Nonviolent Direct Action


Nonviolent direct action is often synonymous with civil disobedience. Historically, strategic nonviolent resistance has overthrown dictators, freed colonies, defended countries from occupying forces and advanced social justice across areas such as civil rights, women’s rights and environmental protection. Its adaptability and commitment to pacifism makes it a powerful and relevant force for animal liberationists.

Nonviolent direct action is any direct action that does not use violence, including sit-ins, strikes, marches and hacktivism. Its proponents include Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi and Ghandi.

Martin Luther King described the purpose of nonviolent direct action in this famous quote:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatise the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Animal Liberation supports the use of nonviolent direct action in animal rights campaigning. We do not condone violence to persons or property.

Animal rights and nonviolent direct action

Animal rights activists, who empathise with animals and are concerned about their treatment, generally gravitate naturally towards pacifism. It makes no sense for actions based on compassion – that is, ending the exploitation of animals – to come from a place of violence. If we espouse nonviolence towards animals, then our methods must also be nonviolent.

Bruce Friedrich and Peter Singer advocate science and ethics as the foundation for animal rights actions, rather than violence. Actions that educate people about animal cruelty and veganism are the most effective. These include:

  • Vegan cooking classes
  • Showing videos taken inside factory farms
  • Letter writing and leafleting
  • Legislative change

Actions such as these have the ability to change minds and consciences. Actions based in violence generally turn people off so that they never hear the message.

The debate about ‘nonviolent’

There is debate within the movement about whether the actions of groups such as Sea Shepherd and the Animal Liberation Front (US) are violent or nonviolent. Both groups destroy property and commit sabotage as a direct action tactic to achieve their aims.

These groups argue that destroying property is nonviolent, because no people or animals are harmed in the process. Others, such as Peter Singer, argue that these destructive methods come from a place of frustration and anger, rather than the compassion that is needed within the animal rights movement.

Veganism as nonviolent action

One of the greatest actions an individual can take is to eliminate violence from their life. This necessarily includes veganism – not consuming, wearing or using animals or animal-derived products. While collective nonviolent direct action will achieve lasting change on a large scale, personal veganism is the natural first step for people wishing to be part of the animal rights movement.

For more information to help you get started with veganism visit our Vegan Easy page.