Frederick Douglass: Weatherman
The nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass perhaps summed up the philosophy of direct action best: "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."
Two recent movements that have decided to thunder and plow the ground are the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Both groups are committed to direct action. They don't believe the earth or the animals who share the planet with us "belong" to anyone; nor that the earth or animals are our "property." So they break into and/or destroy private property, either covertly or overtly, and rescue animals from mink farms or labs, or they burn down ski resorts or other places that contribute to environmental destruction. Although their rhetoric may seem violent to some, those who subscribe to the ALF and ELF philosophy don't believe in physically harming any being, including humans.
Terrorists or Freedom Fighters
and Free the Animals
(now released in a twentieth-anniversary edition) profile the philosophy and lives of the loose group of individuals who form the ALF. In articles that cover philosophy, social science, personal stories, manifestos, and critiques, Terrorists
explores the ALF's roots in the abolitionist, civil rights, and suffragist movements and provides an overview of how and why the ALF came to be viewed as a significant terrorist threat after September 11, 2001. Free the Animals
by Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is the fast-paced and novelistic story of how one woman learned of what some people do to animals and decided to take the law into her own hands and do something to stop it.
Like the ALF, the ELF is a group of ad-hoc activists who have no infrastructure other than a shared set of values, although informers have been used to catch individuals who have undertaken ELF actions. This non-structure also makes any spokesperson for them an obvious target for law enforcement. Such a person was Craig Rosebraugh. In Burning Rage of a Dying Planet
, Craig talks about how he, almost by accident, became the spokesperson for the radical group, and how as the ELF's public face he was subjected to FBI harassment and Congressional inquiry. He also explains why he stopped being the spokesman, and what the future holds for radical direct action in the US.
The response from the federal government to the ALF and ELF has been, to put it mildly, robust
. Since the mid-1990s, ever more draconion legislation has been sought and passed—punishing individuals who've hurt noone (human or otherwise), weren't found guilty of playing any role in the supposed crimes with long prison sentences, and now (with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) labeling them "terrorists," with the punishments and sentences that the word brings with it. In Muzzling a Movement
, lawyer Dara Lovitz examines the history of the AETA and how it came to be passed. She explores its constitutionality (or lack thereof) and lays out a vision of direct action that is at once sobering and affirming.
Not surprisingly, the harsh sentences meted out to animal advocates have reconfigured what it means to be engaged in "direct action." In Aftershock
, pattrice jones explores the psychological
consequences for activists of this new dispensation, and further how society as a whole is traumatized in the wake of 9/11's exploitation of fear and anger.
Whatever your view of the strategic goals or rhetoric of direct action, these books offer an essential overview of the intellectual background, activities, and justifications for two important contemporary social movements.