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Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism
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Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  219 ratings  ·  26 reviews
A longtime movement insider's powerful account of the origins of today's protest movements and what they can achieve now

As Americans take to the streets in record numbers to resist the presidency of Donald Trump, L.A. Kauffman’s timely, trenchant history of protest offers unique insights into how past movements have won victories in times of crisis and backlash and how the
Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published February 21st 2017 by Verso
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Jun 21, 2020 rated it liked it
My rating is rounded up from 2.5 stars. There have to be better books on this subject... Details various organizations and their direct actions from 1970's to Ferguson but not much of a political perspective from the author besides broad definition of "left". It mostly focuses on white-led groups, noting how much trouble they had uniting with people of color but doesn't offer much valuable insight on the problem before moving on to the next thing. Like reading a long wikipedia article. The pic o ...more
Bookforum Magazine
"Kauffman does not hesitate to address the flaws and weaknesses of some of the groups she studies. She points out that direct-action enthusiasts who advocate voluntary arrest will often alienate people of color and others who routinely face violence from the police.

Prefigurative movements can incubate useful ideas and methods that affect wider society, changing the frame of what's seen as possible, but at their worst, they become a way to retreat from the pursuit of concrete victories in the out
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was invigorating in a way I did not expect. As a person that has participated in direct action on and off for the last 20 years, it was great to see myself and my peers reflected in this story as part of a legacy of global resistance.

More importantly, it helped me understand the roots of the movements and tactics that I inherited. While I lived the tension between the Bay Area and NYC hip-hop inspired (mostly socialist) POC organizers and the overwhelmingly white anarchists, I didn't
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
read this last summer - found it to be a super compelling history of protest movements in the united states. so many of the challenges organisers faced in the second half of the last century are apparent today. it ends with black lives matter. would love for a similar history to be written about lefty groups in the netherlands.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
That was nice and easy read. I liked it. But I do feel a bit annoyed that I read these things that are solely focused on North-America. I'm not just less interested in the US, but also annoyed by its cultural dominance and my decision to consume it. The links and inspiration that many of these movements had with European movements also seems to be a bit underplayed. I would love to read a European version of this. I am reminded of the Subversion of Politics and Geronimo's Fire and Flames, but th ...more
Peter Pinelli
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Really helpful for contextualizing today's movements, particularly if you are like me and deliberately had the political actions and movements of history and your youth removed from your formal education (I vaguely remember the WTO protests in 1999 when I was a kid in Seattle, except all anyone could tell me is that there were scary people downtown and so we were getting school off, and that I watched TV with a churning gray sky outside). Kaufman divides the movements of roughly 1960 to 2014 int ...more
Kevin Gosztola
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There are numerous books, which delve into the rise of the New Left movements of the 1960s. They chart their struggles, how the government targeted them, and their eventual fall and disintegration. The legacy of the Left in the Sixties looms large over left-wing activism. Yet, while it may not have the same folklore, movements have pressed on in the past decades.

L.A. Kauffman's book fills that void of knowledge by piecing together a history of the left from the early 1970s to the Black Lives Ma
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly good book that weaves the long line of direct action from the 1971 May Day protest to the present. Kauffman is an insider to many of these movements, which shows from her diverse amount of materials she has about them as well as the interviews she conducted. Perhaps best of all, she doesn't shy away from the racial and class limits that subsumed many of these movements. She also makes a fairly convincing case that women of color, women in general, and queer, lesbian, gay, etc. com ...more
Apr 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Main takeaways: The US government is built to resist change. They have been infiltrating groups of protesters across all political and human rights groups for a century to sow distrust and spark internal failures of the organizations before they become too effective at affecting change. Also, white people are more likely to initiate violent/highly disruptive direction action because they are less likely to be as targeted/severely brutalized by police. When white men dominated protest/radical cul ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We have to Stan.
I’m for once not adding this to the must read list, but it’s really interesting. This is a history book, and I for one and I think most people (at least younger people who didn’t live through all this) don’t know about many of the direct actions that have gotten us where we are now. I consider myself pretty up on AIDS protesting, but I didn’t know very much about women’s lib, anti nukes, WTO, and other influential movements since the 60’s, and how all their successes and failure
Aug 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory
at times, crafts a carefully articulated narrative of direct action rippling with emotion that makes me want to drop everything and go (depending on... the movement in question lol). certain movements are detailed in a rush (glaringly: the combahee river collective), and the selection of movements is narrow. i understand that if this is an overview of "direct action" radicalism as opposed to other forms of activism, that may be intentional. but i wonder about the title of this book-- does this t ...more
Alexander Tas
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
A clear well written history of major direct action events within American history since May Day 1971. Kauffman spends a lot of time highlighting the changes movements underwent as they were presented with critiques, and how often racial issues became central to coalition building. While not comprehensive probably in many respects, it does a good job highlighting the most present actions and how they were carried out. Well worth the read if you're unsure of how protests and tactics have changed ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
She examines the protests movements from the later part of the twentieth century and their use of direct action practices, as well as how those practices have changed and evolved over the years. She particularly emphasizes the influence of civil rights and feminism on these movements. Anyone interested in progressive movements today should read this book to find out our history, our successes and failures and the theories behind direct action.
Wesley Burton
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
very informative, if a bit dry (especially considering the author herself was involved with many of the actions discussed). nonetheless required reading for anyone who considers themselves a leftist or progressive, as their is wisdom to be gleaned from past actions, whether they were successes or failures - and in fact this book invites us to question what it is that makes a direct action successful, as even something that doesn't directly affect policy can still have an impact. ...more
Naomi Toftness
Feb 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
giving up on this one. I generally have a hard time with history, so this may be my own fault, but the narrative is super rambly and goes in weird loops and I'm just having a hard time following. I'd love to know all about these groups, but maybe I just need a different format to consume this information. ...more
Caroline Mills
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kauffman adds a critical but often-ignored layer to movement history as she traces identity politics, and especially race, through leftist organizing beginning in the 70s. I found this extremely useful, even though there were times I would have liked more detail, especially more direct sources rather than her reflection.
Benjamin Felser
Nov 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Provided an incredibly informative perspective on how direct-action has evolved to how we recognize it today (including the legacy of whiteness in post-civil rights activist circles). Highlights the essential rolls of women and BIPOC in providing the framework for successful activism today, even though many of the largest movements were grounded in white-male identity. The main absence is indigenous activism which I would have loved to hear more about. It's a bit dense, but I felt the flow picke ...more
John Winston Powell
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a survey of major direct action campaigns since 1971. Loved it. I learned a lot as I have been involved in the Ferguson movement as a resident of Ferguson. Kauffman shows how we got here in terms of various social movements and why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the way it is. Easily read.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book is all about the American left. Which is written in the title. But I didn't want to read any more, because there's more to the world than USA, and I don't want to get used to seeing everything through the lens of the USA. ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
An engaging survey -- informative, critical, and even moderately hopeful -- of the evolution, successes, and weaknesses of 40 years of the U.S. "Direct Action" left's history. L.A. Kauffman provides a perspective worth holding in mind as the U.S. and Europe are threatened with yet another hard-right political turn. ...more
Read for my course on the American Radical Tradition.
Gabrielle Tymkow
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
All you need to know about the history of the last 50 years of protest in the USA
Really stellar history of protest, direct actions, and organizing from the late 60s into the present day. Rather than focusing efforts on tearing down the increasingly futile and local nature of activism that failed to stop the rightward shift in American politics, the book thoughtfully analyzes tactics and strategies in a nearly "objective" way. Triumphs are given equal time with failures, plus the book has numerous examples of radical direct actions that still could be utilized in the here and ...more
Ekaterina Kuznetsova
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Feb 16, 2019
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May 08, 2017
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Sep 24, 2018
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