A reader sent us a link to an event in London next week organised by Climate Camp and titled “Take Back the Power! The Importance of Direct Action Today”. He wondered what we thought about the strategies suggested in the promo material for the meeting. The group say:
Throughout history ordinary people have been responsible for all major social changes – women’s rights, civic rights and even democracy itself in many places can be said to be result of direct action. Taking action is the very first step in making big changes happen. Direct action is taken by people who feel that the political process is not working to address profoundly important issues.
Climate change is the most urgent challenge we’ve ever faced – and politicians are not showing the strength of character needed to actually address this problem. […] Climate Camp believes that people everywhere need to work out what they can do – and then do it. Taking action yourself to make the world you want to see is a logical response to a very serious situation.
Of course we agree climate challenge is the greatest threat to long-term human survival ever faced. Equally, we would take issue with the idea that politicians’ inaction is due to their lack of “strength of character”. But what of direct action?
Obviously it is true that “Taking action is the very first step in making big changes happen”, but is taking direct action also “the very first step”? It is true that direct action has been used by social movements throughout history, but it has been the initial or primary tactic of very few (successful) ones. (In this discussion, “direct action” excludes strikes and workplace occupations, which are in any case not on the agenda of Climate Camp or other anti-capitalist/environmental groups.)