Direct Action

Find Inspiration & Develop Strategies

The information and resources below are intended to deepen your understanding of nonviolent direct action (NVDA), help you develop NVDA strategies and serve as an ideas hub for activists.

If you are planning a direct action, consider getting in touch with us. We offer consulting and we’d be happy to work with you. Contact us about your action.

 

Beyond Petitions & Symbolic Actions

NVDA

Nonviolent direct action employs nonviolent principles and methods to:

  • draw attention to an injustice
  • bring an opponent or oppressive party into dialogue to resolve an unjust situation
  • obstruct a political agent or political organization from performing some practice deemed unjust
  • if necessary, remove an oppressive or unjust entity from power

NVDA goes beyond petitionary indirect actions or institutionalized conflict resolution processes like law courts and voting. It goes beyond symbolic actions as are seen in the majority of rallies and protests that happen in the USA and elsewhere today. It can include various forms of protest, noncooperation and intervention, but uses these methods without injury or threat of injury to others.

We will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.,  Stride Toward Freedom

Metta Center holds that NVDA ought to be used when dialogue, petitioning and other avenues of intervention have been exhausted.

While direct action has been seen by some as a cause of tension and crisis, it really brings to the surface tensions that have been normalized and buried from sight by our dominant systems and power structures.

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored… I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, and there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth…We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface hidden tension that is already alive”  Martin Luther King Jr.,  “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” April 16, 1963

Here at Metta Center, we often speak of “obstructive program” when speaking about direct action. Obstructive program together with constructive program make up the two branches of Gandhi’s Satyagraha. Direct Action without constructive program (systems and structures to replace those that are being dismantled) is often ineffective for making lasting social change.

Our Nonviolence Radio show often brings on activist guests who share valuable insight from the front lines, and we have created a Direct Action Series of podcasts from these interviews. We are also creating a study guide for Michael’s Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action that will soon be available here.

 

Direct Action Resources

Action Guides

Action Strategy: How To Guide: The Rukus Society’s 10-page PDF provides a comprehensive tutorial on campaign strategy, along with an index of possible actions.

The Art & Science of Actions: Shutting Things Down to Open Things Up: a short overview from Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change

Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns: This 151-page manual from War Resisters’ International covers everything from historical case studies to nonviolence exercises.

Nonviolent Struggle- 50 Crucial Points: Created by the student leaders of the Serbian Otpor! Movement, this guide is a primer in planning, strategy and action.

198 Methods of Nonviolent ActionGene Sharp’s list of methods

Articles & Essays

The Power of Nonviolent Direct Action, Daniel Hunter

You Cant Kill the Spirit: Women and Nonviolent Action, Pam McAllister

Palestine’s Hidden History of Nonviolence, Yousef Munayyer

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Websites

The Global Nonviolent Action Database: Swarthmore College’s database, launched in 2011, is searchable by tactic.

PopularResistance.orga major source of information on direct action that links movements for peace, justice, economic fairness and environmental protection into an independent, nonviolent and diverse movement

99Risebelieves that strategic, nonviolent direct action is the only way to redress legislative loopholes that benefit profit over people

Beautiful Trouble: a web toolbox, and an international network of artist-activist trainers whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective

The Love-In-Action Networkempowers citizens through education, discussion and action, providing opportunities to collectively and individually study nonviolent action, and preparing for the necessary struggle to ensure our health, well-being and a future for humanity

Film

Women’s Strike for Peace: Harvey Richards’s 1962 documentary runs 24 mins and portrays  Women for Peace, an organization that grew out of anti-war marches in San Francisco, CA.

A Force More Powerful: Steve York’s film dramatizes how ordinary people throughout the world, working against all kinds of opponents, have taken up nonviolent weapons and prevailed. DVDs are available in English, Arabic, Burmese, Farsi, French, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Mandarin, Nepali, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell: Liberian women stop their country’s civil war through nonviolent action

The Great Peace March: Watch this 90-min documentary about peace activism in 1986, in 11 parts on YouTube.

Bringing Down a DictatorSteve York’s 56-min documentary highlights the nonviolent defeat of Slobodan Milosevic in October, 2000.

Books

You Can’t Kill the Spirit:  Women and Nonviolent Action, Pam McAllister

PeoplePower: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity by Howard Clark, Howard Clark

The Nonviolence Handbook, Michael Nagler

The Essays of A. J. Muste, Edited by Nat Hentoff 

Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21stCentury Potential, Gene Sharp

The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp

Strategic Nonviolent Conflict:  The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler

A Quiet Revolution:The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance, Mary King

Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.:  The Power of Nonviolent Action, Mary King

Direct Action: An Ethnography, David Graeber (free PDF)