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Nonviolent Direct Actions

Know Your Rights and Risks, and Push Boundaries

Direct Actions can include protest (expressing your dissent), non-cooperation (withdrawing from the problematic system), solutions or alternatives (developing alternatives to problems) and intervention (directly intervening in the way a system functions). While indirect actions, such as voting, rely on others to grant the people their demands, direct action takes the power into the hands of the people to demand change.

Civil Disobedience is when you break a law for a higher reason, or because the law is unjust. Civil Resistance is when you are trying to enforce a law that is being broken by the state. The War Resisters’ International breaks nonviolent direct action into seven principles: choosing means that are consistent with ends, distinguishing between the act and the actor, seeking inclusive solutions, rejecting retaliation and flight, choosing openness, transparency and truthfulness, transforms anger instead of letting anger transform us, exercises power by withdrawing cooperation.

Effective nonviolence direct actions use consensus models in planning, implementing and following up with the action so everyone is in agreement as to what is best for the group. Equalizing power within the group by continually identifying and reckoning with privileges is of upmost importance. Affinity groups are fundamental to the direct action, which comprise of a group of people who have trained together and build bonds together prior to the action, and are willing to risk arrest together (while those in support roles help from the outside when they do go to jail or prison).

Know Your Rights

The safest thing to say to a cop when they are asking you questions is “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.” When you say this, the cops are legally required to stop questioning you, but they most likely will not. You can just keep repeating this line to them. Additionally, do not count on the cops to read you your rights, they usually do not. They are also trained to try to manipulate you, and can legally lie. Do not sign anything without seeing a lawyer first, if you are able. If a cop tries to search you, you should state that you “do not consent to this search,” even if they have a warrant (in case there are issues with the warrant discovered later). It might not stop them, but can get any evidence they find or try to plant on you thrown out in court later. Do not resist if cops try to physically search you, because you could get hurt or charged with assault of a police officer. Keep your hands in view, and do not make sudden movements, move behind a police officer or touch them. However, if you are able, in all interactions with police you should write down their names, badge number and physical descriptions and details from the event.

When Shit Gets Real

While trainings can provide you of possibilities of what will happen when you do a direct action, the actual result depends on the way that the police officers who you interact with feel like handling the situation. If it’s not serious at first, the police may offer you a warning- letting you know to leave or else you will be arrested. If you stay, they may arrest you. While you are being arrested, it is sometimes helpful to repeat “I am not resisting arrest,” thought that sometimes doesn’t help. A number of factors can include “resisting arrest,” including going limp and refusing to comply with all orders. The police will take you into booking, and get your information and assign you an arraignment date. At this point, they may hand you a citation with the court date and tell you to leave, or they may put you in jail. If they put you in jail, you will get a bail hearing, where they will let you know how much it will cost to get out of jail. If you’re unable to pay this, you will stay in jail until the completion of your trial. Next, you can demand a court appointed lawyer, represent yourself or hire your own lawyer. At your arraignment you have the choice to plead guilty, not guilty, or stand mute. Your lawyer can negotiate a deal with the prosecutor and judge for a diversion, probation, community service, fines or jail time.

Next, you have the choice to demand a speedy trail, or reject the speedy trail. This depends entirely on your situation as to which one is better. There could be hearings after this to negotiate your plea, to bring forward new evidence, draw out the process etc. Finally, you will go to trial, which could be with just a judge, or a jury as well. The court will issue a verdict of guilty, not guilty or of a hung jury. And that your fate is sealed and you go with what has been decided. Of course, you can always appeal your conviction in prison if that’s what happens to you, but appeals have a 99% failure rate of changing the verdict.

But Don’t Let That Stop All of You!

Because we live in a white supremacist, patriarchal capitalistic society, certain people receive harsher sentencing than others, and this is why assessing privilege is so important in deciding whether or not to go through with a direct action. White heterosexual US born males are the least likely to suffer severe sentences, and thus they can sometimes “afford” to take much more risks than say an undocumented queer Muslim immigrant from Eritrea. In the end, it’s up to you and what you feel is necessary for your voice to be heard. Let’s make sure we support one another.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” -Martin Luther King

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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