History of the Connection Action Project

The seed for the Connection Action Project began sprouting in the San Francisco East Bay. In 2008, the NVC and Social Change group was a nexus of communication-activist practice. We began calling ourselves the Connection Project, to reflect our commitment to connection with what is alive in every moment inside ourselves, and in the world. Since then, the Connection Action Project has evolved to denote our desire to actively contribute to the world’s healing and transformation.

An important element of our work is our commitment to spiritual principles and our connection to one another and the planet through shared needs and values. Thus, our approach to social change is distinct from traditional forms of protest, demands, struggle, etc. We are committed to transforming the world through cultivating our connections.

We are oriented by the historic nonviolent social movements, the Transition Town movement, and JoAnna Macy’s Work that Reconnects. These frameworks light a path to transformation at both the personal and social level.

Over the last couple of years, the Connection Action Project has implemented the roots of change through the formation of five-to-seven person affinity groups or activist “sanghas.” Rather than aiming at transformation of outer “enemies”, we focus on translating blame, judgment and criticism through our personal, small group and larger social activities. We are building a community of practice.

Empathic Listening Posts

Empathy Listening Post
Empathy Listening Post

The Project first emerged from the small-group meeting format by creating public spaces where people could be heard.  The group deployed a dozen Empathic Listening Posts at Bay Area farmers markets and festivals in 2009-10, including multiple Berkeley Farmers’ Markets (in 2009), the New Living Expo (2009 and 2010), the Harmony Festival (2009), and Power to the Peaceful (2009 and 2010). These ELPs also provided an opportunity for volunteers to practice their NVC, build community, and share their enthusiasm for and knowledge of NVC with others.

The Empathy Team

Connecting at Israel in the Gardens
Connecting at Israel in the Gardens

In 2010, the Project evolved into a committed six-person Empathy Team. The Team was a container of NVC theory and practice over the spring and summer months, with regular in-person meetings interspersed with periodic service deployments to help fill the “empathy deficit” at contentious protests and public events.  Squads would show up to events to support the presence of self-connection and connection with others. Volunteers chose to 1) actively offer empathy, 2) to act as witnesses, offering their simple peaceful presence, and/ or 3) to act as an empathy buddy to someone offering their presence on the front line. The core components of the Team are detailed further in an attached document titled, “Addendum.”

Formal deployments included several public demonstrations and protests between April 15th and July 8th. These included a Tea Party protest in downtown San Francisco on April 15th. Less than two weeks after the Gaza Flotilla Incident, we deployed at the contentious “Israel in the Gardens,” where we spoke to nearly 100 people on all sides of the issue. We also deployed twice at the 16th Street BART station in the Mission District. Our activities for the year culminated with the Oscar Grant demonstrations (detailed below).

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Empathy Circle
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Empathy Circle

On July 17, the Team hosted a Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Empathy Circle at a member’s home to empathize with the feelings and needs alive in relation to the ecologic catastrophe.  About 30 people attended, including several people within the Transition Town movement, and one person who subsequently joined the weekly Connection Action Project practice group, and is still attending.

People sat in lawn chairs in Carol’s garden, and heard author Floyd Earl Smith give a special talk on the spill and its effects on the Gulf region and beyond. The talk was chunked up into five minute segments, with cycles of facilitated experiential small group self-expression and empathy practices. After that, people stayed in the large group to express and explore their thoughts and feelings about the spill.  Carol, Floyd and Judith later repeated this exercise with about a dozen participants at an event in San Francisco called “Evolver Spore,” on August 25th.

Oakland Peacekeeping in 2010

Oakland Peacekeepers
Oakland Peacekeepers

Starting in late June, the Empathy Team began collaborating with the Oakland Mayor’s Office, FACES of the East Bay, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, and other organizations, through offering a peacekeeping presence in Oakland in response to the verdict in the case of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the case of Oscar Grant who Mehserle had shot in the back while Grant was laying face-down and handcuffed on the BART platform.

The Team helped prepare Oaklanders for subsequent Oscar Grant-related demonstrations by co-producing a nonviolence training on July 5th attended by about 20 people. The verdict came down on July 8th and we were present in downtown Oakland, connecting with dozens of the many thousands that showed up to be heard and seen in relation to that decision.

Candlelight Vigil for Tucson
Candlelight Vigil for Tucson

We then organized an eight-part city-wide Oakland Peacekeeper Dialogue Training Series with Queen Rev. Mutima Imani of the East Bay Church of Religious Science. One of these events was a daylong training at Humanist Hall where 40 people gathered to connect and increase their skills in advance of Mehserle’s sentencing on November 5th. On that date, Team members deployed again to connect with demonstrators in downtown Oakland. See video of these events at http://ping.fm/HrnXo.

More recently, the Connection Action Project members deployed on January 12, 2011 at a Candlelight vigil for the tragedy in Tucson. There were about 200 people gathered in front of Oakland City Hall and we were there to connect with the feelings and needs.

Practice Group

Between 2008 and 2011, we convened an ongoing weekly practice group for group visioning, relational practice, and community. The aliveness of this group has evolved into various individuations of enthusiasm, and continues to this day, although it is no longer specifically under the aegis of the Connection Action Project.


There are several e-lists that network Connection Action Project supporters with over 150 recipients total. We also maintain a presence via this web site, our Facebook page, and @connectionact Twitter feed.


Since its inception, the project has received several media mentions, including in the Oakland Tribune (2 times), the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury-News, and on TV, on the Conflict Hotline (November 2010), which is posted on BayNVC’s YouTube.com channel.

Plans for the future

We aim to grow and co-create a more beautiful world that we know is possible (hat tip Charles Eisenstein).  Our goals include:

  • To provide greater spiritual community to ourselves, one another, and the world, during a period of increasing economic and political instability; to increase our emotional and spiritual resilience now, so that we might be of service in the future;
  • Nurture shared leadership among members of the group based on group agreements about how the group will work;
  • Practice agility in determining what we will focus on and in doing so, build our capacity to contribute to life in the moment;
  • Organize fun, inspiring and informative events;
  • Attract people to our cause and spawn other, similar projects;
  • Be resources for people and in particular change agents;
  • Nurture acknowledgement and acceptance of our own fragility and weaknesses.


%d bloggers like this: