An Essay on Direct Action [from Free the Animals]
If you support animal rights then recognise direct action is an essential part of way forward for the movement.
"Direct Action" is a term which is often misunderstood. It has the unfortunate reputation of dramatic zealotry, yet in essence, it is often quieter and more powerful than this stereotype. To act directly is to address the actual issue of your concern. If you're working against hunger, it might be simply giving someone a meal. If you're working against homelessness, it might be taking over an abandoned house and making it livable. If you want to end animal cruelty, it might include among other things, removing/liberating animals from laboratories.
Direct Action is used to describe a wide range of activities designed to bring attention to a particular issue. It is undertaken by people who have strong views which are not being acknowledged or acted upon by their government. Usually it is a last resort when other means of protest have been tried and have not produced the desired result. Direct action sometimes involves acting against the law.
Direct action differs from symbolic protest action, which is lobbying someone in authority to change their policies. An advantage to direct action is that it doesn't require the cooperation of the authority to be effective. If they intervene to stop your action, you have a dramatic story; if they ignore you, you've followed your conscience and can continue following it further. Since the action in itself has a direct effect, it has a power and strength. In practice, the most effective actions are both direct and symbolic, providing a clear witness to your beliefs.
Direct action requires courage, commitment, training and the ability to focus on an urgent issue. Non-violent direct action has an honorable history both as a legitimate means of protest and as a means of raising public awareness of vital issues. On December 16, 1773, Samuel Adams led three groups of fifty men with hatchets onto ships in Boston Harbor. They broke into 342 chests and threw all of the tea overboard. This defiant act resulted in $1,000,000 in damage. Never is the Boston Tea Party referred to as economic sabotage or direct action, but that is indeed exactly what it was. The French Resistance is another example of people breaking the law in order to answer to a higher morality. Their activities included sabotaging bridges and roads in order to slow down the cattle cars carrying many to their death. Members of this secret organization risked their lives and the lives of their families to save others. In the 1850's, Harriet Tubman and other members of the Underground Railroad freed slaves in the southern United States. There are also numerous accounts of abolitionists sabotaging the property of slave-owners and using various tactics to disrupt the flow of commerce in the slave system. These individuals acted illegally at the time, but they are now regarded as heroes for their role in ending slavery.
Animal Liberation is a worldwide movement that is growing rapidly. Direct action activists working for animal liberation make no excuses for their efforts. The results that they have achieved speak for themselves. The direct action efforts that animal liberation activists carry out at animal research laboratories have given us proof of horrific cruelty that would not have been discovered or believed otherwise. They have resulted in the filing of criminal charges against laboratories, citing of experimenters for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and, in some cases, shutting down of abusive labs for good. The direct action efforts of these activists have also been followed by widespread scientific condemnation of the practices occurring in the targeted labs. While some direct action may be illegal, can the efforts really be considered immoral? For the tens of thousands of animals who have been rescued, the courageous volunteers who have risked their own freedom, are nothing less than heroes.
Direct action activists believe that the situation we face is so serious, and the changes demanded by it so massive that the only solution is for people to take their future in their hands and physically halt further animal cruelty and suffering. To quote Malcolm X, "If we are extremists, then we are not ashamed of it, for the conditions that our people suffer are extreme, and extreme illness can not be cured with moderate medicine".
Real social change can never be realized from the use of one or a few tactics alone. All possible strategies are necessary to realize any sort of social change. The animal rights movement needs to work together to achieve change. Protests and education are important tools in ending animal abuse - but for the animals suffering in cages right now - the direct action of compassionate activists is even better. We need to continue to write letters, picket fur stores, support mainstream organizations, and we also need underground direct action.