Mistakes: An Opinion About CSB (Draft)
#CantStandBy is an inherently D-I-Y project. That's kind of the point. It's ordinary people "having a crack at it". The #CantStandBy manual is not an infallible document. There are ways in which things did not go to plan in the early days.
For example, few people had anticipated how intense the highway occupations would be, or how total the media blackout around #CantStandBy would be.
Perhaps most disheartening, much larger groups (that actually had the numbers to be able to carry out the plan) did not seem at all moved by the demonstration of people self-organizing to shut down a highway in Coburg for 3 months in a row without injury or arrest. It was perhaps unfair to expect that they would be drawn to participate. At least until they had any reason to expect that it would grow dramatically.
Unfortunately, in early 2017 it CSB hadn't quite caught on in that way yet. By mid-2017, the political pressure which drew people to occupy the roads in the first place had begun to dissipate. Up until this point, except for a few months at the very beginning, the network had only known periods of growth. Around June 2017 things began to die off and energy seemed to drain from the network.
The possibility that this could be the end of #CantStandBy loomed. Had it been a centralised organisation, it's difficult to imagine that it would have been able to sustain its activities so effectively for another six months with such a massive drop in energy input.
But decentralised groups are organisationally light - they can float for a while. Or at least #CantStandBy did. But until that next gust of political outrage pushed the network back into a significant outrage in Nov 2017, it was very hard to tell the difference between, gliding (at least somewhat) and falling.
However, the entire point of the network was that it was meant to be able to ebb and flow. People cannot resist at their fullest capacity indefinitely. The whole point of CSB was that participants were meant to be able to literally take 5 months off and come back into it still knowing how to participate.
During those coasting months when the network was recuperating, the regular community picket actions on the highways really helped keep the network alive. They were part of the thin threads of our sail that was just barely pushing the #CantStandBy boat forward.
But given that the network seems to have caught this new gust of political outrage and it looks as though it will be able to convert that into political demonstrations, this document seeks to address whatever potential shortcomings have been seen in the network so far. This will help people to make the most informed decision about what actions to participate in.
We will talk specifically about the nature of highway occupations (in a way that makes us sound like we're experts when we're just peopling having a crack at this).
We just hope to better prepare people for making decisions about whether to occupy roadways. So much more can be written on it and if you have any good resources tweet them to #CantStandBy. Also, there is already an excellent attempt cover some of the massive areas that the network manual missed - in the Black Cross Resilience zine Prepare and Repair. Which everyone should read. And then read again three months later at least. It really is quite good.
But with that said, here's the info we think you.
1. If you're blocking a road - don't think motorists are going to like what you're doing.
A problem with the network manual and a lot of the supporting media is that it does not accurately prepare people for the realities of highway occupations.
Part of the reason it is unable to do this is that it does not explore the fact that there is a fundamental difference in the nature of a demonstration that is organised towards disruption and a protest that is targeted towards outreach.
A protest that is designed towards outreach should take place in an area with a lot of foot traffic so that people can have conversations.
A protest that is designed towards disruption should take place at an economically significant location so that it is able to have the most impact.
At the moment, for the most part, people have just held whichever type of demonstration they have the numbers or prefer to hold on the highways.
This model has worked well. But it could potentially work even better if we were to appreciate the difference in these two types of actions and create spaces which are better able facilitate them both.
Banner Drop Photos:
One thing we want to make clear is that we still want lots of small and solo "banner drop photos" taken on the 1st Saturday of each month at the #CantStandBy rallying points. This is absolutely vital to the network. So still go to the bus stop to take a photo. It's just now, you don't have to worry that it's not also disrupting the economy or reaching out to the general public as effectively as perhaps other tactics might. The banner drop photos aren't for disruption or outreach. They are to let other people in the network know that you're aware of the network and ready to go.
As with all CSB operations, the specifics of how these are carried out are up to the participants.
Hot Tip: Don't bother forcing a leaflet into the hands of every person who passes. Instead, make a large sign that is visible for 5-10 metres away that specifically indicates what is on the leaflet. This way it is far more likely that people who come up at take one actually want it. This works just as well as handing lots people leaflets they don't really want.
Don't think motorists are going to like what you're doing. The methods suggested in the network manual to ease tension between motorists and demonstrators do not appear to have worked at any point. It seems almost no one is open to a discussion with a group of people who are blocking their car. Which is understandable. However, we don't need them to do be open to conversation. Instead, we need to keep them, and everyone else safe, while we take emergency action to end mandatory detention.
So the first step is to wear a hi-vis jacket. The second step is to bring ear protection. When highways get blocked they often erupt into a temporary storm of honking horns. If you have ear protection this will make your action much more enjoyable. If the ear protection is visible, it may also deter motorists from trying to engage in conversation.
By making this distinction, at the outreach actions, people can come anticipating an action that will be open, friendly and engaging. At the potentially disruptive actions, people can come prepared enough to be both safe and effective.
We don't recommend blockading with less than 30 people.
We don't recommend blockading with less than 10 people per lane.
The network manual says not to attempt an occupation of the roadway with less than 30 people. This is a good idea. Also, don't block the road with less than 10 people per lane. If you only have 30 people, we would strongly recommend only closing down a 2 lane road. This may mean occupying a different road than what is suggested in the network manual.
While it is possible and admirable to hold a blockade with fewer people - doing so can be an incredibly intense experience. Another drawback of occupying with fewer people is that it requires a much higher degree of trust and familiarity among the participants.
On the other hand, when a group of 100 people attempts to block a road it can often be much more simple. Demonstrators can basically cluster together and wander out on to the road when it is clear.
However, if you're doing this same thing with 30 people then the nature of the demonstration changes dramatically. Now, everyone has to be paying attention the whole time, and everyone has to work much harder to hold the road. This also doesn't leave many options for people to opt-out if something goes wrong during the action. Smaller actions also usually require some type of meeting to prepare participants and discuss what their roles during the action will be.
Neither approach is wrong, had there been no people brave enough to occupy the roads with fewer people, we would not know what was possible.
The strength of big occupations is that they are more accessible to the general public, and the strength of smaller occupations is that they require fewer people.
This is the purpose of the Central Station Actions:
Nov 25 (Last Saturday): An accessible place for people to meet.
Dec 2 (1st Saturday): An accessible network for people to act in.
The reason it is important to understand the difference between what these actions are trying to achieve is that different things make either type of action successful. A disruptive action is successful if a lot of people are annoyed afterward. For instance, if a lot of people (who didn't want to know about the action) are forced to become aware of it. Then that is a good disruptive action. This is specifically how Martin Luther King described his actions as working. On the other hand, if an outreach action establishes a good connection between an extra one or two demonstrators, then that is a fantastic outreach action.
So now we have 3 potential ways for people to engage with the network:
Physical outreach, disruption, and online promotions through Tuesday Tweet Storms.
3. It's possible to organise short unpermitted marches across bridges instead of occupations.
Another way to disrupt traffic is to march across a bridge. This may be easier to do, than holding still because if the traffic is moving slowly, it can keep people from getting out of their cars.
This can make the demonstration more manageable. At the same time, if it takes your group 15 minutes to walk across the bridge, it has a similar effect to if people stood still.
4. Use large objects for protection.
Wheelie bins, bikes, wheelbarrows, dumpsters, etc to provide a physical barrier between the demonstrators and the motorists.