Why Direct Action?

Wednesday, 4th March 2009 at 19:25 UTC 1 comment

I’ve been asked to write this for a magazine, so I’m writing it here first. The questions being asked went along the lines of “should Christians take Direct Action, or should they keep politics and spirituality separate?” and “(how) does your faith motivate you to take Direct Action?”.

Should Christians shy away from confronting big issues with Direct Action? As someone who’s taken part in all 3 major Climate Camps, organising a Christian contribution in the form of a cafe and worship space to last summer’s camp at Kingsnorth I could not disagree more. It isn’t the only way we should confront issues and power structures, but it is vital to maintaining integrity and humility in the face of a political establishment riddled with business interests and the seductive force of power.

First we should define “Direct Action”; what it is and isn’t. It is about making a change ourselves, rather than pleading that others make that change for us. It can include interrupting negative events or processes or starting something entirely new. Very often Direct Action alone does not change a situation, but in many campaigns it has been central to causing change.

As Jesus went about 1st Century Palestine, much of his activity was as an outsider looking in, as someone acting from the margins, from the villages and the second-rate towns. Unlike lobbying, where coming from the establishment is a blessing, Direct Action can be a great way of connecting with the marginalised and their suffering. In this sense, I find Direct Action more in keeping with Jesus own interactions with the world around him; Jesus kept his integrity because he didn’t go into the political world of negotiations and compromises, but instead acted decisively. Sadly the Western Church has all but lost this concept.

Some have tried to convince me that my faith and political principles should somehow be separate, and sadly many of those have been from within the Church itself. Its true that Jesus rejected the political elites of his time, but that didn’t mean he ignored the big issues, like the double-oppression from the Romans and the Religious Teachers.

Through Direct Action, we can change the world for the better without needing to take power. We’re not fighting flesh and blood, seeking power and position, but challenging the powerful assumptions and institutions that dominate our society. Through choosing this path, I know that when I do lobby, I can do so as someone in solidarity with the poorest and most marginalised, rather than someone who becomes separated from them, dragged further and further from those I claim to represent.

On the reverse side, as someone who takes Direct Action, I see my prayer life as highly important to assessing times when action should be taken. I want my faith to reflect in my actions, and to seek God’s wisdom and guidance in this matter. Taking action involves stepping out of comfort zones and that takes faith and courage sometimes, so I find Direct Action makes my time with God even more important.

If the church wishes to maintain its respectable veneer, then it can forget Direct Action. But then it can also forget following a man who 2000 years ago hung out with the despised and died the death of an insurrectionist. Whilst it cannot be our only tactic, we are at a loss if we refuse to engage with it.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Church, Climate Change, Environment, Participation, Religion, Theology.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Adam  |  Sunday, 8th March 2009 at 23:22 UTC

    Graham,

    This link on the newly-updated JesusRadicals website may interest you: http://www.jesusradicals.com/anarchism/decision-making/

    It seems that direct action not only has its origins in anarchist theory, but also among the working classes. It is borne out of the need to be freed from oppression. I am somewhat concerned (speaking as one who has taken direct action before) that our particular flavour of nonviolent direct action today has too many middle-class, affluent, burgeois connotations to it. That isn’t to say that direction action isn’t worthwhile, I believe it is, and I do largely agree with what you have written here. However, I am becoming inclined to the train of thought that our participation in direct action ought to be characterised by our own solidarity with the oppressed, the workers, and the marginalised. I am all too aware that my own position in the economic spectrum makes me far closer to the oppressor than the oppressed, and I consider it important to be sober-minded about this and carve out a spiritual and political understanding of what I do about that. One of the great things about Climate Camp 2007 was that, in protesting Heathrow’s third runway, we weren’t just speaking up for environmental responsibility, but we were also engaged in solidarity with the local communities who stand to be displaced by those plans. While, of course, that analysis could have stood to be a little more prominent (from what I personally saw, it might well have been, so I don’t mean to generalise), it did nonetheless show an example of direct action which met with the concerns of those who would stand to be immediately affected by the issue. That’s something that can be difficult to do in a protest regarding climate change or nuclear weapons; however, I feel it’s paramount of we’re to be loyal to the historical ethic of direct action.

    Reply

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