tutor2u | Immigration protests - a good example of direct action

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Immigration protests - a good example of direct action

Mike McCartney

16th June 2022

There's been a wave of these in recent months

Most recently, just down the road form me in Peckham, Yes, in my 'ends', as it were. A group of somewhere between 100 and 200 protesters stopped a Home Office van that contained a man who had apparently contravened immigration laws.

Direct action can take several forms, but at its purest it is when a group seeks to address the issue at hand directly rather than seek to influence policy makers by more traditional forms of protest such as lobbying.

An American research institute has identified a total of 198 methods of non-violent action. Wyn Grant’s typology consists of a more manageable six main forms: protest marches; boycotts; stunts; blockades, occupations and other disruption; destruction of property; violence against individuals.

Why direct action?

The story of political participation in the twentieth century is one where political parties dominated the first half, and pressure groups the second. And during the 1990s the dominant narrative was that of the sudden explosion of ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) style protests. Of course, direct action is nothing new; one thinks here of the Diggers in the mid-seventeenth century. However, what was novel was the range and popularity of non-violent direct activity (NVDA), from the cuddly images of elderly ladies forming protest lines against live veal exports at Shoreham and Brightlingsea, to the more hard-edged actions of activists who sought to stop expansion of Manchester Airport, or when what were originally intended to be peaceful protests by Extinction Rebellion have turned violent in central London, last September.

The growth of direct action is the consequence of perceived failings by more established groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace in the environmental sphere. Their critics would argue that they have become too institutionalised in a bid to win favour with the government. NVDA therefore fills the vacuum left by groups that have altered their tactics. The shift towards DIY politics can also be viewed in terms of a search for empowerment on the behalf of protestors. In an era of globalisation, people feel increasingly marginalised and mainstream politics doesn’t satisfy their needs. Getting out and doing something helps people express their political identity in a way that letter writing doesn’t, or possibly couldn’t.

Often we see that direct action may not effect significant policy change, but it is often the preserve of groups who are unable, or sometimes unwilling, to campaign by traditional means.

Was this action successful? It's hard to tell. Eventually the police were called in and there was something of an impasse and the van wasn't able to move. But it did after a few hours. The next day the man was released on bail. At the very least, these protests are raising the profile of how the government goes about dealing with suspected immigration violations.

See the video below, from the Evening Standard.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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