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On Civil Disobedience, Direct Action and AK Press

There's a lot of chat, here and elsewhere about direct action and what it is and whether it includes violence (and if so, what's the definition of violence, anyway?). Enter the latest AK Press catalog that was in many of your mailboxes recently.

Excerpted is David Graeber's Direct Action: An Ethnography. Graeber samples various definitions of direct action, demonstrating that if you're confused over what direct action is and isn't, it's not without good reason.

There are commonalities in the definitions and they part on the elements you're probably thinking they part on. They all share the notion that your aim is to achieve your goals through your own activity; you're acting for yourself to directly affect a problem. Veganism is direct action, then (though I know some of you disagree).

I like how simply Graeber describes the traditional distinction between civil disobedience and direct action (I'm sure you've seen elsewhere that civil disobedience is a subset of direct action, or even vice versa, and Graeber does admit to overlaps):

"When one burns a draft card, one is withdrawing one's consent or cooperation from a structure of authority one deems illegitimate [Graeber, if you're not aware, is an anarchist], but doing so is still a form of protest, a public act addressed at least partly to the authorities themselves. Typically, one practicing civil disobedience is also willing to accept the legal consequences of his actions. Direct action takes matters a step further. The direct actionist does not just refuse to pay taxes to support a militarized school system, she combines with others to try to create a new school system that operates on different principles. She proceeds as she would if the state did not exist and leaves it to the state's representatives to decide whether to try to send armed men to stop her."

However, Graeber then explains that currently direct action is defined more loosely:

"'Direct action' becomes any form of political resistance that is overt, militant, and confrontational, but that falls short of outright insurrection . . . . In this sense, if one is doing more than marching around with signs, but not yet ready to take to the hills with AK-47s, then one is a direct actionist. . . . 'direct action' can cover an enormous range: it can mean anything from insisting on one's right to sit at a segregated lunch counter to setting fire to one . . . ."

The points of departure in the various definitions center, as you might imagine, around militancy and conventional definitions of violence.

I look forward to reading Direct Action: An Ethnography, as having a sense of history (particularly from the linguistic angle) is important to me. That's why I wrote about giving and activism yesterday. It seems like we're experiencing a shift in what we consider activism and advocacy and action and philanthropy, and a greater degree of behavior change in the lives of individuals is becoming more common, if not normalized. Now, much of that is around consumer behavior and that might be a bit of a red herring at times (like when people greenwash their shopping as opposed to greening their lives). But sometimes it isn't.

Here's Graeber on globalization, capitalism, and why Yale University gave him a year off with full pay.

I also look forward to Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader (Matt Hern, ed.).

"Everywhere All the Time presents an array of historical and contemporary alternatives to traditional schooling, demonstrating that children's capacity to learn decreases as soon as they enter bureaucratic, institutional facilities.

Trends indicate an increasing skepticism toward current public and private school models. They fail to offer kids the skills they need to be healthy, self-directed life-learners. They stifle creativity, and encourage conformity of thought. They utilize draconian disciplinary measures and a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Government control of, and corporate intrusion into education has been a further disaster for communities concerned with the welfare of their youngsters. Alternatively, the 'deschooling' project offers self-directed learning strategies for children, encourages community-building and participation from parents in the learning process, builds critical thinking for active engagement and democratic self-governance, and alleviates the negative psychological effects of traditional schooling methods."

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