Introduction to Street Protest, Blockupy Workshop in preparation for Frankfurt ECB 2015

I’ve been on 13 major street protests from Seattle WTO 1999 to Cancún WTO 2003. I’ve never been on a European protest, but I have studied them.

Christoph asked me to talk about street tactics, but some of you may know more about these than I do.

The most important point I want to make to day is not to choose your tactics first. Be sure to do strategic planning, which means to identify your Goal first, then your strategy, and finally the best tactic. Here’s an action-planning guide you can use.

Please try to develop some self-awareness about your own affinities for these tactics, keeping in mind that each one be the very best tactic in a particular physical and political context.

1. Why Street Protest

  • a fundamental right and contribution to democracy is to express our dissent
  • collective manifestation of dissent creates news, encourages others, threatens elites
  • the way to win (reforms) is to raise the costs of the current way of doing things until it becomes in the interests of the elites to do it our way
  • threat/promise to take over

* Note that the non-protest channels of dissent and participation often are not working.

2. Forms of Street Protest

  • demonstration/march = message + bodies
  • civil disobedience = ritual/symbolic breaking the law, expressing a moral position by refusing to obey an unjust law
  • blockading
  • breaching (by assault or sneaking in)
  • occupation

* Note that all have symbolic/communicative power “breaking the spell”

“Direct action” = forms of action which reject appeal to powerful to do the right thing and instead attempts to solve problems directly with available resources. Self-provisioning (like urban gardening) is a very clear example. In street protests, direct action is a bit confusing because it’s not usually possible to solve any of the problems at the protest. At street protests, direct action tends to be used as a cipher for disruption.

“Spikey vs. Fluffy” is an aesthetic issue about image of miitance versus friendliness. It’s an imagination of what will inspire/resonate with people and inspire them to participate.

3. Tactics

* Note that most of the tactics can used for any of the forms in section 2.

  • Black Bloc
  • Tute Bianchi / White overalls
  • tactical frivolity: clowns, drag queens, pink bloc
  • street art, puppets, marching bands
  • property crime: building barricades, raising the costs, window breaking as civil disobedience (moral law-breaking against corporate behavior)
  • Reclaim the Streets (rave with props like tripods, beaches)
  • culture jamming (billboard modification, banner hangs…)
  • decommodification: feeding people, planting gardens
  • sit downs, lockdowns

4. About the police

  • fences and rural sites are already a victory because the threat of protest has forced summits to advertise their undemocratic nature
  • you cannot choose a tactic to stay “safe” & never blame activists for bringing repression on themselves or others. protest policing is a terror system designed to discourage dissent.
  • know the law, take notes for later.

5. Organization

  • participants take action in affinity groups
  • the manifestation is supported by working groups: medical, legal, scenario, messaging, media, art, provisioning, communications…
  • spokescouncil/assembly is an opportunity for mass participatory democracy
  • diversity of tactics is a system for respecting difference
  • lots of technologies developed specifically for the movement: lockdowns, communications, banner hangs, self-provisioning, alternative media, personal preparedness…