Direct action occurs when a group of people, or even a sole representative of that group, take an action which is intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue.The most obvious example of direct action is when workers’ unions call a strike; when one thinks of all the disgruntled employees around, it is surprising they do not happen more often.Historically, a famous example of direct action took place one hundred years ago when Emily Wilding Davison, a Suffragette, was trampled upon by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and died from her injuries four days later. Her fellow suffragettes made her into an international martyr. The more militant arm of the suffragette movement were determined to bring awareness to their cause of votes for women, in whatever way they could. Many were imprisoned and while there went on hunger strike. The governments response was force-feeding. Five years later, women over 30 were granted the right to vote. Would this have been achieved without the direct action of Emily Davison?
In the UK, especially, there seems to be a fear of those who take even non-violent direct action. Whilst nobody can condone terrorism, stunts played out to highlight a cause shouldn’t necessarily be treated as criminal.There are now several organisations in the United Kingdom campaigning for action on climate change; these groups use non-violent direct action but environmental campaigners are nevertheless labelled as extremists by the Ministry of Justice. Similarly,when Trenton Oldfield disrupted last year’s Boat Race in protest at elitism in Britain, he never thought it would lead to prison and deportation but he served time in prison (he was sentenced to six months) and last week the Home Office rejected Oldfield’s application for a spousal visa, declaring his presence here “not conducive to the public good”. Unless his appeal proves successful, after living in the UK for 12 years, he will be deported back to Australia. At the time he was charged with a public order offence which the police later upgraded to the more serious public nuisance. Talking about his potential deportation he says, “”But this would be such a precedent on the criminalisation of protest. Such a precedent of undermining British people’s human rights – the scale would be too much. It wouldn’t be possible. Judges protecting the British way of life just wouldn’t allow it.” Whichever way it goes, I think the message is clear, the Establishment take a dim view of this sort of protest.
Fathers 4 Justice is a fathers’ rights organisation in the United Kingdom which, Since being founded in 2002, has received widespread media coverage, particularly from stunts and protests, often conducted in costume.Stunts have included supporters storming courts dressed in Father Christmas outfits, clapping the Government’s ‘Children’s Minister’ in handcuffs, and most notably group member Jason Hatch climbing onto Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman. They have also protested by handcuffing two government ministers. This week an F4J member glued a picture of his 11 year old son to Constable’s famous painting The Haywain. Two weeks earlier another member threw paint over a picture of the Queen.
Whilst many citizens decry these strategies, they do at least gain some media attention, albeit mainly negative. But if F4J simply lobbied MPs or Trenton Oldfield wrote a letter to the Queen, would anybody have noticed? Does sitting round a table negotiating with one’s ‘enemy’ achieve anything? If you join any of the direct action groups, chances are that you will end up on a watch list.But is there any realistic alternative to direct action? One could argue that the best way is to change things from the inside,become an MP or a councillor and make changes from within.But this really isn’t a credible option for most either. So perhaps standing on the roof of Buckingham Palace in a Batman suit isn’t such a bad idea after all.