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(en) What is Direct Action? (translation from Sans-Titres - bulletin n°1)

From "Jordan Levinson" <situationist@yippie.zzn.com>
Date Mon, 22 Nov 1999 16:58:21 -0500

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Spécial '30 novembre' : pour l'ouverture des
négociations de l'Organisation Mondiale du Commerce.
Une journée mondiale d'action contre le capitalisme !

what is nonviolent direct action?
this expression has been applied to an enormous variety
of activities, and to rise up and act is much more 
important than to argue eternally around definitions.
in brief, direct action implies one's acting for one's self,
in a fashion in which one may weigh directly the problem
with which you are confronted, and without needing the
mediation of politicians or bureaucrats.  In the same way, 
if you see some bulldozers about to wreck your house, you
engage in direct action to directly intervene
to try to stop them.

direct action places moral conscience up against the
official law.  direct action implies not caring about the
rules and procedures that the economists and politicians 
apply, and deciding for yourself that which is just and that which
one should resist.  It is good that direct action would be considered
simply a powerful tool at the militant's disposition, but it is also
something much more than that.  It is the expression
of the individual's readiness to fight, to take control
of his life, and to try, directly, to act on the world that
surrounds us, to take responsability for one's actions and 
as well for the achievement of the pursued aims.
Non-violent direct action is necessary in the sense that
it is necessary to leave the sterile routine of the
traditional mode of political actions like lobbying,
well-behaved and gloomy marches through the town on a well-
established route, tracts, meetings, or petitions; not
that this cannot represent a useful stage at such and such
a moment of a struggle, but, because political action limited
to these elements appears quite often, and appears, in 
the eyes of the great majority of our fellow citizens
who as individuals or as members of organizations are 
the target of these actions (governments, institutions, bosses,
etc.), to be a big, inoffensive game; predictable, boring,
and lacking in the impact necessary to make
our adversaries fold.  In these conditions, it is not
surprising to see a large number of vitally important 
people become disillusioned or completely disinterested 
in political action.

Direct action's goal is to replace political 
action and create a confrontational environment, concrete, playful, 
creative, where the goal is discussion about troubles and economic
problems and the about the taking into action of the wish
to prevent them from taking their projects (like
the expulsion of an illegal immigrant or the finishing
of a highway project for example) to the point at which
they can mark deeply the spirit of the people or
the mass media, by the use of symbolic, spectacular, imagined or
subversive actions.  Direct action should permit at its
beginning point a change reflected in the behavior of 
individuals, and it should attack directly the image 
of economic or political structures.  The term, nonviolent 
direct action, or civil disobedience, includes and brings together,
in our concept of it, myriad possibilites for extremely varied
actions : blockages, occupations, street theater, 
reappropriation of goods, street festivals and anti-
capitalist carnavals, the redirection and subversion of advertising,
the creation of living and active space in unused areas,
the construction of concrete alternatives to the system
like the establishment of workers cooperatives, local
exchange systems, local agriculture systems, sabotage,
community meetings, the free distribution of food in the

Nonviolent direct action proposes to show that 
political action can have a real impact without having
some necessity to assemble thousands and thousands of people
in the streets (resounding actions can be effected with 
only 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 persons) and that it can come to 
prove that political action can sometimes also be something
extremely amusing.  It lets people develop confidence in 
themselves and to become conscious of their individual
and collective force.

Direct action is not just a tactic; it is individuals 
affirming their capacity to take control of their lives
and to participate in social life without the mediation
of bureaucrats or professionally political people being

The type of struggle we take on is qualifiable as 
nonviolent direct action, since although at  
times material properties may be attacked, 
attacking people physically is categorically

All over the world, the power of people in struggle
should not be underestimated.  The influences working
on the press don't allow it to speak of many formidable
actions which have taken place over the course of 1999:

- A general strike immobilized 80% of the peruvian 
economy thanks to a union of students, workers, and
some other citizens.

- More than 100 persons were arrested each day as a 
result of their resistance to the construction of a
nuclear power plant on an sacred native site in

- Greek railwaymen blocked a train surface-transporting
military equipment to Kosovo

- French citizens demonstrated at a McDonald's in-
construction and began a public debate on the IMF and 
industrial production of food.

- The Columbian U'wa indians threaten mass suicide if
the petroleum companies do not leave their lands.

- The ecologists of Reclaim the Streets, acting in solid-
arity with the London metro workers, occupied the headquarters
of the company, and organized a Mayday festival in the 
interior of the metro tubes.

- The opposition to OGM expanded throughout the 5
continents, in France and England the militants made
a number of field studies, the Indians and French sabotaged
research laboratories in Montpelier, at the same time as
in India the "let's burn up Monsanto" operation was inaug-
urated by the burning of OGM fields.

- The Longshoremen of the american west coast went on strike
to protest the execution planned for Political Prisoner
Mumia Abu-Jamal.

- Some thousands of indians threatened to flood their homes
to resist a series of hydroelectric dams that would destroy
hundreds of villages on the Narmada river banks.

- Illegal immigrants to whom free passage on a train was
refused, who wanted to demonstrate in Paris, passed the night
by having a party in a train tunnel.

- At the same time as ecologist militants completed one
year of their occupation of trees to protect the ancestral
forests of Oregon, english activists resisted for 17 days blocking
underground in a tunnel to prevent the destruction of a community
park and cost some hundreds of thousands of dollars for the con-
struction companies.

- Russian workers occupied their factories to protest
against the non-payment of their wages.

- Greek high schoolers occupied dozens of schools.

- In Ecuador, Jamaica, and Nicaragua, the increase of
gas prices caused important riots.

- American Indians, Radical ecologist militants and
syndicalists united local communities to protest against
highway construction projects.

- In Nigeria, young Ijaws started the "climate change" 
operation, and occupied a large number of petrolium platforms.

- Indigenous women and children blocked a bulldozer belonging
to a petrolium company in the Ecuadorean jungle and took their
drivers hostage, demanding the ceasing of the construction
of a pipeline that would have contaminated their resources 
for drinkable water.

- The director of the International Monetary fund was
ambushed and pied by the Biotic Baking Brigade, organ-
ization specializing in the throwing of cream pies, 
which has already attacked in 1999 alone some dozens of 
criminals in 3 piece costumes and other CEOS of multi-
national corporations.

- The Korean government repressed the unions after 
thousands of employees participated in a mass strike
movement that expanded all over the country.

- Nonviolent resistance continues against the con-
struction of a trans-israeli highway that threatens
to destroy dozens of villages.

- Some hundreds of zapatistas continue to organize
"autonomous municipalities" towards the reclaiming of
control of their lives from the landowners, fat companies, 
and from 70 years of dictatorship from the party in power.

- 2500 American Airlines pilots came to a simultaneous
sick out strike.

- At the time of the resumption of the construction of
axis E7 in Aspen valley, citizens, local people, and militant
ecologists united to occupy the area and to impede the work
by camping around bulldozers.

- In Prague, squatters prevented their expulsion from their
home by police forces by staying on the roof for 3 days.

- On July 18th, 1999, 700 militants united to destroy a 
genetically modified sunflower the size of 24 football fields.

- In Brazil over the last 10 years, about 140 000 
families were rehoused on retaken lands thanks to 
direct action.

- In London, militants entered the general headquarters of 
Shell, barricaded themselves in the office of the director
one morning and sent messages of solidarity to the people
of the Niger delta.

- From Geneva to Prague to Berlin, squatters retake
living space to make places for autogestive activity:
crashes, libraries, workshops, movie halls, community
gardens, etc...

- In Ecosse, 2 pacifist militants swam for an hour and
a half towards a military base and attacked a nuclear 
submarine; they damaged and defaced, causing considerable
economic loss.

What is a street festival?  Funny question; everyone can
see what a street festival might be.  It seems interesting
to talk about a certain "anti-capitalist" street party,
such that have been taking place around the world during
some years now.  These "street festivals" are in effect part
and parcel, in a certain number of countries, and are 
becoming more, modes of action (and amusement) which are 
particular to alternative political movements utilizing
direct action.  In 1994, the english direct action group
"reclaim the streets", engaging in a struggle against the
"car culture" organized a false pile-up at the intersection of
2 big london boulevards.  Very quickly the militants 
showed up, installed a cafe, a sound system, and a carnival
ambiance around 2 blocked cars in the middle of the public
eye and reappropriated during some hours this space reserved
for cars.  This resounding action gave the spark to the street
party movement in England with Reclaim The Streets, so that
local groups, disseminated throughout the area, multiplied
these surprise actions with a bustling imagination, humor,
but often also some not-bad confrontations with the cops.

Assez rapidement, le discours qui sous-tendait ces
Quickly enough, the discussion that underpins these 
"revolutionary carnavals take a more global orientation
in their denunciation of the capitalist system in their setup.
Inspired by situationist discourse, Reclaim the Streets 
proposes ludic (playful) contestation, spectacular and 
subversive reappropriation of space, freeing it from commerce,
the car, consumption, work, etc.  One of the most beautiful
successes of the movement, without doubt, was the occupation,
on July 13 1996, after a good knuckle and chat with the police,
of a north London highway for 9 hours by more than 9000 people
dancing, communicating, and attacking the route with a pneumatic
drill and planting some trees in the street.  On the 16th of May
1998, a global street festival against the IMF took place 
in many large cities all around the world.  In France the first
festival such as this took place at the same time as the inter-
national conference for cities without cars in November 1998
with the utilization of a tripod (from 7 to 9 meters in height
to the top, where a demonstrator placed himself, causing the
police much difficulty in getting him to come back down) to 
realize the blockage.

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