|Activists have used direct actions to spur significant social
change, such as the occupation of the all-white lunch counters during
the sixties, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the anti-Vietnam and Gulf War
protests, and the American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee.
Many famous activists have participated in civil disobedience, including
the Reverend Martin Luther King, Ghandi and Rosa Parks. These actions
have brought attention to many injustices and led to the growth of
So what is "direct action"? Direct actions are primarily defined by
their confrontative, public, disruptive and possibly illegal nature.
They can be done with large or small groups of people. They are most
effective when carefully planned, when they focus public attention on
injustice in a compelling way, and when other avenues for change have
Before your campus group engages in direct action, carefully consider:
Let everyone talk about their ideas, fears, and past experiences.
Before doing any action you should refer to other action guides
mentioned in the bibliography. If after all of this you still agree
that direct action is needed, then here are a few guidelines you may
wish to follow:
- Will an action advance or set back your cause?
- Will you have broad support?
- Can you convince others that it is necessary?
- Are you ready to handle the difficulties of any backlash?
- Focus the Action - What aspect of your issue do you want to
highlight? On whom do you wish to focus public attention? If you want
to oppose, a law like Prop 187, do you pick a state house or a senator's
office? Make sure that any building you plan to visit will be open, that
any people you want to address will be in, and that you have mapped out
where all doors, exits and offices are. Refrain from unproductive
- Timing an Action - Don't do actions that aren't timed right for
maximum effectiveness. You may want to spend your time building a strong
enough base for a successful action later. If you are in negotiations,
this isn't a time for direct action, unless negotiators are stalling on
your requests and giving you problems. Students asking their university
to endorse the United Farm Worker's Grape Boycott demonstrated after the
university refused to meet with them, ignored scientific data on
pesticides, and failed to give a statement as promised. Organizing on an
issue the public knows little about can backfire. Organizing around a
long standing community problem will increase your numbers, media
coverage, community support, and chance for success.
- Compile Facts - Research your opposition and your issue for
education and publicity. This can take time, especially for Freedom of
Information Act requests.
- Know Your Rights - It is imperative to know your legal rights and
possible penalities. Consult a sympathetic lawyer. A few simple legal
points you should know are: you absolutely have the right to leaflet
and you do not always have to have a permit.
- Event Planning & Preparation - Talk about your goal, how long to
stay, and whether to disburse or risk arrest once authorities arrive.
Pick a date, time, location, and location for your action. Keep in mind
that many effective actions are perfectly legal. If you plan to occupy
streets or want to use public facilities, try filing for a permit with
the proper police department. Do not meet at the action site, but at an
alternative site nearby where you can wait until your numbers are
sufficient to move to the action location. What will you do at the
action? Prepare chant sheets, get a bullhorn, and ask people to speak
or do a skit. to arrive. Bring banners, signs, flyers and food,
beverages and blankets to keep warm. Have enough events to fill your
- Network - Talk to organizations who support your work and who may
join your action. Ask progressive media to cover the event. Do
extensive outreach to gain more support. Call people with direct action
experience for advice or a short presentation or training. This will
make people who are inexperienced with actions feel more assured and
- Media Promotion - Send a press to the media, both campus newspapers
and community press. Do not tell the press your complete plan; just
give them enough information to interest them in covering it.
- Stay Focused - Once you have organized a plan, stick to it! If you
must make changes to the intitial plan, inform everyone at one time.
Authorize a few (preferably experienced) people to make immediate
decisions and deal with the police, if need be, at your action. Women
protesting a beauty pageant in Michigan were able to remain in front of
the building all night, even though they had no permit and should have
been much farther away, when one women who had experience with direct
action was able to effectively negotiate with police. Meet once before
the action to solidify all plans and deal with last minute problems. The
main organizers should not be making changes as they please.
- Problems That May Arise - Even though your action may be legal, the
police may cite violations or arrest. Be prepared for this. If you
have a permit, although they are not usually used for direct action,
have it ready and have numerous copies. You may experience people
trying to impose their agenda at your action. Plan how you will deal
with this. A good idea is to ask them to comply with what has been
planned and if they refuse ask them to leave. Encourage people to avoid
hecklers, doing anything illegal or hitting anyone. Tempers flare, but
stay unified! Remind people they will be photographed and may be in the
news. When you leave do it in groups, if not all at once.
- Follow-up - Appoint people to specific follow-up tasks. Someone
will need to speak with the media immediately so that the authorities
aren't the only ones communicating your reasons for acting. Have people
coordinating the legal aspects of your action. Others should be working
on having your demands addressed or implemented. As a group,
collectively critique what happened and start your future planning.