Action stations!

IssueSeptember - November 2004

We are killing each other and the planet: the arms trade, car-culture, exploitation of other species, domestic violence, racism, cash and GM crops, capitalism and ingrained militarism — the list seems endless.

It can seem so bleak, overwhelming and dispiriting, it can fuel the belief in the ultimate futility of human existence: if we are going to live, why should we live like this?

Feel like giving up? Feel like getting on with our relatively comfortable lives and trying instead to shut out the horrors of the real world? (Forget the news — watch “reality” TV instead!) But in practise, we don't.

A daily chapter

Instead we get up every morning and face each day — with all its challenges, great and small — as another chapter in our personal-political struggle. Whether it is working with violence-survivors, putting ourselves in front of the merchants of death, or trying to communicate a vision of a better world to other people in our communities, we get up, stand up, and go out and “fight” for what we believe in. We have diversity of tactics and ideas - sometimes conflicting. We have broad experiences and need to be open to learning from the experiences of others struggling for peace, justice and empowerment worldwide. We try everything — negotiating, exposing, obstructing, redistributing, undermining, damaging — and we question why we continue when the odds seem so stacked against us.

Creating a better balance

We try half-baked attempts at strategising, without understanding and recognising the work of others who came before us. While we may not want to become armchair theoreticians of nonviolent direct action, sometimes a little more thinking rather than doing can help us to develop a better balance of praxis and become more strategic in how we approach problems and take action that's impact becomes deeper, stronger and has a specific role in the bigger picture.

The “scattergun” approach has a value — all visible challenges to oppression perform a function of presenting the fact that alternative world views exist. But, if we are serious about creating revolutionary change, we need to get our act together!

And that is what this themed section of Peace News is about.

The idea for this theme was to try to put forward steps for taking effective action, with an emphasis on strategising. Thus, it flows as follows: thinking, training, dealing with authority, support,and creating positive alternatives.

Think before you act!

We start with three short texts from people who dedicate a proportion of their time to creating structured spaces for conversation. It may seem like a slightly odd beginning to a section called “action stations!”, but we wanted to emphasis the value of thinking before doing! And to investigate what kind of projects are out there where safe spaces for exploration of ideas exist.

Next we have a great article from Steve Whiting, in which he presents models and ideas around power and strategy. Again, a”thinking” article, but one which can help us prepare for more coherent forms of action.

In a brief section on workshops Janet Kilburn offers some tips on making workshops more effective and we reprint a brief workshop plan from George Lakey (aptly enough on moving from tactics to strategy).

Ain't what you do...

Space has forced us to bypass some of our original plans for pages describing the wild things you can actually do, but information about skills, tactics, props, forms of action and so on (from the sublime to the ridiculous, via the rather worthy to the frankly criminal!) can be found via the links offered on p33.

However, we did want to give some space to exploring approaches to dealing with authority (police, military, etc) and here we present some very different methods. From the relative comfort of British street protests, to military roadblocks in Colombia, to surviving the riot police in Zimbabwe, we can see that context is everything in how we develop mechanisms for exercising control over our interactions with the “foot soldiers” of violent states.

Love yourself and each other

As direct activists we frequently put ourselves into vulnerable positions, where we place a degree of trust in the humanity of those we confront. We trust that we will not be run over when we blockade, we trust that we won't get pushed off the top of buildings we occupy, that we won't be killed. Trauma is a funny word, but we all know that when we experience violence, a loss of control (either in ourselves or others), or are on the receiving end of “power-over”, the consequences can be devastating. So in this issue we have devoted a couple of pages to examining how we can support ourselves and each other in terms of increasing the longevity and positive experience of our activist lives.

Positive alternatives

Finally we give space to hearing from a project in Australia that is trying to develop different methods and structures for creating community safety. It is not the “peace police”, but it is about trying to address the very real issue of community safety. If we don't like or want the existing model of policing, what are we going to do — in the here and now — to address conflict, crime and violence within our communities?

Alternative models can be critiqued in perpetuity; the important thing is that the vision exists and that people are actually implementing it now — not in some future utopian society. Living the revolution is the only way to improve and develop.

Voyages of discovery

We hope this issue of PN helps you to develop your thinking and doing in how you approach your own campaigns and actions. A lack of space has made us quite selective in the material we have published here, but there is so much more to discover, so much more to learn.

So try to banish despair at the odds and get up every morning ready and willing to play your part in creating positive and peaceful change.

It is hackneyed, but another world is possible.

Topics: Activism