On how to block just about everything
The upcoming actions against the G8 summit in Heiligendamm will present considerable challenges for the creativity and stamina of activists. After all, the idea is to effectively block all the entry points. The problem is that an enormous army of security and public order forces will be present and try to prevent the same. But history has shown that everything can be blocked. Below you will find some useful stories about the practice of blockades. This text will be updated as new ideas pour in.
Original version of the article, with many pictures and illustrations, can be found here Also written by the affinity group Wilnis: 8 good reasons to block the G8 summit.
The roads to Heiligendamm come in all shapes and sizes. Except to the airport, there are no big motorways, which require their own expert approach to blocking. Most of the roads that will be used to transport people and goods to the G8 summit are dual carriageways, sometimes with a crash barrier inbetween the lanes, often with crash barriers (and cycle paths) along the sides of the road.
To begin an effective blockade is not that difficult, but the skill lies in keeping it going. Good preparation is half the work. You can start with preparing a few days before in the action camps, but it will be even easier if you have made plans before and have organised yourselves in a so-called affinity group. Then you can think beforehand about how you want to do actions, what you need for it, you can also practice already beforehand, etc. During the preparations, you can ask others for advice, learn certain techniques, etc. It is important to form a group of people who more or less agree on the manner in which they want to do actions, so that not too much time goes into discussions or disagreements. If you have not organised yourself in a group yet, or if you have questions, you can always try and find contact through activist meetings. Convergence centres, for example, are going to be set up in Berlin, Hamburg and Rostock, amongst others for this purpose. In the Netherlands, you can find fellow activists at the dissent meetings.
Moreover, during the preparations as well as the implementation of the actions you should expect that the blockade is going to be successful and that it will last long. The G8 summit goes on for 3 days, and the blockades will be implemented for that period of time. Make sure, therefore, that at least for the first hours you have enough to eat and drink and some form of entertainment. Boredom is often one of the biggest problems with successful blockades and occupations. Inbetween blockades, you can hold sports competitions, lectures, teach-ins, etc. Or you can think about which new function Hotel Kempinski will have afterwards… Also, make sure (especially if you’re in a big group) that you are accompanied by activist first aid and legal observers, activist media, etc. Make sure you have communication channels with other blockades and action camps so that you know what’s going on. If the blockade perseveres, better communication and supply structures can be started later and you can communicate to others that the blockade has started and that other people can help to secure it.
It can be useful to have (in a side street nearby?) one or more cars so that people can get materials there and back.
Make sure you have nice decorations for the blockade, banners, flags and, for example, these things, so that it is clear to the viewer what it’s all about.
The most simple way to blockade is to just sit on the street with a few people. This is already enough to stop car traffic and if there’s a lot of it, the resulting traffic jam will create even more problems for mobility in the surroundings. The more people take part in the blockade, the more difficult it will be to break it. However, past experiences have shown that if the police really want to, they can chase away the blockade fairly easily. There are methods to make the blockade somewhat stronger. For example, by linking arms or by practicing resistance methods against being dragged away. This will delay the eviction. But keep in mind that the police can apply forceful measures: water cannons, tear gas, horses and even dogs. Moreover, it often uses violence when dragging people away (twisting of arms, fingers in the nose, battering with the stick, etc.) Make sure cameras are directed towards the police, that might restrain them in their violence.
On a (hopefully unnecessary) side note: before you sit on the street, the traffic has to have stopped. You also have to make sure that newly arriving cars cannot drive into the blockade. There are many ways to stop traffic, you can also decide to choose a spot near traffic lights. Make sure you have a group of people warning the traffic some hundred metres before the blockade that they have to stop. If blockading roads at night, make sure there is sufficient lighting. Never block a road with traffic on it or if you are not sure that the traffic has been stopped, and never block a road just after a curve. Also, do not just throw things on the road and walk away, this can cause accidents. Once the road is out of use, by police or activist intervention, then throwing things on the roads is, of course, possible. In practice, however, a blockade that is defended by people is much more effective than just some objects left behind.
Using lock-ons is another way to make your blockade stronger. You can get them in all shapes and sizes. Most often they are metal pipes in which you can stick your arm in one side and another person in the other, this way you can make human chains. You can, for example, make a circle of people and link this to another circle, etc. By making barrels with concrete shortly before blockading you can link the lock-ons to heavy objects. Remember though that the police does not shy away from being heavy-handed against you in this situation either. Make sure that you can always free yourself and that there are other ‘unlocked’ people around you (who can also bring food, scratch your back, etc.)
The more material you have, the more stable the blockade. You can use materials you find in the area around you (wood, stones, containers, etc.) or by planning the blockade in areas where you have a lot of material at your disposal. You can also bring your own.
A famous example is the tripod. (picture) The higher it is the more difficult it is for police to break it down. You can make it from tree trunks, metal pipes, etc. But tripods can cause accidents; you have to know what you’re doing, first practice and ask advice from people who have used them before. Also keep in mind that sometimes the police is willing to let people fall, as was the case during the G8 summit protests in Lausanne.
It is easier to strengthen the blockade with different kinds of material. First make sure the blockade is erected, then you can make it stronger. Speed is essential, if the blockade has been secured well before the police arrives, it will be more difficult to push it to the side. Organise groups of people to get materials and make sure there are always enough people left over to form the blockade. Sometimes it is useful to have thought in advance about what you need to get the materials there: ropes, if objects have to be towed, or saws if you want to cut bits of woods loose. Depending on the situation, you can also fix cables inbetween the crash barriers or trees. Make sure, however, that you make them clearly visible with flags and keep in mind they can be a hindrance for you, too, if you need to get away.
Always try and stay friends with people living in the neighbourhood. Do not use their front garden fence for you barricade and explain to people what the blockade is about. Invite them to have a look at the action camps. Be prepared that not all of them will be friendly. The same applies to car drivers. It can be useful to decide beforehand who will act as a spokesperson (certainly for the media). It can also be useful to have one or more person(s) acting as a contact person to the police.
The response of the police will depend on the circumstances and the time they have at their disposal. If there are blockades everywhere, they will not able to tackle them all at the same time. In any case though, you have to expect an attack by the police at some point in time. They can arrive with vehicles to push aside the blockades (armoured cars, picture), with water cannons to attack groups of people or with groups of police officers wearing protective gear to attack people with batons, etc.
It is important to have discussed in advanced about how you want to defend the blockade. In Seattle, it appeared that a big group of determined people can be much more effective than strong materials. Make sure the atmosphere on the blockade is good. Prevent people being surprised by fellow activists using methods that not everyone supports. But also prevent people from being intimidated and leave the blockade sooner than necessary. It often takes hours before police takes heavy handed action and most of the time you can predict their actions by watching their moves closely. For example, you only have to start worrying about tear gas when they put on their gas masks. Keep in mind that the police that is keeping you busy cannot be deployed elsewhere.
Another strategy to delay the breaking of a blockade is to sit down and link arms. But be prepared for police being heavy handed in hauling you away. The fact that you do not use violence is not a guarantee that they will not use it either (in fact, often the opposite seems to be the case). There are, of course, other and more militant ways to keep the police at bay. A sudden attack by clowns can also considerably disturb the plans of the public order troops. There is little you can do against armoured police vehicles (unless the barricade is very stable indeed) but they do, for example, hate paint on the windscreen. In fact this applies to all police vehicles. And it has been proven that even armoured cars and water cannons can get stuck in a ditch.
Setting a barricade on fire helps also during a ‘manual’ eviction by the police, that is without vehicles. Do consider that after a while the barricade will be gone. Also make sure the fire cannot spread to nearby objects or areas such as a forest. This would be the last effect you would want your ‘protest’ to have. If located near buildings, make sure they are not endangered. Do not leave bottles with inflammable fluids lying around, they can cause nasty accidents.
There are ways of making a road unusable for longer term, but that often takes a lot of time and/or specific hardware. During the anti-nuclear protests in Gorleben, for example, local inhabitants and activist dug tunnels underneath the roads so that trucks could no longer pass. If you want to stop regular cars, you will have to take off the top layer of asphalt or concrete as well, for which you need a jack-hammer, pickaxe and shovels. Naturally, if the road is not asphalted you can dig holes in it. Non-asphalted roads sometimes lead to bigger roads that you might want to block and they are often used by police as access road to the blockade. If you dig a hole, pile up the sand on ‘your’ side, if it lies on the side of the police they simply shovel it back in. During evictions in Amsterdam some people even managed to get a dragline excavation machine going which was parked in the neighbourhood…
Until now, we discussed the traditional road block/blockade. There are many more ways to intervene in road traffic. Keep in mind that the police also knows them and undergoes training programmes to deal with them, so be creative and invent new methods! Sit in a tree next to the road, that’s difficult for police to evict and often they do not dare to continue let traffic go through, at least not their higher vehicles. Even better: choose two trees standing across the road from each other, tie a rope between them high above the street and hang in them, that’s a so-called walkway. The idea is that police and other road users will not risk driving underneath the rope as they fear the people hanging in it will drop something or jump down onto the street. This methods requires a lot of experience. Make sure you have a good accompanying group with you and stop the traffic during the setting up. Do not start hanging in the ropes before the traffic has been stopped!
You can also park one or several cars on a crossing and lock yourself to them (picture Gleneagles). Again, take all the above-named precautionary methods. You can also secure the barricades with turned over cars (for example old cars you took with you).
Most action methods are criminalised and made illegal in order to make it difficult for activists and be able to dish out punishments afterwards. But it is, of course, not explicitly illegal to drive really slowly with your car. Or to have a break-down in the middle of the road somewhere…
The experience from Gleneagles has shown that a blockades that uses different methods in one is the most difficult to break. One road, 3 km from the summit, was chosen because it passed a small bridge. On both sides of the bridge people built barricades from materials they found in the forest (tree trunks, car tires, etc.). Inbetween, two groups used lock-ons and just after the bridge people had started tree-sitting. When the police rushed to the scene, five minutes after the start of the blockade at 6 am in the morning, we heard them discuss the situation and they estimated they needed “at least 80 men and a crane” to get rid off the blockade, which they simply did not have at their disposal. The road block lasted the whole day and people even left to secure another blockade a few streets further which had been broken off and was taken up again (see pictures here ).
If the blockade is broken up by police, those that have not been arrested should swarm out (look out for each other, try not to panic, try and make sure each group that swarms out has people who know the way or have a map, accompaniment by members of first aid and legal teams, etc…). You can swarm out to new places to continue blocking. Small groups of people can also be disruptive. It also helps to randomly block police cars, even if they use roads not used for the summit. You thereby stop them from breaking up blockades elsewhere or transporting arrestees.
There are, of course, other means of transport that will be used for the summit. These are mainly helicopters and ships. They are more difficult to block, but also for the authorities more difficult to use. Only a small number of people can be transported by helicopter. Helicopters can also be blocked; especially take-off and landing spots, but also in mid-air: in Gorleben, for example, people used sky rockets and some people flew around with hang gliders which forced helicopters to leave. You can also think about taking with you helium balloons on very long ropes so that helicopters do not dare come closer. The sea can also be blocked, even though you need boats, which are expensive when they get damaged or confiscated. But you can always block the entrances to the harbour, so that people cannot be transported to the ships to leave. In short: we will win this battle, if everyone joins in!
(Affinity Group Wilnis, Dutch Polder)
Websites with more information on methods and techniques:
Tools for Direc Action
Delia Smiths basic blockading guide (pdf)
Everything about doing direct action
On Affinity Groups
(Noam Chomsky: “If you assume correctly that whatever group you are in is being penetrated by the FBI, when something serious is happening, you don’t do it in a meeting. You do it with some people you know and trust, an affinity group and then it doesn’t get penetrated. That’s one of the reasons why the FBI has never been able to figure out what’s going on in any of the popular movements.”)