UK Uncut. Photo credits below: Grow Heathrow; man lying in oil by Immo Klink; planes flying overhead by Harmit Kambo and man in vest by Mini Mouse
Activism special Tools of resistance: the insiders guide to grassroots direct action
Molly James & Dan Glass
6th July, 2011
Molly James & Dan Glass outline the most powerful tools in the grassroots action toolbox - plus information on how you can get involved
Reclamation of Public Space
'Occupy, Create, Resist!'
Groups throughout the country are reclaiming spaces - from disused tracks of private land to university buildings - using them to build alternatives and provide services for their community. In doing so they are able to simultaneously resist the systems creating injustice and engage with local communities to build positive alternatives.
As Joe of Transition Heathrow artfully puts it 'the creation of alternative worlds is inextricably linked to confronting this one.' Following the success of anti airport expansion campaigns from groups such as Plane Stupid, Transition Heathrow reclaimed space (pictured left) to halt expansion of Heathrow Airport. At the time, BAA was moving forward with plans to expand despite years of protest from local residents. To make room for the proposed third runway, the neighbouring villages of Harlington and Sipson would be virtually demolished.
Furthering the radical stance on the Transition Town model of moving communities to low-impact models of energy use and consumption, Transition Heathrow reclaimed a track of disused agricultural land in the village of Sipson as Grow Heathrow. The plan was to 'build up [their] own positive alternatives to Capitalism and at the same time oppose the structures that build runways on peoples homes and create climate disasters such as a 3rd runway.'
Thirty tonnes of rubbish were cleared from the site, the site's derelict greenhouses were rebuilt and the space was transformed into a low-carbon living space, community garden and hub of civil engagement. Today ongoing workshops include gardening, bike maintenance and crafts and is frequently used as a space for community gatherings. email@example.com or 07890751568.
Free Hetherington- Glasgow University Campus, 0141 339 3765
Marsh Farm- Luton, 01582 561012 or firstname.lastname@example.org
'Encouraging activists to be more creative, and artists to be more bold'
Art and activism have always intertwined. Today, several groups are exploring this synergy further by staging actions much like performance pieces, using creative and even avant-garde actions to demonstrate their frustration with corporate power.
Liberate Tate is a notable example. A collective of artists, Liberate Tate is dedicated to exploring the possibilities for art as a means to social change. According to member Tina, their focus is to end sponsorship of the arts by oil companies such as BP, which they see as 'detracting attention from the climate, environmental and social atrocities that [oil companies] are committing around the world.'
In recent months, they have staged a series of 'performance interventions' in several BP-sponsored galleries. In one recently well-publicised action, a Liberate Tate activist lay naked on the gallery floor, covered with an oil like substance (pictured right) to mark the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. His action was supported by a letter published in the Guardian signed by 166 artists. These actions allow them to 'combine the edginess of direct action with an aesthetic sensibility that gives the performances greater resonance in their art world setting.' To find out more follow @liberatetate on twitter, or contact them at email@example.com
- Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, Brittany, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Art Not Oil, London 07709 545116 , email@example.com
- 'Brandalism' The Art of Self Defence, Manchester
Making Action Accessible
'Entry level direct action in familiar spaces'
As public outrage over austerity measures builds, it seems that more and more people are taking direct action for the first time. Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Workers' Climate Action, Feminists Against the Cuts, pensioners, UK Queers & Allies Against the Cuts and many more communities are organising together against those disproportionately affected.
Anti-cuts groups are providing tangible and accessible opportunities for citizens to channel their frustration into action. UK Uncut is a leading example of this. Member Alistair says they have successfully 'dragged direct action kicking and d-locking into the mainstream by picking targets present on every high street in the country and with a simple tactic - i.e. turning banks into crèches - that is fun, easily adaptable and very easy to copy without any previous experience of getting up to righteous mischief.'
Right as the cuts were sweeping the national and local governments last November, a series of newspaper articles about Vodafone avoiding £4.8bn of tax were published and met by 'a burning conviction that they shouldn't get away with it'. After calling for action on twitter with a catchy hashtag - #ukuncut - 70 campaigners occupied Vodafone's flagship store on Oxford street.
Since then there have been over 220 independently coordinated UK Uncut actions up and down the country, each targeting major high-street tax avoiders and banks. Using costumes, humour and audacity, UK Uncut (pictured left) aims to poke holes in government claims that cuts are the only solution.
Turn up to the next action or start your own 'all you need is a few mates, a healthy pinch of collective rage and a vague knowledge of your local high street.' Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, London email@example.com
- Rising Tide UK - UK Wide 07708 794665, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Oxford Save Our Services email@example.com
'Knowledge is Power'
Popular Education has a long history internationally in grassroots organising from the anti-apartheid movement to the Venezuelan revolution and now to British communities striving for fundamental rights. Bringing education outside of the classroom, the ethos of popular education is direct empowerment for the people, by the people. The intent has largely been to empower citizens to build and defend strong communities and transform their world.
UK grassroots network, So We Stand (SWS) is taking it a step further by embedding on the ground with communities affected by environmental injustices, and offering surgeries on how to create and manage their own campaigns and actions.
'Popular education enabled my community to realise the root of our despair -that there was a war going on, a social, economic and psychological war against the poor,' says SoWeStander Cathy McCormack.
Shining a light on the shared root causes of climate change, racism and economic injustice they highlight that environmental problems disproportionately affect poor and minority communities and therefore that environmental justice, social justice and anti-racism are the same struggle.
Over the past year radio shows, art projects, education programmes and community-led actions to connect injustices have sprung up all over the UK. Currently SWS London is networking communities from Southall to Tottenham living overshadowed by polluting industries to challenge 'environmental racism' - the disproportionate impact of environmental burdens on communities of colour.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- TRAPESE, UK wide, email@example.com
- Seeds for Change, Lancaster01524 840028 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rhizome Cooperative, London 0845 458 4776 email@example.com
Legal Support for Activists
Behind the headlines of political policing, mass arrests at demonstrations and deaths in police custody are countless legal support movements working night and day to protect peoples right to exist and to protest for basic freedoms.
The Monitoring Group have for decades spearheaded campaigns to expose the deaths Blair Peach, Jean Charles de Menezes, Smiley Culture and others who have died under the eye of the British police.
A more recent group is 'The Green and Black Cross' (pictured left). 'When grassroots [movements] effectively press for change, history tells us that repression and abuse follow' says Seb, of Green and Black Cross. To stand in the face of this pushback people must understand their rights, feel supported and most importantly be empowered by the courage these provide. 'That's where GBC comes in. We exist to support those facing repression, so that could mean an activist medic treating you when you've been beaten by the police, a flapjack 6 hours into a freezing kettle or legal advice and a good lawyer when you call our number when you've been nicked.' Follow them on twitter @GBCLegal and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Activist Trauma Support, 07952965739 or email@example.com
In tough times it's important to remember that the tools to take a stand against injustice are out there. UK grassroots movements are often seen as a model across the world and this Autumn a big skills share will be taking place in the United States. With such a unique and powerful portfolio of tactics to work with as such, why not ....Just Do It?
Dan Glass is the cofounder of So We Stand and was named one of the UK's youth climate leaders by the Guardian, and one of Attitude magazine's 66 new role models. Dan will be touring the US to build relationships with American groups working on aviation justice issues, see www.aviationjustice.org for more information.
Molly James is the Outreach Coordinator for Just Do It- a tale of modern-day outlaws, which hits cinemas starting on July 15th. A California native and recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Molly will be touring California community organizations working on issues of poverty and climate change as part of www.aviationjustice.org
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