Usually, direct action training is what it sounds like: training in preparation for a direct action. Sometimes, however, the training itself is the action.
Consider this story. The members of a hospital workers union were frustrated because their strike was being disregarded by the employer. The formerly locally owned Pennsylvania nursing home where they worked had been taken over in the 1980s by a Canadian corporation that wanted to break the union. The workers had never had to go on strike before and felt uneasy about picketing on the streets of their small city; they saw themselves as the “solid citizens” of the working class who didn’t make trouble.
Still, the corporation wasn’t willing to negotiate seriously, and they felt forced to do what they thought of as an undignified thing by going on strike. But even then, the strike wasn’t working; the employer stonewalled.
The union’s organizer called me and asked for a civil disobedience training. “The members don’t want this,” he said, “but they are willing to explore the C.D. option because they are running out of patience. They want a full evening of training.”
Barbara Smith of the Jobs With Peace Campaign agreed to co-facilitate. We found over 60 workers in the union hall when we arrived — virtually the whole staff who were free to come. The main part of the workshop was role-playing a sit-in in the offices of the nursing home management, with some members playing police who came in to arrest the workers. I marveled at the courage of these longtime residents of the town, blue-collar people who prided themselves on never having been in trouble with the law, pretending to be handcuffed and led off to police vans. Some were visibly shaking, but they did ...