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Direct action and the community infoshop

category north america / mexico | culture | opinion / analysis author Tuesday April 10, 2007 14:46author by ProleCat - Capital Terminus Collective Report this post to the editors

Anarcho-Communism A to Z: the letter D

Direct action refers to members of a community engaging in activities for their mutual benefit, without seeking permission or assistance from the rich and powerful. As we will see, while more indirect approaches often appear attractive, ultimately such reliance on the favors of the wealthy breeds apathy and resignation. In this article, we will briefly consider one example of direct action, a community infoshop.

Direct (adj)- without deviation
Action (n)- activity (often organized) to accomplish an objective

Before action is taken, a need exists. Suppose a community has no access to “radical” literature. The usual approach in such a case would be to lobby the local library to purchase some progressive titles. This is an example of an indirect, mediated approach, of asking the source of a problem (the government library, catering to the tastes of the affluent) to solve a problem that it created.

If enough outrage is mustered in the community, if enough letters are written and phone calls made and petitions signed, sometimes small concessions might be granted: the local library might purchase a couple of texts with a liberal slant, that are, say, critical of the occupation of Iraq. Perhaps a Noam Chomsky title might even be included. The immediate complaint is in some small measure alleviated, but *relations between the powerful and the aggrieved remain unchanged*. The more influential citizens, albeit perhaps chastised for their autocracy and narrow-mindedness, remain secure in their positions, while members of the grassroots community walk away from the struggle convinced that change requires the permission of their masters. Worst of all, as soon as attention is diverted, the problem recurs. The radical titles are “retired”, but not replaced.

But suppose, rather than going hat in hand to the public library to beg favors, the community opts for a more direct approach. Suppose the community constructs an infoshop, a local bookstore/lending library that exists for the sole purpose of making available to the community, literature that would otherwise be lacking. (In fact, a project of just this sort is underway in Atlanta. See the bottom of this article for contact information.)

The challenges of such a project are surely daunting: a handful of citizens can scarcely hope to marshal the funds that the government can, with which to procure books; and even with books available, where is the group to house them? Who has time to administer their distribution? These pitfalls are not to be made light of. No easy solutions exist.

But, suppose our grassroots band of citizens persists in the face of these difficulties, and succeeds: then the payoff is enormous. Now there exists a book distribution center that is not beholden to the powers that be. Having come into being independently, the community itself wields power over the project. But in addition to the autonomy that accrues to the project, there is another benefit: the psychological payoff to the individuals involved.

Now community members have learned- by personal experience- that they need not depend on the largesse of the bosses. Now they know, firsthand, that a community united can accomplish things, unaided. Such experiences are said to be “empowering”. Such experiences teach us that united we can be, not masters over others, but the masters of our own destinies. History shows that such a change in thinking can have revolutionary implications, when it catches fire and spreads throughout a society.

In this article we have considered a single example of direct action, an infoshop. In a similar vein, the principle of direct action applies to such tactics as workplace strikes and boycotts, in lieu of begging the bosses for raises, benefits, and healthy working conditions. Or similarly, forming autonomous unions that negotiate directly with the bosses, rather than submitting to the mediation and arbitration of the federal National Labor Relations Board.

One caveat is in order. We should be wary of purism. Consider the infoshop example once again: suppose that one knows of a librarian who might be amenable to stocking progressive literature; it would be silly not to employ this avenue, even though such action is indirect. Direct action is a means to empowerment; it is a fundamental principle that should always be considered. It should not, however, become a scared icon, a fetish. Tactical considerations require varying approaches under varying circumstances. The time has come for order-taking to end, and considered decision-making to begin.

What do you think? We’d like to know.

To learn more about the Atlanta infoshop project, write to:
MadRatz 840 Dekalb Ave. Suite C Atlanta, GA 30307 or e-mail:

From the The February 2007 Newsletter of the Capital Terminus Collective. Download the PDF file from or read the articles online at

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