Non-Violent Direct Action


We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In essence, people turn to nonviolent direct action after the institutionalized ways of settling disagreements are unsuccessful. The methods of nonviolent action lie outside institutionalized behavior. In using these methods people either:

  1. do the unexpected or forbidden (demanding coffee at a segregated lunch counter) or
  2. refuse to do what the expected or required(like refusing to pay taxes to the British for tea).

Taken from The Power of NonViolent Direct Action

Planning your own actions:

Before planning, build relationships amongst participants. Creating trust and common experience amongst participants can really help on the ground when out on a demonstration. Develop agreed upon principles, language, culture, etc. (There are several examples in above document)

The four phases of putting together an action are: Planning, Preparation, Day Of and Follow Up.


Direct Action Strategy: Ask important questions like, What are your goals both long term and short term? Your audience? Effective timing? Decision makers? Resources?


Action Organizing steps for planning include developing a media plan, figuring out which site is most strategic, reaching out to media, thinking about props and visuals and what image you want to create, and considering where and how debriefing can occur.

Day Of:

Actions Checklist

Follow Up:

Give space for participants to debrief their experience for their own personal wellness. Also, debrief strategy. Implement whatever follow up pressure on the target or on the press you decided ahead of time.

All lists above taken from

Participating in other Actions

“Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to raise your voice louder than those already speaking. As white people, we are privileged because we already have platforms to speak out. Our role here is to be supportive, [to] offer support to the powerful black voices that are speaking out.” Rachel Scarlett, white BLM protestor

Be Informed: Make sure you know what the goals of the particular event are. Make sure you know what the agreed upon rules of communication and action are. Know who is the media contact.

Follow the Leadership: You are not the organizer. Support where and how you are called to support by the leadership. Resist the urge to suggest or take over. Do not deviate from the message or the agreed upon norms. Do not lead chants. Or try to police others’ emotions.

Take Up Your Space and Only Your Space: Similar to above, take up the amount of space emotionally, physically, etc. that is asked of you. That being said, this might mean you not waiting to be asked to put your white body or your voice in a position to protect people of color.

Decenter Whiteness: If a reporter asks to interview, point them towards the appointed media person or towards other POC leadership. Try to let the visual image be of those who have been organizing and acting. In other words, take a back seat.

Here are some more tips that you can use as well.

Being Prepared for All Scenarios

Some actions might turn violent or the goal of an action might actually be to get arrested. So make sure that you are prepared.

Beforehand, make sure that:

  • you have been trained in non-violent direct action in the face of violent reaction and know what the organizers expect from you.
  • you know of any potential laws that you might be breaking as part of civil disobedience.
  • you have a point person who will make calls for you in the event of an arrest to arrange bail, call your boss/loved ones, etc. Write that person’s number on your person or memorize it.
  • you have legal counsel lined up and that they know what your wishes are about being bailed out, etc.
  • you know your rights.

On the day, make sure that:

Afterward, make sure that if you are arrested:

  • you stay silent. “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.”
    • Police should stop questioning you when you ask for a lawyer.
    • This does not include booking questions, like date of birth, address, etc.
    • Do not even talk about what happened while in the holding cell with other people.
    • Your talking can incriminate yourself and others.
  • If you believe that your rights may have been violated, write a detailed account of what happened, take pictures of any injuries or evidence, and contact your lawyer or the ACLU.
  • you check in with others afterwards in order to debrief and lend support to one another.