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Direct action refers to political activism which is intended to immediately make a difference in a situation, through a variety of means. Unlike indirect action such as participating in elections, direct action often has an immediate impact through obstructing planned activities or business practices, and it also publicizes the issue at hand. There are numerous ways to engage in direct action, ranging from legal demonstrations to illegal sabotage. Activists of all ages participate in direct action of various forms.
The concept of direct action has been around for quite some time, but it really began to take off at the turn of the 20th century, when it was adopted by the labor movement. Labor activists participated in strikes for more rights, sabotaged companies who were abusive to workers, and tried to educate the general public through marches and demonstrations. Other political movements carried on the tradition of direction action; the civil rights movement, women's rights movement, and environmental movement, for example, all use direct action as part of their strategy.
There are a number of different forms of direct action. Nonviolent direct action such as sit-ins, peaceful strikes, and permitted protests is quite popular, and embraced by a number of political movements. Organizations which use nonviolent direct action as a mode of expression believe that peaceful demonstration is an excellent way to present themselves as rational groups with valid concerns. Nonviolent direct action is also less alienating than more destructive forms, which encourages people to join the organization and participate in its activities.
Sabotage, vandalism, guerrilla warfare, and squatting are also forms of direct action. In these cases, the direct action is usually illegal, and almost always destructive in some form or another. Often, the destruction is to property alone, and some groups which participate in things like sabotage argue that they should be classified as non-violent because they do not harm people or animals. Groups which participate in more radical forms of direct action are often anarchist in nature, and they may have a focus on overthrowing conventional social beliefs and governments.
Participating in direct action is intended to accomplish several things. In the first sense, direct action encourages people to think about the world, possibly reforming practices such as buying goods made by companies which use child labor. In the second sense, direct action may create an immediate change in how a government is run, or how companies do business. In all cases, direct action is supposed to have a lasting impact while converting people to the cause.