From Nukes to Occupy: The Rise and Fall of the Non-Violent Direct Action Movement in the United States, 1976 – 2012

Cartwright, Robin J.

Publisher:  Radical Education Department
Date Written:  30/11/2019
Year Published:  2019  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX24017

The non-violent direct action movement originated in the anti-nuclear power movement of the late 1970s / early 1980s. Inspired by the German anti-nuclear movement, activists organized occupations of construction sites for nuclear reactors, aiming to insure no new plants were built. The processes, organizational structure, and culture adopted by these activists differed sharply from the movements of the sixties and early seventies.



Certain features of Occupy make the flaws of consensus more apparent in this movement than they had been in previous movements. During the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the 2001-2011 period between the Global Justice movement & Occupy, activists who used consensus usually did so in small groups where they often shared similar praxis. If the odds of someone blocking are only one-percent, blocks in a small group may be uncommon enough that they do not pose a problem, but a group with over a hundred members will regularly encounter blocks, causing gridlock and endless meetings in a never-ending attempt to appease a small number of blockers. The anti-nuclear and global justice movements had methods of circumventing individual blocks in large movements, but they were connected to the structure of affinity groups and spokescouncils. Occupy’s decision making was primarily organized around large general assemblies. Consequently, a block could be done by a lone individual (or a tiny handful of individuals), not just by a unified affinity group. Furthermore, because they were all part of one big assembly, it was difficult to simply split into separate clusters of affinity groups that did different things when consensus could not be quickly reached. Occupy also had control of collective resources that were not available to previous movements, like public spaces and large donations, which were not easily amenable to simply having different affinity groups go their separate ways.

In the later part of Occupy some chapters experimented with alternatives but this proved too little, too late.
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