"All the World's a Stage We Pass Through" R. Ayana

Friday, 31 July 2009

Elementary Blockading: Saving the Planet with Direct Action

Elementary Blockading

Saving the Planet with Direct Action

Do you really want to save the planet - or just talk about it?

So you want to know a little bit more about blockading? Well let’s have a look at the elements and aspects that have become part of the culture of blockading.

When most people think of blockading, they think about the front line action that happens at the particular forest area which is everybody’s concern, not realising all the support work that has happened before the blockade, the work going on away from the blockade site, the outside support, or the follow-up work involved in seeking a legal resolution.

We’ll start at the ‘frontline’ & look at the ‘whole picture’ later in the article.

Blockading - Front line action

* Media - To get a clear message out to the world a media liaison person, or group spokesperson should always be present at a blockade. It’s this person’s role to speak to media, hand out media releases, answer questions and assist media people such as TV crews.

* Transport - Transport to and from the protest site and at the site is essential. If you have a four wheel drive your vehicle will be very handy.

* Food - Good food is always a bonus and cooking and preparing food for the group is a satisfying job. Whether you are a gourmet chef, consider yourself to be handy in the kitchen or just want to cut up vegies you’ll be welcome. Being able to design meals for large groups of people and order foods are very useful skills.

* Structural Building - Structural support systems such as large tarp frames, kitchen benches, tripods etc are built with rope and dead limbs and tree branches (5 Star adult size cubby house style). Tying rope and wet weather camping skills are useful in this area of activity.

* Communications - Radio communications is used to communicate within the camp, from one camp to another, and to the outside world back to a telephone base. Radio comms help keep the group cohesive and informed and gives a sense of safety since there is a connection to essential services on the outside. Mobile phones can work, but in remote areas, they often don’t!

* Entertainment - Musicians, Story tellers, fire twirlers etc. always have a positive effect on the camp.

* Documentation

- Video is a great form of documentation as you can record exactly what’s going down, which can then be used for legal evidence (court cases etc), educating the public (documentaries, fundraising etc). You can also use the video camera as a tool of protection (it’s amazing how differently people behave when they know they are being filmed).

- Cameras are useful for the same reasons as videos except you can use the photographs for newspaper articles, flyers and pamphlets. A zoom lens is a particularly handy gadget.

- Written documentation can take the form of a media release which can be sent to radio, newspapers and TV stations. Communicating to different parties, such as state forests and the Minister for the Environment can take the form of handwritten letters and may be useful in court at a later time.

* Survival Basics - It’s important that someone ensures that there are always good supplies of fresh water and dry firewood available. This may entail organising people and vehicles to go of & fetch before supplies actually run out. Also crucial is the digging of a deep pit toilet, large enough to cater for many people for several days at least. Toilet paper, soap and hand washing water will also be needed.

* Tools & Gear - Blockades in the bush require tools and all kinds of equipment. Gear & tools are both expensive and difficult to replace when you are miles from the nearest town, it’s after midnight and you have until dawn to get ready. Keeping track of all tools and equipment, ensuring that they are safe and operational is essential if a blockade is to survive.

* Facilitation - More than likely at some time during the blockade there is going to be a group meeting (a circle) and this is when a good facilitator becomes very useful. A facilitator is some one who can keep the group to the topic, in order, clarify an agenda and help the group come to agree on resolutions. A timekeeper can help the facilitator by advising people when they are approaching the agreed time limit, whatever that may be set at.

* Legal - The ‘Police Liaison Person’ is nominated by the group and is a group representative, not its leader. The PLP should not be easily intimidated, should know the issues involved and the planned action. It is their job to keep communication between the police and activists running smoothly.

- Legal Observers are present at the blockade to support & assist all parties by acting as an ‘observer’ to events. With a good knowledge of the relevant laws, and usually clearly identifiable in white T-Shirts with the words “Legal Observer’ in red embroidery, Legal Observers have a similar effect on peoples behaviour as a video camera and increase the safety of an often tense situation.

- With their legal experience Legal Advisers can advise blockaders (& if necessary industry or forestry personnel) of their legal rights in relation to the situation as it happens.

The roles of Legal Observer and Legal Adviser can overlap or remain separate depending on the availability of lawyers & the scenario underway.

* Mediator - To mediate between two or more conflicting parties is to bring all to some agreement everyone will abide by, whether it be professional and/or personal. A mediator, someone who takes on this role, is always a bonus at a blockade.

* Child Minding - Often there are children at blockade camps. Child-minding can be an important aspect, as it can alleviate stress from parents and give structure and stability for children in high stress situations.

* Artistic - Whenever time permits, people can work on banners, mask making, kids’ workshops, costume making, sculptures, performances etc (Not to mention the inevitable forest song)

* Healing - Providing First Aid, giving massages, using counselling skills, being a good listener, an understanding of ointments & herbs, leading yoga/meditation groups(where time permits) and a variety of other healing skills is always great at a blockade. People inclined towards healing can help with upset emotions, assist people not to get into ‘burn-out’ situations and make for a healthier, more contented group.


Direct support to the blockade from outside

There is a whole range of ways you can support the people at the blockade without actually being there, such as:

* Sending food e.g. getting vegie shops & organic stores to donate or discount food, cooking yummy cakes and treats or just sending the basics

* making financial donations - hard cash is always needed & appreciated

* giving blankets and warm clothes

* writing letters of support

* taking people to and from the blockade

* arranging child minding facilities, for the day or longer periods, depending on your experience & expertise & places available for childminding

* If there is a suitable space, or you can create one, a place to give massages, counselling sessions, etc. to those coming in from or going out to the blockade will be appreciated heaps

* acting as a volunteer coordinator

* in high stress (safety) situations providing a ’safe house’ near the area or the closest town. This gives those on their way to or from a blockade a place to stay while in transit.

Contacting your local environment centre or group is normally a good start to any of these activities.

Work going on in other areas at the same time as the blockade

Office - The office of the local action group involved in the blockade is more than likely to be very busy at the time of the protest keeping other people and groups informed of developments, communicating with the blockade camp, phoning and faxing the media, political parties and affected bodies.

Things you can do include: phone answering, document faxing, drafting media releases, obtaining information, lobbying politicians, co-ordinating people, food & gear to the blockade, receiving & writing up reports of people returning, acting on requests by the blockade camp for items or action

Lobbying - Anyone can sit down and lobby by writing a letter of concern, phoning &/or faxing politicians, political parties and the so-called authorities.

You can also write Letters to the editor of local or the big circulation state and national papers.

Before you start though make sure you have the latest relevant info, understand the issues and know what it’s been agreed to push for. Your local environment centre or group will probably have a list of names and contact addresses and phone/fax numbers for relevant politicians e.g. Minister and Shadow Ministers.

Fundraising - Raising money obviously assists, providing the necessary cash flow to pay for major actions (Phone Bills #@$$$!%) but the other important objective achieved by fundraising is the publicity and awareness of the issues which is generated. Concerts are a great time to network & encourage new volunteers.

Volunteer Co-ordinator - Those with good co-ordinating skills could volunteer at a local environment centre to help other people find things they can do and work out what is required to be done next.

Support work before the blockade

Scouting - Potential blockade sites need careful scouting. Look for water supply, road & foot access, positions to defend, on-site or nearby materials, radio/mobile phone services, stage of works, road constructions, names and good directions. If you’re keen, obtain the relevant harvesting plan & other maps, and camp out, Look for Fauna and rare plants. Play owl tapes at night. Check stream conditions

Office - Co-ordinating people, media releases, writing submissions, research, copying documents, marking up maps, making Freedom of Information (FOI) applications etc

Lobbying - Awareness Campaign - Writing letters to the editor, fundraising events, concerts, media releases, radio and TV interviews, articles for magazines & newsletters, issuing action ‘alerts’ & updates

What needs to be done after the blockade

Awareness Campaign - Issuing a new action ‘alert’, usually ‘green’, unless further blockades remain likely when the ‘alert status’ might only move back from ‘red’ to ‘amber’.

Contacting local environment centres and other relevant groups to advise them of the new alert status i.e. not ‘red’ and asking that all ‘red’ alerts be removed and updated.

Gather all the relevant information from the blockade for further reference later and for the preparation of displays which might feature photos and newspaper clippings

At the Blockade Site - Clean up the camp site, remove all rubbish, close any pit dunnies and compost heaps, disperse the fireplaces, remove any un-needed structural installations e.g. tripods, check that all equipment is collected, repaired where necessary, and returned to the appropriate people. Basically the aim is to leave the site as it was - or better.

Legal - Final liaison with police, which might include formal complaints of police conduct. Collect evidence from witnesses at key events in the blockade, to support those people arrested and charged at the blockade, to support those people arrested and charged at the blockade, by asking that write down immediately their version of those events. Liaise with the lawyers who will defend in court anybody arrested.

Green policing - e.g. checking the status of forestry operations, after forestry operations, to ensure that all logging & road construction conditions are being met may be an outcome of any negotiated settlement which results from the blockade. Green police write reports of breaches and follow up with letters seeking further action &/or remedial works.

So there you go! Hopefully this article has given you some understanding of the bigger picture and you will be able to see where you can slot in and how everyone & everything can relate.

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