Notes on Direct Action

Direct action — the nonviolent kind — includes marches, strikes, stinkbombing, demonstrations, sit-ins, kiss-ins, and waltzes held in Grand Central Station. Dismissed by some organizers as alienating or extremist, direct action actually plays a very particular function in social change by expanding the political continuum.

Martin Luther King was a lot more appealing with Malcolm X in the wings. Queers lobbying Congress and big Pharma to address an exploding health emergency were a lot more effective with ACT-UP in the streets -- and churches, stock exchanges, and state houses. When a Spanish language radio station was vomiting anti-gay, anti-black, anti-woman hate, the management responded more quickly to letters and calls of complaint once the Avengers invaded the station, took over the broadcast booth, and put their own message on the airwaves before making a clean getaway.

Without demos, zaps, and impatient activists willing to do them, traditional organizers, lobbyists and politicians are forced to take much more conservative, and compromised positions.

Just as importantly, direct action also gives minority activists a chance to shape their own narrative, create alternative images that are usually less scrubbed and sanitized than the ones offered by the organizers knocking politely on doors, enunciating carefully from phone banks, lobbying congresspeople, and starring in TV commercials aimed largely to please and placate a hostile mainstream society. Young black men can put on leather jackets instead of suits and ties. Dykes can be funny, angry, sexy. If they're Lesbian Avengers, they can recruit.

Even if the media buries the story, activists see each other. For a few minutes or an hour you own a chunk of public space. You exist in a way you don't at home alone. Your voice and your life are amplified in unimaginable ways. Direct action is a declaration of independence, of power, even of democracy.

On Direct Action and Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience 1849

Gene Sharp, The Politics of Non Violent Action, 1973, segment

Gene Sharp, 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail

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