Voting VS Direct Action Voting VS Direct Action from “A Community Non-Partisan Voters’ Guide” published in 2004 Given that our lives and our world are occupied territory, that relations of struggle and competition exist on every level in our society because once introduced they tend Folk Music d.i.y. punk rock and hip hop and techno music, pirate radio, drum circles, demonstration to replace other relationships: everything then depends chants and songs . . . The demystification of the role on whether we can find ways to reappropriate our own of musician—the realization that anyone can create creativity and productivity from this cycle, and thus an aural environment, that anyone can shape the People in the U.S. are preoccupied with cuts out the middle man and solves problems subvert and abort it. emotions of her fellows into fear or courage, love or voting to an unhealthy degree. This is not directly, without appealing to elected repre- sentimentality, rage or despair—and the subsequent to say that everyone votes, or thinks voting sentatives, corporate interests, or other powers. Revolution will never be bought at list price. insight that this must be done cooperatively, or else Obviously, we’re not going to get our “money’s the result will be a dreadful, atonal mess. Thus, the is effective or worthwhile; on the contrary, a worth” for either our labor or our capital on the recognition of music-making as the perfect analogy smaller and smaller proportion of the eligible Concrete examples of direct action are every- “free” market; we have to create situations, as for human relations. population votes every election year, and that’s where. When people start their own organiza- fleeting as need be (for nothing can or should be not just because more and more people are in tion to share food with hungry folks, instead sustainable, in an unsustainable world), in which Folk science squatting, dumpstering, prison. But when you broach the question of of just voting for a candidate who promises to we have power over resources that are otherwise gardening, inventing, d.i.y. building and plumbing and out of our hands. We need to learn from those decorating and printing and repairing . . . The end of politics, of having a say in the way things are, solve “the homeless problem” with tax dollars already adept at these practices: the bank robbers, specialization—the end of expertise as a commodity voting is just about the only strategy anyone and bureaucracy, that’s direct action. When a the cheating high school students, junior high in a scarcity economy. The rejection of technology can think of—voting, and influencing others’ man makes and gives out fliers addressing an students who call in bomb threats in spring, as a deity mediated by an elite priest caste, and of votes. issue that concerns him, rather than count- workers who cheat the time clock or use company linear “progress” as the sole and unquestionable ing on the newspapers to cover it or print his materials for private projects, office-supply pilferers, principle of human history. The realization that each suburban adulterers, grill cooks who pull off of us can do anything, that it is more valuable to Could it be this is why so many people feel so letters to the editor, that’s direct action. When workers’ compensation frauds. With this precious make your own progress than to passively accept or disempowered? Is anonymously checking a box a woman forms a book club with her friends contraband, we contra-bandits can rediscover the even contribute to a “progress” beyond your control. once a year, or every four years, enough to feel instead of paying to take classes at a school, or folk arts—which we can use both to create new, included in the political process, let alone play a does what it takes to shut down an unwanted liberated environments, and to rescue our fellow Folk love Food Not Bombs, local and international role in it? But what is there besides voting? corporate superstore in her neighborhood human beings from the current nightmare. communities, communal living arrangements, community spaces, open relationships, loving friendships, affinity/ rather than deferring to the authority of city Folk Art murals, markers, spraypaint, stickers, infinity groups . . . The emergence of mutual aid and In fact, voting for people to represent your in- planners, that’s direct action, too. Direct ac- posters, wheatpaste, stencils, bricks, gasoline and styrofoam emotional support outside the exchange system, for terests is the least efficient and effective means tion is the foundation of the old-fashioned can- . . . The reappropriation, by every individual, of the their own sake rather than as a transaction, so that of applying political power. The alternative, do American ethic, hands-on and no-nonsense. means (and “right”) to transform the environments we can build communities which protect and foster broadly speaking, is acting directly to repre- Without it, hardly anything would get done. we live in. The realization that as the fashioning of individuality and cooperation at once. the world is a collective project, the designing of it sent your interests yourself. must be as well. Folk WAr demonstrations, squatting, Critical In a lot of ways, direct action is a more effec- Mass, Reclaim the Streets, the Black Bloc, wildcat This is known in some circles as “direct ac- tive means for people to have a say in society Folk lore stolen photocopies, broadsides, pamphlets, strikes, spokescouncil meetings, topless federations . . . The tion.” Direct action is occasionally misunder- than voting is. For one thing, voting is a ‘zines, phone trees, discussion groups, oral tradition, collective establishment of means of defending stood to mean another kind of campaigning, lottery—if a candidate doesn’t get elected, independent media networks . . . The circumvention of our individual freedom and autonomy that do not the mass media by direct, decentralized, and non- endanger those in the process. The abolition of lobbying for influence on elected officials then all the energy his constituency put into hierarchical means of communication. The rejection leaders and orders, even in times of war (like this by means of political activist tactics; but it supporting him is wasted, as the power they of History, any History, in the objective sense, in one), in favor of radically democratic, decentralized properly refers to any action or strategy that were hoping he would exercise for them goes favor of myth and legend and storytelling. or consensus-based strategies of resistance. to someone else. With direct action, you can Voting is glorified as “freedom” in action. It’s be sure that your work will offer some kind of not freedom— freedom is getting to decide DIRECT ACTION AND results; and the resources you develop in the pro- what the choices are in the first place, not cess, whether those be experience, contacts and picking between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Direct recognition in your community, or organizational action is the real thing. You make the plan, MuTuAl-AID sOuND infrastructure, cannot be taken away from you. you create the options, the sky’s the limit. wONDERful! Voting consolidates the power of a whole Ultimately, there’s no reason the strategies of society in the hands of a few politicians; voting anddirect action can’t both be applied through force of sheer habit, not to speak of together. One does not cancel the other out. other methods of enforcement, everyone else The problem is that so many people think of is kept in a position of dependence. Through voting as their primary way of exerting politi- direct action, you become familiar with your cal and social power that a disproportionate own resources and capabilities and initiative, amount of everyone’s time and energy is spent HoW cAn i Get discovering what these are and how much you deliberating and debating about it while other can accomplish. opportunities to make change go to waste. For months and months preceding every election, Voting forces everyone in a movement to everyone argues about the voting issue, what stArteD? try to agree on one platform; coalitions fight candidates to vote for or whether to vote at all, over what compromises to make, each faction when voting itself takes less than an hour. Vote insists that they know the best way and the or don’t, but get on with it! Remember how others are messing everything up by not going many other ways you can make your voice heard. along with their program. A lot of energy gets wasted in these disputes and recriminations. This being an election year, we hear constantly In direct action, on the other hand, no vast about the options available to us as voters, and consensus is necessary: different groups can almost nothing about our other opportunities apply different approaches according to what to play a decisive role in our society. What we they believe in and feel comfortable doing, need is a campaign to emphasize the possibili- which can still interact to form a mutually ties more direct means of action and com- beneficial whole. People involved in different munity involvement have to offer. These need direct actions have no need to squabble, unless not be seen as in contradiction with voting. they really are seeking conflicting goals (or We can spend an hour voting once a year, and years of voting have taught them to fight with the other three hundred sixty four days and anyone who doesn’t think exactly as they do). twenty three hours acting directly! Conflicts over voting often distract from the real issues at hand, as people get caught up in Those who are totally disenchanted with the drama of one party against another, one representative democracy, who dream of a candidate against another, one agenda against world without presidents and politicians, can another. With direct action, on the other hand, rest assured that if we all learn how to apply the issues themselves are raised, addressed deliberately the power that each of us has, the specifically, and often resolved. question of which politician is elected to office will become a moot point. They only have Voting is only possible when election time that power because we delegate it to them! A comes around. Direct action can be applied campaign for direct action puts power back whenever one sees fit. Voting is only useful for where it belongs, in the hands of the people addressing whatever topics are current in the from whom it originates. political agendas of candidates, while direct action can be applied in every aspect of your life, in every part of the world you live in. 12 Myths About Direct Action Direct action—that is, any kind of action enforce unethical conditions, is to suggest that the Direct Action is exclusive ity that activists could do such things themselves, that bypasses established political chan- arbitrary pronouncements of the legal establish- Some forms of direct action are not open to all, but overestimating the powers of police intelligence and ment possess a higher moral authority than our own this does not necessarily mean they are without reinforcing the illusion that the State is omnipotent. nels to accomplish objectives directly— consciences, and to demand complicity in the face of Likewise, it preemptively dismisses the value and worth. Everyone has different preferences and has a long and rich heritage in North injustice. When laws protect injustice, illegal activ- capabilities, and should be free to act according to reality of a diversity of tactics. When people feel America, extending back to the Boston ity is no vice, and law-abiding docility is no virtue. them. The important question is how the differing entitled to make unfounded claims that every tactic Tea Party and beyond. Despite this, there approaches of individuals and groups that share the of which they disapprove is a police provocation, Direct Action is unnecessAry same long-term goals can be integrated in such a this obstructs the very possibility of constructive are many misunderstandings about it, in dialogue about appropriate tactics. part due to the ways it has been misrepre- WHere people HAve FreeDoM oF way that they complement each other. speecH sented in the corporate media. In a society dominated by an increasingly narrowly Direct Action is DAnGerous Direct Action is coWArDly AnD cAn HAve neGAtive focused corporate media, it can be almost impossible This accusation is almost always made by those who to initiate a public dialogue on a subject unless repercussions For otHers Direct Action is terrorisM have the privilege of speaking and acting in public Direct action can be dangerous in a repressive Terrorism is calculated to intimidate and thus para- something occurs that brings attention to it. Under without fearing repercussions: that is to say, those such conditions, direct action can be a means of nur- political climate, and it is important that those who lyze people. Direct action, on the other hand, is in- who have power in this society, and those who obe- practice it make every effort not to endanger others. tended to inspire and thus motivate people by dem- turing free speech, not squelching it. Likewise, when diently accept their power. Should the heroes of the people who would otherwise oppose an injustice This is not necessarily an objection to it, however- onstrating the power individuals have to accomplish French Resistance have demonstrated their courage -on the contrary, when it becomes dangerous to act goals themselves. While terrorism is the domain of a have accepted that it is inevitable, it is not enough and accountability by acting against the Nazi oc- simply to talk about it: one must demonstrate that outside established political channels, it becomes specialized class that seeks to acquire power for itself cupying army in the full light of day, thus dooming all the more important to do so. Authorities may alone, direct action demonstrates possibilities that it is possible to do something about it. themselves to defeat? For that matter, in a nation use direct actions as excuses to terrorize innocents, others can make use of, empowering people to take increasingly terrorized by police and federal surveil- as Hitler did when the Reichstag was set afire, but control of their own lives. At most, a given direct Direct Action is AlienAtinG lance of just about everyone, is it any wonder that those in power are the ones who must answer for the action may obstruct the activities of a corporation or On the contrary, many people who find traditional those who express dissent might want to protect injustices they commit in so doing, not those who institution that activists perceive to be commit- party politics alienating are inspired and motivated their privacy while doing so? oppose them. Likewise, though people who practice ting an injustice, but this is simply a form of civil by direct action. Different people find different direct action may indeed run risks, in the face of an disobedience, not terrorism. approaches fulfilling; a movement that is to be Direct Action is prActiceD only insufferable injustice it can be more dangerous and broad-based must include a wide range of options. by colleGe stuDents/privileGeD irresponsible to leave it uncontested. Sometimes people who share the goals of those who ricH kiDs/DesperAte poor Direct Action is violent practice direct action while objecting to their means To say that it is violent to destroy the machinery of people/etc Direct Action never spend all their energy decrying an action that has This allegation is almost always made without a slaughterhouse or to break windows belonging to been carried out. In doing so, they snatch defeat AccoMplisHes AnytHinG a party that promotes war is to prioritize property reference to concrete facts, as a smear. In fact, direct Every effective political movement throughout his- from the jaws of victory: they would do better to action is and long has been practiced in a variety over human and animal life. This objection subtly tory, from the struggle for the eight hour workday seize the opportunity to focus all attention on the of forms by people of all walks of life. The only validates violence against living creatures by focus- to the fight for women's suffrage, has made use issues raised by the action. possible exception to this would be members of the ing all attention on property rights and away from of some form of direct action. Direct action can more fundamental issues. wealthiest and most powerful classes, who have no complement other forms of political activity in a need to practice any kind of illegal or controversial variety of ways. If nothing else, it highlights the people WHo prActice Direct action because, as if by coincidence, the established Direct Action is not politicAl Action sHoulD Work tHrouGH necessity for institutional reforms, giving those who political channels are perfectly suited to their needs. expression, but criMinAl Activity tHe estAblisHeD politicAl push for them more bargaining chips; but it can go Unfortunately, whether or not an action is illegal cHAnnels insteAD beyond this supporting role to suggest the possibil- is a poor measure of whether or not it is just. The Direct Action is tHe Work oF ity of an entirely different organization of human Many people who practice direct action also work AGents provocAteurs Jim Crow laws were, after all, laws. To object to an within the system. A commitment to making use of life, in which power is distributed equally and all action on the grounds that it is illegal is to sidestep This is another speculation generally made from a people have an equal and direct say in all matters every institutional means of solving problems does distance, without concrete evidence. To allege that the more important question of whether or not it not necessarily preclude an equal commitment to that affect them. is ethical. To argue that we must always obey laws, direct action is always the work of police agent pro- picking up where such means leave off. vocateurs is disempowering: it rules out the possibil- even when we consider them to be unethical or to
"Voting vs. Direct Action"