Category Archives: Direct Action

An Open Letter to My Activist Friends

This post was updated on Sept. 22, 2020.

Dear friends and fellow activists,

I am relatively new to activism, but over the last few years I have been pretty actively engaged in a variety of causes, from the environment to anti-racism to gun control. In addition to writing, Most of my activism has consisted of planning and participating in protests and other forms of expressive activism.

When I first started participating in protests, it was exhilarating. It felt empowering. I experienced for the first time in my life the power of masses of people gathered for a cause. It’s not an exaggeration to say it restored my faith in democracy. It offered me an avenue for action outside of the more traditional modes of political participation (like voting), with which I had become disenchanted.

I never expected marching, by itself, to effect revolutionary change. Rather, I saw mass events as opportunities to raise energy and build solidarity, especially among those who participate, but also among those who witness from afar. When people would ask me if I thought events like the Women’s March and the People’s Climate March “accomplished anything”, I would respond that what those events do is to help people realize that they are not alone, that together they have power when they act collectively, and to motivate them to organize when they go back home.

I still believe all that.

However, over time, I have come to see another perspective as well. There’s three problems that I now see with much of the protesting which we progressives do.

Continue reading An Open Letter to My Activist Friends

Civil Disobedience vs. Direct Action

Image: Julia “Butterfly” Hill spent 738 days living in an old-growth redwood tree to protest logging in the area.

I’ve noticed how the term “direct action” is being used very loosely by many activists.  I’ve heard protest marches called “direct action” and getting arrested while blocking traffic called “direct action”.  But neither of these are direct action.

Continue reading Civil Disobedience vs. Direct Action

Review of “The Reluctant Radical”

This past Earth Day, two of the activist organizations I am a part of sponsored a screening of “The Reluctant Radical”, a documentary about Ken Ward, by Lindsey Grayzel.

Ken Ward is one of the “valve turners” who was arrested and prosecuted for closing the emergency valve on oil sands pipelines in October 2016. He argued in court that the urgency of climate change compelled him to act. “The Reluctant Radical” follows Ken as he struggles to find an effective way to combat the fossil fuel industry. Director Lindsey Grayzel was also arrested and charged for her role filming Ken’s actions.

Continue reading Review of “The Reluctant Radical”

21 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day: Support Direct Action

Each day of the month of April leading up to Earth Day (April 22), I will be offering a suggestion for how we can really honor the Earth this year. This list will go beyond the usual suggestions to change your light bulbs and take shorter showers. Instead, the focus is on collective action working toward radical social change.

One thing you can do to honor the Earth this Earth Day is to participate in direct action.  Every effective political movement throughout history, from the struggle for the eight hour workday to the fight for women’s suffrage, has used some form of direct action.

Continue reading 21 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day: Support Direct Action

Well-Behaved Protesters Seldom Make History

About a month after the Women’s March, I was having dinner with my wife and another couple. Like my wife and I, our friends are very liberal. My wife was relating our experience of attending the march in Washington, D.C. with our two teenaged children and a half million other people.  In the course of the conversation, one of our friends (who is very liberal like us) remarked on how amazing it was that, out of the millions of women and supporters who attended the marches in the U.S. or around the world, there were no arrests.

Continue reading Well-Behaved Protesters Seldom Make History

10 Things Marching Accomplishes

In January 2017, my family—consisting of myself, my wife, my 18 year-old son, and my 14 year-old daughter—drove from Indiana to Washington, D.C. and joined a half million people for the Women’s March. An estimated 3 million people participated in 500 sister marches around the world. L.A. and New York had about a half million marchers each. Chicago had a quarter million. The turnout was historic and unexpected. All in all, one in every 100 Americans participated!  That’s amazing! Continue reading 10 Things Marching Accomplishes