Finding The Modern Revolutionaries
In my eyes, the modern social agitator with the best reward to effort ratio is the practitioner of high risk nonviolent direct action. Nonviolence and high risk are self-explanatory. Direct action is changing something without official permission. What the practitioner changes is strategy and issue based. In the North Dakota NODAPL actions, the water protectors will attach themselves to the heavy equipment used to lay the pipeline. In more traditional anti-corporate campaigns direct action can be blockading an office or bank. At its most local direct action can be fixing a pothole or breaking somebody out of confinement. NVDA is successful when it disincentivizes or stops the target behavior, or solves the problem. NVDA is especially successful if the target behavior is dealt with and nobody gets arrested or hurt. But it is effective.
Research by Erica Chenoweth found that the use of nonviolent civil resistance has historically been the most effective form of action to win lasting change in society. Her research looked at the tactics used by revolutionary movements and the lasting impacts of the movement and found that revolutionary movements that embrace violence are less likely to succeed in stopping a tyrannical government and when they do succeed, create less stable societies.
So we’re in a revolutionary landscape where NVDA is statistically the best tool of movements for social change, however, I believe that there aren’t enough people engaging in high risk activities to get the attention of the people in power.
In an auction room in 2008 the Bureau of Land Management had put almost 116 parcels of public land up for bidding. The majority of the leases would later be cancelled after a review by the Department of the Interior but in the moment the actions of one man saved the land. Tim DeChristopher bid on and won as much of the land as he could before being arrested and removed from the auction. He won the bidding for 14 of the parcels at $1.8 million. When his case went to trial it didn’t matter that a fundraising effort raised the funds to buy the land or that the auction itself had been illegal. DeChristopher was sentenced to 21 months in jail. His actions, taken with the knowledge of the risks, were brave.
The Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front are two controversial organizations that specialize in high risk direct actions with the intention of not getting caught. Their strategies are controversial even among NVDA practitioners because they often involve the threat of violence. ALF and ELF actions are often designed to target particularily egregious industries and institutions who they see as violating the earth or animal rights. The ELF will vandalize or burn a heavily polluting factory, or the ALF will release animals from research laboratories or factory farms. When their actors get caught they often face significant sentences such as Kevin Olliff who received 2.5 years in 2015 for being caught with a wirecutter which prosecutors claimed he would use to raid a fox farm.
Daniel McGowan spent 5 and a half years in an experimental facility designed to limit inmates communication. He later learned that his special incarceration was prompted by his political speech and he has entered a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons related to the punishment. He took part in setting two fires in lumber factories and served 7 years with parole. People can argue against the strategies employed by the respective liberation fronts but I believe that their causes are just and they’re using their aggressive actions to express disgust at industries whose practices should elicit disgust from all of us; factory farming, animal cruelty, and environmental destruction, all for profit.
There was a time when shaming a government or industry into stopping a disgusting practice was practically impossible. It was a time when it was easier to kill people and almost impossible for news to spread around the world quickly. In that time violence was the only way to stop something from happening because those who stand to gain from something despicable will rarely listen to reasonable arguments why they shouldn’t do it. Gandhi once said that if a person kills him he won’t have his submission, he’ll just have his body. That person would still have his body though, and the inanimate are a lot more compliant. But in the age of global communication Nonviolent Direct Action is far more powerful of a tool.
The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have proven that, through NVDA and without the appropriate attention of news media they have been able to wage a months long peaceful battle against the entire corporate and martial force at the whim of Energy Transfer Partners and their investors. They have also found that there are people ready to take risks in solidarity. We need to harness this knowledge though. We need to become ungovernable. We need to have millions of people ready to engage in coordinated high risk nonviolent direct actions. With rates of inequality in the USA at record high levels, with a resurgence of nationalistic politics, and with an atmosphere already passed the tipping point of 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere we need millions of people ready to engage on the battle lines of the future or the humanity that we know might not have much of a future.