Pacifism - Nonviolent direct action



From World War I on, a core of pacifists supported domestic reform programs as a concomitant of cultivating labor and reform constituencies for peace. Increasingly, they developed techniques of nonviolent direct action (often modeled on the example of Mohandas Gandhi) that they employed on behalf of labor and especially in the civil rights struggle. Thus, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1942) was nourished by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. By the time of the Reverend Martin Luther King's campaign to desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama (1955–1956), a few pacifists had considerable experience with these forms of protest. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, and War Resisters' League played an active role in the early civil rights movement about the same time that the core of radical pacifists in the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action employed civil disobedience in the testban campaign. Accordingly, nonviolent direct action was a ready tool in the pacifist repertoire during the Vietnam War.

The technique took many forms: it involved returning or burning draft cards, trespassing, blocking arms shipments and troop trains, or otherwise challenging authority. On occasion it meant defiling or destroying draft records or providing sanctuary for draft resisters. It was street theater, designed to dramatize the tragedy and moral turpitude that pacifists attached to the war. Occasionally, direct action was applied violently by nonpacifists, and then it was counterproductive.

It was again applied in the 1980s campaign against nuclear weapons, notably in the actions of the Berrigans' Plowshares group, which aimed to defile or destroy missile components, or of Women's Pentagon Action. By that time the technique had become widely, even legally, accepted as a viable form of public protest. It found expression in the last decade of the twentieth century as a form of protest against economic globalism, where it appears to have inclined governments to be more discreet if not more responsive to protest.



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