Direct action refers to protests that seek to change material conditions directly rather than through governmental politics, which are perceived to have failed or to have been inadequate. It can take many forms, from the non-violent civil disobedience advocated by Gandhi, in order to attract attention and put pressure on those in power, to using your own body as a means of protest. In the early 1900s, the suffragettes' famously protested by chaining themselves to railings, disrupting public meetings and damaging public property. Direct action has in fact been a valuable method of protest in many social movements and struggles, including the trade union movement and more recently the alter-globalisation movement, which is self-organised in nature and has grown into a global network of grassroots groups who have created transversal links through shared goals and a desire for a different politics.
From a specifically urban point of view squatting is a form of direct action that takes over disused buildings in order to put them to use, whilst movements such as Reclaim the Streets have temporarily transformed the urban environment in order to promote ideas of community ownership of public space over the privatisation and commodification of spaces such as those found in the City of London. The artist and activist John Jordan was a co-founder of Reclaim the Streets and has also worked with the social art group Platform as well as setting up the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army and more recently the Camp for Climate Action. Jordan brings a creative approach to direct action, bringing together artistic modes with a socially engaged politics. Through organising events and working with social movements he uses art as a way of transforming social and spatial relations and not just representing them.
'Camp for Climate Action', http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/ [accessed 12 July 2010].
'PLATFORM London', http://www.platformlondon.org/ [accessed 12 July 2010].
'Reclaim the Streets!', http://rts.gn.apc.org/ [accessed 12 July 2010].
'The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army', http://www.clownarmy.org/ [accessed
12 July 2010].
John Jordan with Ariadna Aston, 'Think like a Forest, Act like a Meadow', field: 3 (1) (2009): 23-33; http://www.field-journal.org/index.php?page=issue-3
Martin Parker, Valérie Fournier, and Patrick Reedy, The Dictionary of Alternatives: Utopianism and Organization (London & New York: Zed Books, 2007).
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