. A general strike
is an example of confrontational direct action.
Direct action originated as a political activism|activist
term for economic and political acts in which the actors use their power (e.g. economic
or physical) to directly reach certain goals of interest; in contrast to those actions that appeal to others (e.g. authorities); by, for example, revealing an existing problem, using physical violence, highlighting an alternative, or demonstrating
a possible solution.
Both direct action and actions appealing to others can include nonviolent and violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the action participants. Nonviolent direct action may include sit-in
, street blockades
, and counter-economics
. Violent direct action may include political violence
and property destruction
By contrast, electoral politics
are not usually described as direct action, as they are electorally mediated. Nonviolent actions are sometimes a form of civil disobedience
, and may involve a degree of intentional law-breaking where persons place themselves in arrestable situations in order to make a political statement but other actions (such as strikes) may not violate criminal law
The aim of direct action is to either obstruct another political agent or political organization from performing some practice to which the activists object, or to solve perceived problems which traditional societal institutions (government
s, religious organizations
or established trade union
s) are not addressing to the satisfaction of the direct action participants.
Nonviolent direct action has historically been an assertive regular feature of the tactics employed by social movement
s, including Mahatma Gandhi
's Indian Independence Movement
and the Civil Rights Movement
organize almost exclusively though direct action, this manifests as a varied set of actions, non-violent or violent. Direct action is used by anarchists due to a rejection of party politics, and refusal to work within hierarchical bureaucratic institutions
Direct action tactics have been around for as long as conflicts have existed but it is not known when the term first appeared. The radical union the Industrial Workers of the World
first mentioned the term "direct action" in a publication in reference to a Chicago strike conducted in 1910.
[The I.W.W.: Its First Seventy Years, 1905-1975, Fred W. Thompson and Patrick Murfin, 1976, page 46.]
Other noted historical practitioners of direct action include the American Civil Rights Movement
, the Global Justice Movement
, the Suffragettes
and other human rights movements (I.e, ACT UP
); revolutionary Che Guevara
, and certain environmental advocacy group
American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre
wrote an essay called "Direct Action" in 1912 which is widely cited today. In this essay, de Cleyre points to historical examples such as the Boston Tea Party
and the American anti-slavery movement
, noting that "direct action has always been used, and has the historical sanction of the very people now reprobating it."
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
s, as well as strikes and sabotage
Martin Luther King Jr.
felt that the goal of nonviolent direct action was to "create such a crisis and foster such a tension" as to demand a response.
The rhetoric of King, James Bevel
, and Mahatma Gandhi
direct action as a means to social change. Gandhi and Bevel had been strongly influenced by Leo Tolstoy
's 1894 book ''The Kingdom of God Is Within You
'', which is considered a classic text that ideologically promotes passive resistance
By the middle of the 20th century, the sphere of direct action had undoubtedly expanded, though the meaning of the term had perhaps contracted. Many campaigns for social change—such as those seeking suffrage
, improved working conditions, civil rights
rights or an end to abortion, an end to gentrification
, and environmental protection—claim to employ at least some types of violent or nonviolent direct action.
Some sections of the anti-nuclear movement
used direct action, particularly during the 1980s. Groups opposing the introduction of cruise missile
s 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 camp
s" outside air bases such as Molesworth
and Greenham Common
, and at the Nevada Test Site
organizations such as Greenpeace
have used direct action to pressure governments and companies to change environmental policies for years. On April 28, 2009, Greenpeace activists, including Phil Radford
, scaled a crane across the street from the Department of State, calling on world leaders to address climate change. Soon thereafter, Greenpeace activists dropped a banner off of Mount Rushmore
, placing President Obama's face next to other historic presidents, which read "History Honors Leaders; Stop Global Warming".
In 2009, hundreds blocked the gates of the coal fired power plant that powers the US Congress building, following the Power Shift
conference in Washington, D.C. In attendance at thCapitol Climate Action
were Bill McKibben
, Terry Tempest Williams, Phil Radford
, Wendell Berry
, Robert Kennedy Junior
, Judy Bonds and many more prominent figures of the climate justice
movement were in attendance.
in the United States, particularly Operation Rescue
, often used nonviolent sit-ins at the entrances of abortion clinics as a form of direct action in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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 corporation
s 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.
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.
Human rights activists have used direct action in the ongoing campaign to close the School of the Americas
, renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
. As a result, 245 SOA Watch
human rights defenders have collectively spent almost 100 years in prison. More than 50 people have served probation sentences.
"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'' is 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. One of the group's descendants, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, has again started a publication of this name.
Food Not Bombs
is often described as direct action because individuals involved directly act to solve a social problem; people are hungry and yet there is food available. Food Not Bombs is inherently dedicated to nonviolence.
A museum that chronicles the history of direct action and grassroots
activism in the Lower East Side of New York City, the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
, opened in 2012.
, Salt March
Other terms for nonviolent direct action include civil resistance
, people power
, nonviolent resistance
, and positive action
Examples of nonviolent direct action include sit-in
s, tree sitting
, workplace occupation
s, street blockade
and tax resistance
Martin Luther King Jr.
advised that before taking steps of direct action that you first ensure there is an issue, educate others about the issue, negotiate with your opponent in a way to elicit their cooperation rather than turning them into an enemy, and ''then'' take direct action if no change is forthcoming. His proposed direct actions included boycotts, marches, letter writing campaigns, voting, and public art and performance.
's methods did not involve any direct confrontation and could be described as 'removal of support' with no breaking of laws. Largely symbolic and peaceful, his preferred actions might include "withdrawing membership, participation or attendance in government-operated schools, courts, and all official agencies."
, who has been involved in nonviolent direct action for over six decades, has written numerous books on the subject. His basics include "realisable goals, nonviolent protests, targeted campaigns, and remaining true to your values". In 2018 he updated his 1965 book ''A Manual for Direct Action'' into ''How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning''. In a 2019 interview Lakey said "I just was so driven by not only a heart that said killing another person is just plain, fundamentally wrong, but also the pragmatic arguments that came about from the extraordinary successes that I found in history when people boldly tried nonviolence and it worked."
Violent direct action is any direct action which utilizes physical injurious force against persons or, occasionally, property.
Examples of violent direct action include: rioting
, political assassination
, freeing political prisoners, interfering with police actions, and armed insurrection
a militant variant of anarchist ideology
primarily deals with direct action against governments, as insurrectionist anarchists see countries as being inherently controlled by the upper classes, and thereby being impossible to reform
. Insurrectionalists take violent action against the state, and other targets. Most insurrectionists anarchists largely reject mass grassroots
organizations created by other anarchists, instead insurrectionists call for coordinated militant action to be taken by decentralized cell networks
. Insurrectionists call for constant class conflict against the rich and upper classes. Insurrectionists unlike other anarchists call for the creation of anarchist mass societies through the seizing and invasion of land from the state, such as EZLN
. Insurrectionists have engaged in mass protests and direct action against the state, from Russia, to the United States. As opposed to other anarchists who call for cooperatives and small societies to be formed within communities internally. Despite this the vast majority of anarchists are not militant and do not engage in militant actions.
, one of the Squamish 5
, also known as ''Vancouver 5'', a Canadian anarchist
and self-professed urban guerrilla
fighter, wrote in her book ''Direct Action
Destruction of property
Destroying fences at the border by the Anarchists Against the Wall
Destruction of property might include vandalism
, breaking and entering
, tree spiking
, or eco-terrorism
Arson, ordinarily considered a property crime
, is usually categorized by law as a violent crime
Dieter Rucht states that determining if an act is violent falls along a spectrum or gradient, with lesser property damage clearly not violence, injuries to humans are clearly violent, and acts in between could be labelled either way depending on the circumstances. He states that definitions of "violence" vary widely, and cultural perspectives can also color such a label. However, he states a basic 1969 definition of violence is preferable: "Violence means intentionally caused or carelessly accepted damage to/destruction of property or the injuring/killing of people".
[Dieter Rucht. Violence and New Social Movements. In: ]
International Handbook of Violence Research
,'' Volume I. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003, p. 369-382.
Some activist groups such as Earth Liberation Front
and Animal Liberation Front
use direct action which includes property destruction, arson and sabotage. They claim their acts are nonviolent, and assert that violence is harm directed towards living things and not property.
Direct action involving property destruction becomes classified as "violent" when it crosses the "threshold of violence"
from basic property crime over into the category of terrorism
. In the USA, "Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual ... committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
An example of this is Jerry Vlasak
, spokesperson for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office
, in his speech at an animal rights conference in 2003. He condoned violence for their cause, including assassination for vivisectors
, and stated he expected that eventually someone would die in one of their arsons,
which was followed by Steven Best
rationalizing that Vlasak's speech was merely hypothetical talk.
US and international law include acts against property in the definition of violence and state that even in a time of war, "Destruction f property
as an end in itself is a violation of international law".
In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Justice
has categorized some eco-activists as extremists. "Environmental extremists are described as committing criminal activity motivated by the broad philosophy and social movement centred on a concern for conservation and improvement of the natural environment", and "The activity of Domestic Extremist Offenders is more criminal in its nature than that of an activist – but falls short of terrorism."
List of groups using direct action
* List of civil rights leaders
* Propaganda of the deed
* Hauser, Luke (2003) ''Direct Action: An Historical Novel''. Available awww.directaction.org
* Lunori, G. (1999) ''Direct Action''. Available asniggle.net
* Kauffman, L.A. (2017) "Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism". New York, Verso, 2017.
* Sparrow, R. (undated) ''Anarchist Politics and Direct Action''. Available a
''A Communiqué on Tactics and Organization to the Black Bloc, from within the Black Bloc''
by The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective (NEFAC-VT) & Columbus Anti-Racist Action, Black Clover Press, 2001.
''The Black Bloc Papers: An Anthology of Primary Texts From The North American Anarchist Black Bloc 1988-2005''
by Xavier Massot & David Van Deusen of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective (NEFAC-VT), Breaking Glass Press, 2010.
* Hansen, Ann. ''Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla''. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2001.
''Van Deusen On North American Black Blocs 1996-2001''
by David Van Deusen, The Anarchist Library, 2017.
* Beautiful Trouble at https://beautifultrouble.org/tactic/direct-action/
* Civil Rights Movement at https://www.crmvet.org/
* CrimethInc. at https://crimethinc.com/2017/03/14/direct-action-guide
* Organizing for Power at https://www.organizingforpower.org/action-resource/
* Waging on Violence at https://wagingnonviolence.org/2017/07/manual-new-era-direct-action/
Category:Activism by type
Category:Industrial Workers of the World culture