Sunday, January 28, 2007

Climaction - A brief Critique

Late last year an unlikely coalition of greenies, socialists, left wing activists and the occasional autonomist came together to discuss what we could do to effectively stop climate change. At the first meeting it was decided that the aims of the group were to achieve free and frequent public transport and to move beyond kyoto - a 90% reduction in emissions is one figure used. Direct action was thrown around and their was an agreement that "we signed up to building a mass movent committed to direct action. The group had a distinctly left/green tinge to it and aimed to model itself after such historical figures as Martin Luther King. The word revolution has been used a lot, but only revolution in a non violent public friendly sort of way.

As a first action it was decided by the group that a street party on queen street to mark the international day of action for climate change would be useful in getting people involved and raising profile. During the planning meetings their was a clear split in tactics the majority of the group were in favour of widely advertising the time and location. They also refused to engage in discussion as to what would occur if they came up against state resistance to their event. A few of us on the other side believed that secrecy would give us an advantage over the police and that planning for how to actually hold the road was probably a good idea. Those that did attempt to engage in dialogue about a potential police response were treated as if we wanted to encourage violence and have been accused of favouring "conspiratorial politics". Planning outside of meetings was attacked and an attempt was made to frame the debate as "elitist vanguardism" vs "democratic organising"

Now this is a split in tactics and I think both sides have very valid points, things such as advertising the location widely allows the state to plan for traffic disruption and allows the organisers to potentially get more people along. Not advertising the location and instead advertising a meeting point gives you the element of suprise and gives you more time to get some sort of blockade in place and means that you are not as reliant on the police to let it happen. What wasnt so valid was the unwillingness to plan for state opposition, blockades were never planned for and to my knowledge what would happen if police tried to move us was also never discussed. At the same time a key organiser had approached me and asked me to put together a secretive crew to organise blockades on the day, this organiser was one of the people who was stressing the need for openess and letting everyone at meetings know everything.

The benefits of organising in a room with 30 or so people many of whom are opposed to direct action versus organising in affinity groups of like minded people is a long running debate, I do not however think this is what the division in tactics was about. Framing the debate as this is seemed to be a disingenuous attempt to not talk about what tactics were to be used.

On the day of the action we had around 300 people, no blockades and to my knowledge no plan for what to do if the cops wouldnt let it go ahead. The cops by this stage had decided to let it go ahead, this was evidenced by the perhaps dozen cops present, if they had decided not to let it go ahead we sould have had the 30 or more police common at anti war marches. This decision had obviously been before the day and our numbers in my opinion probably played a small role in that decision. If the cops had been serious about stopping us one line of the TPU (Team Policing Unit) would have been sufficient. Any attempt to take the street against state wishes would have resulted in many arrests and probably would have failed within 10 - 20 minuts. Even if we could get onto the street a line formation as discussed in a post below would have been sufficient to move us off the street or down the road.

To take a quote from the police liason for the event " the police took a "low-key approach" - those were their words" the action on November the 4th happened because the police let it happen. I was wrong in that I thought the police would oppose it and I am very glad I was wrong. However next time the police may not let it happen and if they do not then we will not be in a good if we think an action allowed by the state is the same as resisting the state. This would leave ourselves very vulnerable for when the state specifically the police attempt to stop us. A movement "committed to direct action" that refuses to take the police into account is a movement setting itself up for a major fall.

Their are several approaches that could have worked for the street party on queen st one of which was to mobilise enough people to overwhelm any state response. This was the approach taken by the organisers of the day but it is not the reason the day was successful. Another approach is to do an action the police are ok with - this is the reason the day was successful in my opinion. Tactics around resisting police such as blockades vary widely and their is little shortage of ideas or examples from oversease - the reason I think these should be considered is that the could allow us to be more effective with lower numbers of people.

Future actions

Climaction is now discussing the possibility of a reclaim the streets style party on the junction of k road and queen street. This is a substantial arterial root and to block the road off entirely would cause major traffic disruption, to my knowledge their are no diversions which could be easily put in place. A stret party here if the police decided not to let it happen would need much more people than the action on queen street to be successful. It would also require either barricades to prevent the police pushing people down K road and then onto the sidewalk or it would need a lot of people willing to sit down in front of the police and get arrested. Malcolms quote "the next climaction carnival will be bigger, and the is the key - the numbers. They can't arrest us all!" Is worrying as it does not reflect the reality of what could happen. The police only need to arrest those willing to resist their line formation, if only 5 or 6 anarchists and autonomists are willing to resist then that is all they need to arrest to push us off the road. Numbers are not the key to success if those people have not planned as to how they will hold the road.

Using a physical blockade such as a tripod or people locked on to cars is a key factor in reclaim the streets events overseas. These objects make it very time consuming and impractical for the police to move the event on. More importantly they make the standard line formation used by police to move people ineffective as the police are confronted with a physical obstacle which they cannot shove off the road. This breaks their formation and with lock ons or tripods takes a long time to move off the road. Using blockades would give us a much higher chance of success when the police oppose us and would take some of the power as to the success or failure of the event out of police hands.

Climaction has displayed a almost morally puritanical approach to violence, as if by not discussing violence we will never have to face violence. This taking the high moral ground is fine as long as we continue to engage in state sanctioned acts of symbolic protest but the day we attempt to halt climate change through direct action we will discover that all the moral puritanism in the world will not save us. I have not gone into the symbolic nature of the protests or how I think a mass movement is probably not the ideal strategy, for a very well writen paper which covers such things see An Anarchist Position Piece on the Save Happy Valley campaign . I will blog in future about the usefulness of secrecy and the Return On Investment (ROI) that certain protests actions may give using climaction as an example because it typifies many traits common in main stream environmentalism.


Graham said...

Strategically thinking you have a few flaws that you need to address. If confronted with increasing levels of anti social activism the police will introduce water cannon technology which to a person locked onto a car or tripod is not good. Leaves them black and blue and most likely unable or unwilling to participate in a "blockade" in the future.

Secondly the very real possibility that another mob of anarchist, such as the general public fed up with continual "blockages", may take up a lump of 4x2 or a baseball bat to those locked onto cars or tripods.

Unless you can hold your ground and protect those who are "tethered" you may not find many who will volunteer to be locked into a static and potentially undefendable position.

John said...

Water cannon technology to my knowledge has not been used in New Zealand in social disturbance situations, if it were widely deployed it would affect our tactics. Also off the top of my head I can not recall any cases in western countries where it has been used on locked on protesters, if it were it would be very bad press indeed for the police. I doubt water cannons alone would seriously affect the usability of lock ons.

Of more concern and with widespread precedent overseas is the use of compliance holds on locked on activists as well as tear gas - includign rubbed in the eyes. This however does tend to generate negative press as was evidenced when photos of activists in compliance holds were in the news a few years during an anti war demonstration.

The public has already gotten angry and dried to drive through intersections with cars, the type of static lock on used should reflect a possibility that angry public may try and drive through the crowd. Having people dedicated to diverting enraged public is also a good idea.

Taking a street is fraught with risk and the tactics I have suggested do not eliminate that risk, those planning the event should take this risk into account and choose the type of action accordingly.

Thanks for the comment.

Graham said...

Judging by their use on football hooligans in Belgium and other European countries, water cannons have a very high rate of dispersing a crowd. While that technology is not here (as far as is known) at best it is only six weeks away by ship. Operators can be easily flown in.

The public in Europebdont mind the use of water cannons on the hooligans so I dont think even adverse press will sway them towards your way of thinking.

Water mixed with tear gas is going to be a real problem for protesters.

It will effect your lock on's because you will not be in a position to defend them.

I also think you underestimate the counter-anachist's intellegence units. While you may think you can run away from a situation and return home you will not be safe. Someone somewhere will find out who the protest ringleaders are and a late night visit from counter-anarchists could well be made. Not a nice police cell and a policeman following the rule of law, but possibly something much worse.

You are putting much store into a sympathtic press. This may be a double edge sword. If they feel the story is getting negative feedback they will drop your cause faster then the proverbial hot potato.

The images from Seattle or Paris of protesters smashing and burnming did absolutely nothing for the cause they where protesting about.

As in all conflicts (and Iraq is a good example) you need to win hearts and minds. Without it you are a rebel with a cause but with no power.

John said...

I dont have the ime for a point by point rebuttal but the kind of situation you are talking about would almost certainly result in a transition to fourth generation warfare - no identifiable leaders, no obvious connection, large scale attacks. Their is no way a state can supress all action and the harder they try the more they will fail.

When the police change tactics we will change tactics, being a hizome type network that can copy oversease conflicts we will be able to adapt faster than the state if people think things through.