Why Direct Action?


On January 8, the day after tomorrow, my codefendants and I will be arraigned in federal court in Sacramento, 501 I Street, for trespassing onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base in October as a protest against U.S. drone warfare.  A legal team has been assembled to defend our actions in light of our claims that the drone program violates international law.

Our hope is that our action at Beale and the subsequent trial will help shed light on an issue that has been shrouded in secrecy, and expose the false statements that have been used to justify the program.  Supporters are invited to gather with us at 8 a.m. for a rally and press conference, followed by courtroom solidarity during our arraignment, which begins at 9. Go to the Occupy Beale website to find out more about the case and about other events scheduled later that day.

As this case develops, I’ll be writing more about the harm done by drone program itself:  about civilian deaths, including the deaths of children and rescue workers; about the widespread accessibility of drones and the dangers of a drone arms race; about the use of drones for surveillance against people within the United States; about the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. strategy to “dominate the earth from space in the 21st century.”  All of these issues and more contributed to my feeling that it was necessary for me to take strong action.

Today, though, I want to talk about why I found it necessary to go so far as to break the law by crossing the line onto federal property in order to make my point in this matter.  Why not just speak out, hold signs, write letters to the editor, visit our congressional representatives?  Why nonviolent direct action?  I answer by quoting from a chapter in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

Nonviolent direct action is an effective and viable form of active democracy. Many may prefer to take a less confrontational role, hoping that social change will come about gradually through education, negotiation, and advocacy. I have become convinced that there is nothing like nonviolent direct action to boost these very necessary activities to a whole new level of effectiveness. Disciplined, creative actions of nonviolent resistance have the potential to reveal the bankruptcy of the current system that dominates the earth, to awaken conscience, kindle hope, and demonstrate freedom and creativity.

Civil-rights-movement leaders recognized that calls for incremental change often merely stalled real progress and reinforced the status quo. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “You may well ask, ‘why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

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