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A Manual for a New Era of Direct Action


A Manual for a New Era of Direct Action

George Lakey

Movement manuals can be useful. Marty Oppenheimer and I found that out in 1964 when civil rights leaders were too busy to write a manual but wanted one. We wrote “A Manual for Direct Action” just in time for Mississippi Freedom Summer. Bayard Rustin wrote the forward. Some organizers in the South told me jokingly that it was their “first aid handbook — what to do until Dr. King comes.” It was also picked up by the growing movement against the Vietnam War.


Geez enough of your book promotion please. Once was enough! Were you our leader back then? You sound like you were but gee the Civil Rights movement succeeded without your telling people what to do. The anti war movement, the women’s movement etc. Give people their own due! The world took the example of the civil rights movement in America? That came first! Odd that your manual was up in a rarefied atmosphere where the vast majority of participants in the sit ins and protests read it but the student anti war protesters didn’t.

Prof. you certainly earned honors as a participant in Civil Rights but frankly you present yourself as having all the answers back then and now. It didn’t happen that way back then. Nobody knew what was coming.

You keep promoting your book as a teaching aid but you don’t offer that aid in these two articles. You make an advertisement - buy your book - to find out. Okay once was enough. We got that message. Buy your book. Thanks. Others of an age, I am not as old as you just old, remember how it was and it was not nearly so neat and tidy. People died and people’s lives were ruined too. My point is that in an age of assassinations, no manual for direct action, created the response that came from the heart from all of us. If some organizers found your book useful, that’s great but if you want credit then give credit where it is due.

It was an age of assassinations. Kent State and Jackson State, Chicago and the piece riot, by the time they were first protesting the draft at Columbia or the student protests in France, the anti war movement would go its own way. The courageous non violence of the Civil Rights movement was an example but there were differences between the two. God bless you if your manual helped them back then. I’m guessing that is what many organizers of non violent protests were always trying to get us to pay attention to. It would come in time but things like the Chicago convention had to happen first!


I am a practitioner of non violence these many decades but it was different back then in the antiwar movement. We all admired the sheer courage of the non violent protesters in the Civil Rights marches and sit ins but it was different for us. By the time the antiwar part of the Sixties came into prominence, it was already an age of assassinations. It was student protest/riots in France, it was Kent State and Jackson State, it was the Panthers, it was the televised police riots at the Chicago Convention, it was people fleeing to Canada, some never to return, it was all about non violence for some of us but not for all of us. It was a different time, a different era separated by only a few short years but a very big gulf in between.

We came to non violence by virtue of identifying with it and opposing the inherent violence of war. Oppose the war/ oppose violence! But it took a few years!

Prof. Maybe your book is the answer, I don’t know? I am of the belief that people already know what to do but on the other hand, organizers of marches and protests need a more formal type of instruction. In that light thanks again but the coming climate chaos is changing the whole ball game. It won’t be about Civil Rights nor antiwar movements. This will be world wide and what it will look like is anyone’s guess. At some point you can expect to see armed (guns and bullets) mobs of great size becoming virtual armies of desperate migrants in some countries. The very beginnings of that is starting to happen in Africa now as water resources dry up and grazing land gets invaded by former neighbors carrying guns. Someday that won’t be a few dozen but a few million. I digress. Like you, we are too old to expect to see that.

Practice non violence because everything else just makes things worse!



For a comment on Wereflea’s post, 1st: The non-violent protests of the 60’s early 70’s sometimes turned violent, but to be fair most of the violence was instigated by the cops or National Guard resulting in quite a few deaths in many places. Detroit for cops and Kent State for National Guard comes to mind; 1967, 1970 respectively.
Today the situation is somewhat different though the tactics that worked then can be used quite effectively IF a concise plan is in place for a specific change. Also be advised that a peaceful start can turn violent at the drop of a hat by actions of either side and then a riot ensues and will be dealt with severely as they always have. The folks in power will not give in easily, they never do, but continuous demonstrations and screaming at your Representatives, via phone or email adds to the overall effect. This has to happen soon because I fear time’s short for actions to matter, in the long run anyway.


I live in Ohio and was in college during the Kent State Massacre May 4th, 1970. Whether many of us recognize it or not, that day impacted our lives collectively for the rest of our lives. I am 65 years old now and some of us Ol Hippies are coaching up and training up a new generation. Back in 1970, there was no email, we had only 3 television stations, and one radio station in the isolated valley where I was in college. Our solidarity came from the unity of going to supper together in the dormitory cafeteria, then watching the
6 pm NEWS on the one TV in the dorm with endless footage of atrocities in Viet Nam and wondering when we would lose our college deferments and have to go to Nam. Endless hours of conversations in our dorm rooms through sleepless nights was our training. Putting wet towels on the seams of my dorm room window to keep the tear gas out of our room was our training. Running faster than I ever have in my life to escape police in riot gear swinging billy clubs was our training. One thing I did appreciate about this article is the distinction that was made relative to INCREMENTAL versus RADICAL CHANGE. Clearly, the time for radical change is here.


“Even veteran activists may not see the difference between protests and campaigns; neither schools nor mass media bother to enlighten Americans about the craft of direct action campaigning.”

This is sadly true.

CD needs more articles like this one about the kind of independent organizing that actually makes transformative change, and fewer articles that amount to wishful thinking about the Democratic Party and prep for electoral popularity contests.


“The big picture will continue to influence your chances for success. Two ways you can improve those chances are by making your campaign or movement more militant and by creating greater local-national synergy.”

What better way to create greater local national synergy?