Direct Action and Civil Disobedience

Posted on Mon 29th Nov 2010, 11:40pm
In the last few weeks, the phrases direct action or civil disobedience have been talked about a lot. The media have treated them like strange foreign terms, reporters have hidden them in scare quotes and TV news anchors have raised a sceptical eyebrow when forced to say them. They like to pretend that civil disobedience is an unfamiliar, sightly wacky, fringe activity engaged in only by ‘dangerous anarchists’ and those they have led astray.

The truth is that direct action is a tactic as old as protest itself - it has been central to virtually every major progressive advance in recent history. At its simplest, direct action just means making change for yourself, rather than asking your political representatives to do it for you. Sometimes this might mean breaking the law, other times it may not.

100 years ago the suffragettes stormed parliament; half a century ago Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus; in the 1980s people dug up sports pitches in protest against South African apartheid. If we are going to win the battle against austerity- and we can win - then strikes, occupations, sit-ins, blockades and tactics that we haven’t even dreamed up yet must be central to our campaigns.

Direct action is about personal empowerment. If you are thinking about coming on Saturday or organising an action yourself, remember that no-one will tell you what to do. There will be no officials in yellow bibs guiding you. You will make decisions for yourself. There will be many ways you can contribute, including handing out leaflets to passers-by, and it is important that you only do what you feel comfortable doing.

However you choose to engage, you will be helping to make corporate tax avoiders pay. See you on the high streets.

See Johann Hari's article for more on why protest works