Direct Action and Democratic Values

Direct Action and Democratic Values

The following article is adapted from a speech delivered at a conference of “Turn Toward Peace.”

I will be talking about direct action as a nonparliamentary, nonelectoral form of struggle for social change—that is, as a political act. I mean deliberately to exclude, at the outset, the purely conscientious form of direct action—that is, acts of protest conducted by individuals as a matter of private conscience or morality, regardless of their political impact. About this form of direct action, there is much to respect but little to say. If an individual refuses as a matter of conscience (be it religious or political conscience) to serve in the armed forces or to pay his income tax, that is one thing. If he urges these policies on others, advocating them as a strategy for social change, then he has stepped into the political realm, and consequently he invites political judgments. If we accept the definition of direct action as nonparliamentary, nonelectoral forms of struggle for social change, then it is clear that practically nobody of consequence opposes direct action. The unions engage in it through strikes and picket lines. Rent strikes have—more or less—been legalized in New York State. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional right of citizens to sit-in, and even President Johnson has acknowledged that it took street demonstrations to get civil rights legislation through Congress.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima