I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with many forms of direct action over the years, some with people of faith, but more often with people who simply share a conviction that ‘another world’ is only possible if we use every tool available to make change happen, including direct action.
Here are some key thoughts about direct action from my own experiences:
1) Only do things you are passionate about, and that you know enough about to be able to share the issues involved with complete strangers. A little bit of research really helps with confidence during all forms of activism.
2) If you are new to direct activism attend some NVDA (Non Violent Direct Action) training before getting stuck in. This will let you know what you can and cannot do if you want to feel safe in your action (occupying a shop entrance, laying in a road, chaining yourself to an MP etc…) This also allows you to become part of an ‘affinity group’ - a small group of people who you trust and can communicate well with. You can plan and train with your affinity group well before your action.
3) Never do something that you feel very uncomfortable with. Never get arrested by accident. A criminal record, and even a caution, may have serious employment repercussions later on in life. Conversely, don’t be put off by a robust police presence at events. 99% of direct actions do not involve ‘arrestable’ situations. You can sit in a road for hours before you may be threatened with arrest. When situations arise that may involve being arrested, (Such as the recent XR London campaigns) make sure you have had legal training beforehand, or at least have a ‘Bust Card’ on you with the contact telephone number of a legal team.
4) Be a team player. For any one person who is prepared to be arrested, it normally takes up to 50 people to be ‘allies’: legal observers; cheering supporters; photographers; media liaison folk; pavement chalkers; banner makers; pillow carriers; vegan sandwich makers; note takers; drivers; police station picker uppers. There will always be a role you can play to help make change happen.
5) Always debrief with your friends after an event. Evaluate how it could have gone better and admit to how it made you feel: Angry; empowered; scared: hopeful etc. Look after each other - direct action can be exhausting.
6) Be ready for the long haul. The suffragettes, civil rights movement, LGBT+ rights movement, disability campaigns, independence struggles, animal rights legislation – all took time to get established and the struggle for equality is an ongoing process. Remember that history is on your side, and striving for the kingdom of God is more often like a journey than a quickly arrivable destination.
7) Christian Activists need to pray and read the Bible. Jesus gives lots of examples of direct action, from obvious ones such as upturning tables in the temple against economic injustice, to less obvious ones like silently drawing on the ground prior to preventing a women from being executed (He was de-escalating the violence of the mob). Draw inspiration from Jesus and the early disciples.
May god bless you in your desire to build the reign of God’s peace and love. Remember, however big the problem may feel, ‘with God everything is possible!’ (Matt 19:26)
Chris Howson is Chaplain to the University of Sunderland, and author of ‘A Just Church: 21st Century Liberation Theology in Action’. Contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to come along to the 2019 Liberation Theology Gathering in Sunderland 25th / 26th Oct.