Germany has been riven by tensions over its treatment of migrants and refugees. Learning what messaging works, who we need to speak and how to have ‘difficult conversations’ around these issues is key for progressive activists.

As thousands of antifascists took to the streets of Berlin to commemorate 80 years since the terrible events of Kristallnacht, we took our ‘difficult conversations’ training to the city.

Germany has been riven by the rise of the far right, most notably the populist radical right movement Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is now the third most popular party in the country. It has captured 94 seats in the Bundestag (Parliament), riding – in part – on economic and other discontent which the far right has sought to focus and blame on Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming in refugees during the 2015 crisis.

That’s why a series of international activists had gathered at the headquarters of a brilliant NGO called the International Centre for Policy Advocacy (ICPA), to help learn how to talk more effectively about migration.

The ICPA "empowers researchers and activists to more meaningfully participate in public and policy debates”, and believes the more voices, evidence and analysis that can be included at the front-end of policy discussions, the more likely the outcomes of those discussions will serve the interests of the majority of the public.

We were delighted to be able to introduce our difficult conversations workshops to the attendees, including our new “Online Difficult Conversations” module, helping those engaged in progressive activism to convey their beliefs and values in a way that moves others, putting them in situations where they can deploy their skills alongside other communication methods.

The situation in Germany is complex. Recent far-right activity in the town of Chemnitz has also served as stark reminder that progressives must get a handle on the debate, lest it be wrested away by those with nefarious purposes.

Over the last few months, the ICPA has hosted a number of ‘labs’ in order to test which messaging can speak to, and ultimately help move, the “middle” segments of society most effectively on the subject of migration. The challenge with this, which the ICPA recognises, is how to do so while not pandering to narratives of division.

While there was considerable knowledge in the room on the subject of immigration itself, we were able to provide practical tools and campaigning experience, built up over our considerable number of years engaging very diverse and different communities across the UK.

One of the highlights of the trip occurred during the ‘Story of Self’ workshop, based on the theoretical approach of former community organiser and political strategist, Marshall Ganz. During the session Nadia, an activist with the fantastic group JUMA (‘Jung, Muslimisch, Aktiv’ – ‘Young, Muslim, Active’) moved some attendees to tears with her brilliantly executed story about challenges she faced growing up and why she felt drawn to activism.

The preparation that ICPA’s team put into the November lab was exceptional, with each attendee receiving a detailed booklet featuring segmentation reports, campaigning resources and further reading. The passion and dedication came across not only on the printed page but in every conversation both in and outside of the workshops.

This work will remain immensely challenging, but progressives must proactively set the terms of debate here and not forever be responding to the narratives disseminated by our opponents.

We joined thousands of antifascists that took to the streets on the Friday evening saying “never again” to the horrors committed 80 years previously. It served as a stark reminder as to where narratives of division can lead us if left unchecked.

We extend our gratitude to ICPA for all their hospitality, generosity and friendship over the course of our trip.

What is our Difficult Conversations training?

In our families, in the workplace, and in our communities, we need to have better conversations with people who disagree with us, and constructively challenge prejudice in the process.

You can read about one of these sessions in this piece written in the Guardian.

We have trained thousands of people already in how to have better conversations and more effectively challenge prejudice.

Whether you are a campaigning organisation, a faith group, a trade union or student union, we can tailor our training to meet your needs and make you a more effective force for good.

Find out more here: https://charity.hopenothate.org.uk/difficult-conversations