Direct action

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Direct action is a form of protesting / civil resistance characterized by actions that place pressure on those in positions of power to respond to fulfill a set of demands; die-ins, strikes, sit-ins, blockades, vigils, boycotts, teach-ins, lobbying, etc. - George Lakey & the Global Nonviolent Action Database, adapted by Michelle Xie [1]

"Direct action is a category of activism in which participants act directly, ignoring established (or institutionalized) political and social procedure." -The Direct Action Movement [2]

Direct action "interrupts business-as-usual, seizes leadership, and introduces an alternative narrative." -Beautiful Trouble [3]

Is direct action the same as civil disobedience?

Direct actions may sometimes fall into a form of civil disobedience, which may involve a degree of intentional law-breaking (peaceful or not) where persons place themselves in arrestable situations to make a political statement. [4] Direct action can be nonviolent and/or violent, and individuals participating may have different ideas of what is considered 'violent' (i.e. some may consider intentionally damaging private property to be violent, while others may conclude this cannot be compared to the violence faced by those protesting). Direct action has historically been an effective tactic employed by social movements (i.e. the Civil rights movement, LGBTQIAS+ right movement etc).

Direct action at its core is about power. "One way of thinking about power is that there are two kinds: organized money and organized people. We don’t have billions of dollars to buy politicians and governments, but with direct action, organized people spend a different currency: we leverage risk. We leverage our freedom, our comfort, our privilege or our safety." -Beautiful Trouble [5]

Examples of direct actions held in so-called Canada


  • The Fairy Creek blockades to protect the old growth trees in so-called British Columbia, on Pacheedaht Nation territory (also employed 'tree-sits' in their direct action)
  • Human or structural blockades between police and houseless people in encampments, to protest the encampment eviction, lack of shelter space and housing for all.
  • Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands defense blockades in so-called Quebec, to protect a sacred burial ground and a sacred area.  

For more on blockades, including tips, risks and more examples, see Beautiful Trouble's write up.


  • University student sit-ins, whether in university centres, board member's offices, meeting spaces etc., to pressure their universities to divest from fossil fuels.
  • Student strikes which often target municipal, provincial and/or the federal government, are raising the alarm for climate action.
  • Occupy marches were held across so-called Canada to protest corporate greed and financial inequality
  • 2012 Quebec student strikes to protest increasing tuition fees

For more on strikes, in particular general strikes including tips, risks and examples, see Beautiful Trouble's write up.

For those unable to engage in direct action, support is critical for the success of those that participate in direct action. Support can look like fundraising, technical support, media engagement, social media presence, upskilling and so much more. 

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