What is or isn’t violent in Direct Action has long been the subject of debate. Individual participants will have their own ideas. To define non-violence one needs to be able to define violence….and that’s one very big can of worms. Try typing ‘what is violence’ into a search engine if you don’t have a fixed definition and want to find one that you can work with, or take a look at some of the books written on the subject.
Once you’re sure what violence is, you can then plan to be non-violent if you so choose!
For many people, a good definition of a non-violent act is one where no harm or injury is inflicted on human or animal life. For others simply disabling something by breaking it, even if it’s an active and current threat to life, is a violent act.
What’s important is that within a group of individuals working together for a common goal, a definition that is agreed in principle is found. If a group has decided an act of direct action is called for somewhere and prepared a statement declaring their act as non-violent…..they’ll look pretty daft if subsequently, during their arrests, one of them slugs a copper with the claim, ‘he hit me first’. Surely then their statement should have declared that their act is intended to be non-violent up to the point that someone else starts being violent first. Or, we will only use violence in self-defence. But of course, that wouldn’t be agreeable to those in the group for whom non-violence is an important issue.
Why is a considered position on violence or non-violence important? Well…..several reasons, if some people weren’t committed to non-violence there is the possibility that every dispute or disagreement could result in an outcome being decided with baseball bats or ultimately the way governments often decide…with carpet bombing of civilians and mass murder.
There is also the guarantee that the media will sieze any degree of violence attached to your protest or action and use it to rubbish your protest efforts and paint you as mindless thugs who should be castigated by society, not applauded for your efforts.
Then there is the matter of prosecutions. Someone who has smashed up the computers of a company making bullets to be used to commit genocide somewhere will be given a better hearing and understanding if they act in a ‘peaceful’ way, than someone who has taken the same action but turned a couple of security guards into giant pizzas on the way in.
The question often arises, if you need to use violence to make a campaign or protest point……how are you in any way different or superior to the crooks you are struggling against? It can easily be argued that people in a repressive or abusive situation have no choice but to use violence in their struggle. Pacifists would offer Gandhi as a shining example of non-violence, and claim that in no circumstances is violence acceptable.
Each person or group considering Direct Action should have a clear idea of what constitutes unacceptable violence to themselves before they act. During an action, one is often under duress and it can be easy to take unintended steps which could have unwanted and far reaching repercussions. The importance of being able to remain focussed is worth another mention.
Various campaign groups offer what’s known as NVDA (Non-Violent Direct Action) training to interested parties. These trainings are an invaluable tool which offer great insights into various protest and action situations. An NVDA course will offer you the opportunity to ‘experience’ a variety of scenarios, learn much through your responses and reactions and help you develop a whole new skill set you’d never imagined you’d need.
Most violence that I have ever witnessed in protest has come from the police. If you don’t want to be provoked by police brutality (which is usually what they want) in the heat of the moment, take action to prepare for it and learn how not to fall victim to it.
Should though, all things considered, you be convinced that a violent confrontation with the enemy is the only way forward…..at least prepare a good legal defence before you get stuck in!