Nonviolent Direct Action Training 101 Resources

UUYACJ logoCheck out this list of resources from a nonviolent direct action training, led by Amelia Diehl of Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice Network, at this past weekend’s spring seminar, hosted by the UU-United Nations Office. Please note: this training in intended to be introductory, and inspire you to learn more as you deepen your journey. Successful direct action campaigns are planned over several months, even years, with a trusted group of people, and should not be taken lightly. The UUYACJ Network is happy to be a resource for folks hoping to learn more; reach out to uuyacj@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Key questions to plan a campaign

  • What is your sphere of influence? You can’t tackle the entire climate crisis at once – what is one tangible site of change where you can have an impact?
  • Who are your allies? Who else is already doing similar work? Who might be sympathetic to your cause? Can you build a coalition?
  • What vision of justice guides your work? What are you fighting for?
  • Who is your target? Your target should be an actual person who has the power to make a key decision.
  • What is your demand? Your demand should be as specific as possible, and measurable.
  • What is your strategy? Strategy is the
  • What tactics will help you reach your goals? Tactics are specific actions.
  • How can you practice self care and community care to sustain yourself for the long haul?

What is direct action?

Direct action is an action that stops, interrupts or replaces something that is unjust or unfair. It can happen at a site of decision, extraction, production or consumption. Campaigns are waged over time, and might use different tactics as they escalate. Higher risk, and potentially arrestable direct action will come later in a campaign, after a group tries traditional negotiation tactics. Higher risk actions are planned over several months, even years, and should only be taken when you ensure you have the proper resources and plan to keep you safe. While we need as many people as possible to take action, the most effective actions are often taken in affinity groups, or small groups of people who train together over an extended period of time, and build the kind of trust needed to take risks. The Climate Disobedience Center calls them “praxis groups” and invites you to sign up to join a group! 

Movement Ecology & Theories of Change

Many different groups, from national nonprofits to local grassroots groups, are taking action for climate justice in different ways- when we take action, we are part of a movement ecology. Each has their own theory of change, or analysis of the climate crisis and how to create solutions, but we all influence and support each other. For example, some might target corporations calling for divestment; some might target politicians to create legislation; others will focus on creating community gardens and food justice. Climate justice is an intersectional issue, and we need an intersectional analysis to win.

Just Transition

As the Green New Deal gains momentum, it is important to engage in the nuances of this growing conversation; many frontline groups are concerned the GND, which depends on governmental action, would be a false solution. (Read the Climate Justice Alliance’s statement on the GND.) Most frontline groups align around a just transition, which means transforming our entire culture away from extractive, predatory capitalism to decolonized, regenerative economies and structures. As Movement Generation outlines, “transition is inevitable; justice is not.” We have the solutions: it’s up to us to uplift frontline communities and make anti-oppression central to our work.

Examples of direct action:

  • Spiritually grounded protest against the Spectra gas pipeline

On May 25, 2016, eight UU ministers were among a group of sixteen religious leaders arrested in Boston in an act of civil disobedience against the West Roxbury fracked gas pipeline, owned by Spectra Energy. Read the UU World article here.

  • Valve Turners

On October 11, 2016, UU Leonard Higgins and four other climate activists, known as “The Valve Turners”, shut down the safety valves of five pipelines carrying tar sands oil from Canada into the US. The action disrupted 15% of total US crude oil imports that day. Follow updates on the trial and the growing movement here.

  • Singing walkout at the 2017 United Nations climate talks

While at the United Nations climate talks held in Bonn in November 2017, Amelia Diehl was part of a youth delegation with SustainUS. Singing a rewritten version of “God Bless America,” to call for climate justice, the group organized youth leaders from around the world to disrupt a panel of US fossil fuel executives with the song and a walkout. Watch the video here.

Other useful resources

Movement Generation

Center for Story Based Strategy

Ruckus Society’s direct action resources

Rising Tide North America’s compiled resources

Climate Disobedience Center

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown & the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute

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