if you think about it more deeply, science ultimately can’t explain some really basic questions.
For example, where does life’s energy come from? One answer might be, through food. But where does food’s energy come from? One could say, through light. But where does that energy come from? One answer could be, “the process of nuclear fusion in the Sun.” But where does the energy in the Sun’s atoms come from, and why do they go through this process?
Another example: where do my thoughts come from? A scientific answer might be: they’re the result of certain bio-electro-chemical interactions. But why do they happen in the particular way that they do? Truly, it’s a mystery to be explored.
Indigenous cultures would explain these mysteries using mythologies: today the dominant paradigm is to apply the frame of empirical science to analyze data. I would say that a major reason for the crises of today is due to this confusion. We have distanced ourselves from sacredness and universal values, and our lives have become cluttered with empty illusions of reality.
I co-founded the Connection Action Project in order to help facilitate a revolutionary paradigm shift through the practice of love in word (primarily through the work of Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication), and social action. We are creating events, dialogues and systems to help shepherd the re-integration of mystery and reverence into everyday life.
Is the Transition Movement a spiritual journey for you – for the community?
As we face profoundly urgent transitions, a salient feature of our movement is a new kind of relationship among human beings characterized by openness and willingness to live and work together in community, and honoring our individual and collective gifts. It is our goal to foster and nourish mutually beneficial relationships.
The Connection Action Project’s process has an interventionist lens in my limited understanding. Yes? No?
We intervene by engaging in service work: offering empathy, communication options, and social networking resources.
Are you equally interested in working with teens as seniors? Engaging the present vs. the future?
We work with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, and we highly value diversity in our civic engagements.
How does your work compare to EST – a group visioning session?
I am grateful to Werner Erhard for his contributions, such as his ideas on transformation, empowerment, and integrity.
How does symbol, story or mythology play a role, if any, in integrating your spirituality, social action & empathic communication?
Stories help us to understand the interplay of living forces — evolution and entropy, wakefulness and sleep, the immediate and the ultimate. Stories help people to move towards a deeper, more holistic integration of what appears as a conflict or challenge.
We explore how today’s world is shaped by the stories of science’s objectivity, the separate and discrete self, and the value of competition for scarce resources.
What are the spiritual processes / trade-offs involved conducting an empathy circle?
The empathy circles that we’ve facilitated are designed to create a safe space for vulnerable, reciprocal and connected self-expression.
Each empathy circle involves intentionally taking time and space to carefully uncover feelings and needs as they arise in a group. There is often a need to balance how much time and attention is given to discussing the group processes and agreements, and how much is given to working with the content.
To me, Connection Action Project’s free book: “simple practices for complex times” is about active listening. How do you use it?
We use the booklet in ways which support both listening and speaking and help to develop intuitive openheartedness based on awareness of needs. We often use it to introduce ourselves and our work in:
• Communication training workshops
• Preparation for mediations
• As a resource for participants in a wide range of events involving social, political and economic concerns
• As a resource for former inmates
• It has been translated into Japanese and has been used in classes and in energy safety negotiations in Japan
• At gift circles
• At healing and grief circles
We’re especially interested in getting these booklets to teachers, activists, artists, and healers to help create more connection in our world. People can request the booklets by emailing me.
* * * * * * *
Judith Katz Bio –
I began my nonprofit career learning about the legal framework surrounding the social benefit sector, as an assistant to corporate attorneys specializing in tax-exempt organizations. After receiving my Master’s in Nonprofit Management, I worked at the ACLU of Illinois, during which time I organized an eleven-day speaking tour for a leading prisoners’ rights advocate. I cut my teeth on immigrant rights issues through my friendships with Latin Americans that I met in Chicago, and learned Spanish while traveling in Latin America DJing and teaching English.
During this period of travel and adventure, I took temporary positions within the US Department of the Interior in Nevada and Washington State, leading wildfire education student internship teams. While in Washington, I began sharing my growing passion for NVC, sometimes also called empathic communication, a process developed by the psychologist Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. I offered classes to church groups, government workers, change agents, and nonprofit organizations.
After moving to Berkeley, California, I begin consulting for the leading NVC class provider in the Bay Area, a stint that lasted for nearly four years. During that time I co-founded the The Connection Action Project. CAP builds networks of social activists, NVC practitioners, artists, healers, and spiritual leaders, and shepherds avant garde concepts on economy, politics and conflict transformation into the mainstream. I’m also the part-time Development Director at Bay Nature Institute. I graduated from the Alameda County Leadership Academy in March, 2011, and am a leader in organizing my neighborhood disaster preparedness team. I also offer consultative support on a volunteer basis for visionary leaders like Marcin Jakubowski and Charles Eisenstein.
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Pre-law Humanities at Michigan State University in the Honors College, and was summa cum laude in my Nonprofit Management Master’s program at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. During high school I studied at briefly at both Boston College and Phillip Exeter Academy, and I spent my first year of college at Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, New York.