Direct action

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Direct action is politically motivated activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political goals outside of normal social/political channels. Direct action can include nonviolent and violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participant. Examples of nonviolent direct action include strikes, workplace occupations, sit-ins, and graffiti. Violent direct actions include sabotage, vandalism, assault, and murder. By contrast, grassroots organizing, electoral politics, diplomacy and negotiation or arbitration does not constitute direct action. Direct actions are sometimes a form of civil disobedience, but some (such as strikes) do not always violate criminal law.

Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi spoke and wrote of revolutionary direct action as a means to social change in their rhetoric.

Direct action participants aim to either:

  • obstruct another political agent or political organization from performing some practice to which the activists object; or,
  • solve perceived problems which traditional societal institutions (businesses, governments, powerful churches or establishment unions) are not addressing to the satisfaction of the direct action participants.


[edit] History

Direct action tactics have been around for as long as conflicts have existed, but the theory of direct action developed primarily in the context of revolutionary struggles. Lenin discussed changes in the aims of direct action in Certain Features of the Historical Development of Marxism in 1910.[1] Other noted historical practitioners of direct action include the US Civil Rights Movement, the Global Justice Movement, the Suffragettes, the German Nazi party under Adolf Hitler[2], The Communist Chinese under Chairman Mao [3], revolutionary Che Guevera, and certain environmental advocacy groups.

A Shell to Sea campaigner disrupts drilling for the Corrib gas project

In his 1920 book, Direct Action, William Mellor placed direct action firmly in the struggle between worker and employer for control "over the economic life of society." Mellor defined direct action "as the use of some form of economic power for securing of ends desired by those who possess that power." Mellor considered direct action a tool of both owners and workers and for this reason he included within his definition lockouts and cartels, as well as strikes and sabotage. However, by this time the US anarchist and feminist Voltairine de Cleyre had already given a strong defense of direct action, linking it with struggles for civil rights:

"...the Salvation Army, which was started by a gentleman named Bob Luker was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned ... till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone." (de Cleyre, undated)

Dr. Martin Luther King felt that non-violent direct action's goal was to "create such a crisis and foster such a tension" as to demand a response. [4]

By the middle of the 20th century, the sphere of direct action had undoubtedly expanded, though the meaning of the term had perhaps contracted. Most campaigns for social change—notably those seeking suffrage, improved working conditions, civil rights, abortion rights, an end to gentrification, and environmental protection—employ at least some types of violent or nonviolent direct action.

The anti-nuclear movement used direct action, particularly during the 1980s. Groups opposing the introduction of cruise missiles into the United Kingdom employed tactics such as breaking into and occupying United States air bases, and blocking roads to prevent the movement of military convoys and disrupt military projects. In the US, mass protests opposed nuclear energy, weapons, and military intervention throughout the decade, resulting in thousands of arrests. Many groups also set up semi-permanent "peace camps" outside air bases such as Molesworth and Greenham Common, and at the Nevada Test Site.

Anti-globalization activists made headlines around the world in 1999, when they forced the Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 to end early with direct action tactics. The goal that they had, shutting down the meetings, was directly accomplished by placing their bodies and other debris between the WTO delegates and the building they were meant to meet in. Activists also engaged in property destruction as a direct way of stating their opposition to corporate culture -- this can be viewed as a direct action if the goal was to shut down those stores for a period of time, or an indirect action if the goal was influencing corporate policy.

One of the largest direct actions in recent years took place in San Francisco the day after the Iraq War began in 2003. Twenty-thousand people occupied the streets and over 2,000 people were arrested in affinity group actions throughout downtown San Francisco, home to military-related corporations such as Bechtel. (See March 20, 2003 anti-war protest).

Direct action has also been used on a smaller scale. Refugee Salim Rambo was saved from being deported from the UK back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo when one person stood up on his flight and refused to sit down. After a two hour delay the man was arrested, but the pilot refused to fly with Rambo on board. Salim Rambo was ultimately released from state custody and remains free today.

[edit] Nonviolent direct action

Destroying fences at the border by the AATW, 2007

Nonviolent direct action (NVDA) is any form of direct action that does not rely on violent tactics. Mahatma Gandhi's teachings of Satyagraha (or truth force) have inspired many practitioners of nonviolent direct action, although the use of nonviolence does not always imply an ideological commitment to pacifism. In 1963, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. described the goal of NVDA in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored."

One major debate is whether destruction of property can be included within the realm of nonviolence. This debate can be illustrated by the response to groups like the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, which use property destruction and sabotage as direct action tactics. Although these types of actions are often viewed as a form of violence, supporters define violence as harm directed towards living things and not property.

In the United States, the term has largely come to signify civil disobedience, and protest in general. In the 1980s, a California direct action protest group called Livermore Action Group called its newspaper Direct Action. The paper ran for 25 issues, and covered hundreds of nonviolent actions around the world. The book Direct Action: An Historical Novel took its name from this paper, and records dozens of actions in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Direct Action" has also served as the moniker of at least two groups: the French Action Directe as well as the Canadian group more popularly known as the Squamish Five. Direct Action was also the name of the magazine of the Australian Wobblies. The UK's Solidarity Federation currently publishes a magazine called Direct Action.

Until 1990, Australia's Socialist Workers Party published a party paper also named "Direct Action", in honour of the Wobblies' history and because the paper promoted the collective organisation of the oppressed in order to change society. One of the group's descendants, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, has again commenced a publication of this name[5].

[edit] Violent direct action

Violent direct action is any direct action which utilizes physical injurious force against persons or property. While groups such as Animal Liberation Front maintain destruction of property is not violence, most nations' laws [6] and international law [7] include violence against property. Examples of violent direct action may include, but is not limited to: destruction of property, rioting, class intimidation such as lynching, terrorism, political assassination, and armed insurrection.

[edit] Politics of direct action

As a principle, direct action is often used by those seeking social change, in some cases, revolutionary change. It is central to autonomism and has been advocated by a variety of marxists and anarchists, including syndicalism, anarcho-communism, insurrectionary anarchism, green anarchism, Marxist Humanists, anarcho-primitivist and pacifists.

[edit] United Kingdom

The environmental direct action movement in the United Kingdom started in 1990 with the forming of the first UK Earth First! group. The movement rapidly grew from the 1992 Twyford Down protests, culminating in 1997.

[edit] See also

[edit] Some groups which employ direct action

[edit] References

  1. ^ Certain Features of the Historical Development of Marxism accessed 16 November 2008
  2. ^ [1] The Nazis organized a boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933, shortly after coming to power.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Dr. Martin Luther King, "Letter From Birmingham Jail" 1963.
  5. ^ Percy, John. Direct Action Issue 1, June 2008: "Direct Action - two earlier versions"
  6. ^
  7. ^

[edit] External links

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