What follows are my notes for a presentation/discussion on Direct Action: Means and Ends. The other person presenting was Ann Hansen, the author of Direct Action. Both of us were involved in the opposition to the cruise missile in the 1980s. This presentation took place in May, 2002.
There was an excellent discussion following our presentation. Explorations of violent and non-violent struggle and resistance is important. OPIRG McMaster deserves credit for having putting this event together.
MEANS AND ENDS—Litton and Beyond
The Cruise Missile Conversion Project predated the Alliance for Non-violent Action. It was one of the groups that came together to form The Great Lakes Coalition Against the Cruise, which ultimately became ANVA. This is important to remember, I think, because before there was an international direct action network re-established, people were working on common concerns with a common understanding of the value of direct action, non-violence and grassroots organization.
CMCP’s focus for its decade+ struggle was not solely to stop the development of the inertial guidance system at Litton Industries. Rather, it wanted the factory to be converted to peaceful production. This campaign involved a wide range of efforts, from establishing a trust fund to support workers who as a matter of conscience quit working for Litton, stock-holder actions, vigils, petitions, marches, assisting in union organising drives, symbolic resistance and direct action. Symbolic resistance included occupying the employment offices of Litton and pouring blood on the building or roadways leading up to Litton. Direct Action involved stopping the actual production process by making it impossible for anyone to enter or leave the property—the specific objective of the mass actions at Litton Industries.
People, as a result of participating in these efforts were assaulted by police, jailed, had punitive restrictions on association levied against them, were fired from their jobs, were labelled terrorists (even before the Direct Action bombing) and treated with a mixture of admiration and contempt by the established peace movement.
After the bombing our homes and offices were raided, our phones were tapped, we were followed, kidnapped by police, our friends and families were subjected to harassment, many allies of CMCP stopped supporting its efforts believing that it was inappropriate after an act of terrorism to continue the campaign, intimidating charges were laid and the police and crown worked hard to convince the courts and politicians that non-violent direct action was indeed terrorist. The discovery of a file of minutes of The Direct Action Collective of CMCP was seriously claimed to be evidence of a link between Direct Action and the peace movement.
The period covered in Ann Hansen’s book Direct Action was an interesting and exciting period. It really was a time when revolution was openly talked about. Around the world, from Nicaragua to South Africa, there were struggles that both advocates of non-violence and supporters of armed resistance were drawing hope and inspiration from. The World Council of Churches was actively supporting resistance throughout Africa and Latin America. Liberation Theology was a dynamic impetus for social change. Anarchist and feminist methods of organization were being tested and found to work even in the midst of massive actions and police oppression at places like Seabrook and Livermore.
Since we were, or felt we were, in potentially revolutionary times, means and ends were not merely a theoretically discussion. Involvement in radical social change efforts that are successfully is not focused merely on the here and now but on the long term. And the stream of social change I was drawn to did feel very strongly that our efforts and actions had to actually contain within them the seeds of the new society we were trying to bring to birth. That does restrain the range of options for resistance. We can not, with this ideal in mind, ultimately take actions that reflect the world and views we oppose.
This was very clear with the CMCP campaign. It was not about stopping the production of one component of one weapon’s system. It was about changing the very essence of militaristic, capitalist production. It was about transformation and conversion of resources used for destruction to use for life enhancing purposes. And tactics that were used and considered had to take this very seriously. Twice a week for over a decade, for example, workers at Litton Industries were greeted by individuals handing out leaflets to them explaining the nature of the campaign, raising options, asking for questions and feedback—in short, treating our opponents with respect while persistently stating an opposition to the system they were a part of. Local churches, community organizations, business associations and others were contacted and speakers were made available to explain why we thought
conversion was a good thing. Mainstream political efforts were undertaken to try and make the issue of military production and Canadian taxpayer’s subsidization of militarism a matter of public debate. Through symbolic efforts, such as the church leaders who undertook a Lenten Vigil outside the gates of Litton, alternative visions were expressed. And through effective, non-violent blockades production was brought to a halt on at least two occasions—showing both that there was wide opposition to production of components of the air launched cruise missiles and that such production could only occur with our silent complicity. Publications dealing with issues such as the economics of conversion were developed and circulated. It was an encompassing, diverse and decentralized campaign—with a structure of working groups, working by consensus; affinity groups; larger gatherings both local and regional that again worked by consensus to come to a common understanding of the goals, tactics, strategies and objectives of the project. It was an effort in the here and now to practice and develop with the ideals of revolutionary community integrated with a focused initiative.
And then, in the midst of this work, a bomb went off and our world changed. My minor involvement with non-violence was seen by the police as the equivalent of terrorism. From notices of interception—required to be issued whenever a court ordered wire tape ends—to assaults in custody to being picked up off the street by police to dozens of harassing charges, the powers-that-be made it very clear that they ultimately make no distinction between non-violent direct action and any other expression of militant opposition.
Tangentially, we have watched the courts deal with various ploughshares initiatives in a very diverse fashion. Sometimes directly destroying methods of destruction results in severe jail time. On occasion, the same actions can result in an acquittal. This should, I think, be kept in mind when considering the legal consequences of any form of direct action. A slight shift in the political winds and my actions, instead of resulting in a few days in custody, could result in years in jail. This is happening in the U.S. and England and could easily happen here.
So this is in my mind when I think about means and ends.
It can’t be the law or the state that determines what is a right action, a right approach to revolutionary social change. It is ourselves. And because it is ourselves, individually and collectively, we have to be very careful in our approaches because the ramifications can be felt far beyond those participating in the actions. Our friends and families can become the target of social ostracism and police harassment, a minimal consequence. People can die. A maximum consequence. And while the former consequences can be lived through, understood and healed, the later can’t. And a movement that includes an acceptance of the death, of violence towards opponents, is ultimately a movement that reinforces the violence and injustices a truly revolutionary effort wishes to overcome.
And I do think that the use of violence in political struggle is not a sign of hope but a sign ultimately of despair. Non-violence is rooted in both hope and life. If one has no confidence that people will change, that institutions will be transformed, that an evil can be halted, then tactics will be considered that would not otherwise be easily accepted. We then start to express, in many ways, the same demonising and focused anger that has been heard to justify bombing Iraq, the revenge war after September 11th, the attacks on the democratic socialist movements of Chile or the resistance struggles in South Africa or First Nations efforts in Canada. We recreate, in our resistance, the type of world we are opposed to. The leaders can then be changed, but the system continues.
Or we can, in our organising structures and tactics, practice in the current time the skills and values we ultimately want society to be based upon. If we want a world where violence is not a constant, we need to create bubbles of non-violence than can grow into spheres of non-violence. If we want a open and egalitarian social order, then our structures should express these values. We dissent openly, not conspiratorially. Our existence becomes a revolutionary expression even if the particular campaign does not ultimately produce a victory.
As a reminder, though, in the event that these sounds like a harsh critique
of Ann Hansen and the other participants in Direct Action—their actions have
caused much less harm than the components prepared at the Litton plant.
The air launched cruise missile was used in the Gulf War. Hospitals and
schools were destroyed by these missiles. They have been used in most
U.S. and Canadian military campaigns since then. Whatever violence
that came as a result of the Direct Action campaign does pale when compared
to the violence of the state. In the words ascribed to Mahatma Ghandi,
“Given the choice of picking up the gun or being a coward, of course you
pick up the gun.”
This does not mean, to me, that violence is a positive expression of dissent
any more than Ghandi was an advocate of armed resistance against the
English. But it does mean that there has to be acknowledgement of the
where the greater violence and power really lies.