Your feedback is solicited before I publish this as part of my pamphlet, "What Is Direct Action?" Feel free to add to the list of "opportunities" herein. Thanx.

- Mitchel

Introduction to the 2011 edition
We are the 99 percent!
Another World Is Possible


Direct actions involving ordinary people targeting the apparatus of capitalism and globalization are sweeping the globe. The Wall Street Occupation is a hopeful and necessary form of direct action.

Until now, we’ve boxed ourselves in. We’d allowed our own movements to be sidetracked into the electoral arena, on the one hand, and, on the other, into meaningless protests over this or that injustice that neither gets to the root of the issue nor exacts a price from the capitalist system in which we live. We become complicit in our own impotence.

We break out of that by participating in Direct Actions.

For the first time in recent memory, challenges to capitalism itself has been placed onto the historical agenda. Think of the opportunities:

- Wall Street bankers receive bailouts to the tune of trillions of dollars while homeowners and renters receive no bailouts and are evicted from their housing.

- Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, while those profiting from those wars go unscathed.

- Politicians are afforded the finest health care and retirement packages, while they vote to cut health care and social security for the rest of us.

- The government cuts taxes for the rich, and increases taxes and the cost of social services (hidden taxes) while reducing services for lower and middle-income people.

- Students are up to their ears in debt, which has been part of a strategy by those running the capitalist system for the past 20 yeas as a means of avoiding raising wages by extending access to credit (at exhorbitant interest, that sends the entire working class into enormous debt) to most working class people to fill in the difference.

- Oil companies create the greatest environmental catastrophes in modern times and the government subsidizes them and provides huge tax abatements to other corporations while thousands of working class people lose their jobs and homes.

- The earth itself is being ravaged in a vast orgy of accumulation of wealth by a few, while the rest of us have no say over economic policies.

Appeals to the morality or consciousness of those in power are futile. They know exactly what they are doing and in whose interests they are doing it. All of these are life-changing issues. And all are ripe for Direct Action.

So, what is "Direct Action"? Direct Action is not simply an aggressive street tactic; it's a way of organizing ourselves and our relationships that pre­figures the new society we hope to create. At the same time, the direct action movement strives to win real victories in the here-and-now. So, Direct Action is both a tactic for winning immediate goals as well as a strategy for societal transformation, which means that we must take a much more "future focused" view of how things change and our role in bringing change about. These different aspects of Direct Action often conflict with each other and play havoc with our movements.

How are we to resolve the contradictory pulls between direct action as a militant street tactic and direct action as strategy that prefigures a future worth living in?

We are not free to pick and choose the one or the other like hot and cold sausages from the supermarket counter of history, in Rosa Luxemburg’s salient phrase (no offense intended to vegetarians in using the meat metaphor). Not ANY new world is possible. The "realm of freedom" is delimited by what we are trying to accomplish; if we are trying to accomplish contradictory goals our movement pays the chaotic price. The kinds of structures we build are driven by how we view our "mission." That "mission" in turn narrows and shapes the kinds of organizations we need as well as our ability to create them.

I published an early draft of this essay in 1981, then called "Turning Motion Into Movement." Though it has gone through many revisions its basic thrust remains unchanged. Upsweeps in mass resistance to the structural adjustment programs of neo-Liberalism (which have nothing to do, actually, with "liberal" views, per se), the successful anti-apartheid struggles of the mid-1980s, the women's liberation, ACT UP and ecology movements each provided new tactics, new possibilities. ("What Is Direct Action?" spawned a separate pamphlet focusing on logistical tips for activists in those movements, which I am updating for today’s Occupy Wall Street movement. It should be ready shortly.)

Then, in 1987, the Network of Alternative Student press convened a gathering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. I was asked to deliver "What Is Direct Action?" as the keynote address, along with Jeff Cohen of FAIR and Robert Knight of WBAI, and copies of that speech began finding their way through the Alternative Student Press network to campuses across the country.

In more recent years, mass direct actions have followed the "leaders" of the world capitalist economy wherever they met: Seattle (November 1999), Davos Switzerland (Feb. 2000 and again in 2003), Boston (anti-genetic en­gin­eering mass uprising in March, 2000), Washington DC (April 16, 2000), Prague, Czechoslovakia (September, 2000), the Republican and Democratic Party national conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Summer, 2000), Gotenberg (Sweden), and Canada at the Organization of American States meeting, the Oil Congress in Calgary, against the G-8 meeting in Quebec City, and in Victoria, where activists forced NATO to find a different venue for their big meeting in October 2001.

But the “anti-globalization” movement (and when I use the word “globalization,” I mean “globalization of capital,” also known as “Neo-liberalism”) did not start in Seattle. The fights against the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment policies took their earliest and most consistent shapes in the form of mass rebellions in Africa, Latin America and Southern Asia beginning in the late 1970s. Seattle was, in a sense, a continuation of that movement, a bringing of that war into the urban centers of the empire.

Our movements are crucially important for creating a living alternative to the globalization of capital and the exploitation and expropriation that comes in its wake. But they also provide the State apparatus with a giant laboratory of activists in which to test its latest weapons of war, police configurations, nerve gases and more effective methods of repression.

During the Seattle protests, I saw new weapons utilizing light beams (lasers?) to destabilize people and knock them off balance. (Would carrying small mirrors or giant mylar sheets protect us from those beams, and reflect the new weapons back on the forces using them?) Neurotoxins were mixed into teargas and mace -- the same neurological gases sprayed indiscriminately over New York and, indeed, the entire Eastern sea­board to combat the non-existent West Nile viral “epidemic” a few months earlier. Social protest movements are met with increasingly updated mechanisms of repression. We are trapped in a death tango with the police state – our increasing numbers, their increasing technology.

How can we minimize their power and provide our movements with the greatest advantage? This essay wrestles with such questions. It asks “What is Direct Action?” and “How do we structure our actions, and our organizations, to bring about basic social and economic transformation despite the State's bent on repressing such movements – and to do so without betraying our moral principles?” As this is a living, ever-changing document, your feedback is requested.

Mitchel Cohen
October, 2011

Ring the bells that still can ring,  Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in. 
~ Leonard Cohen