Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding

Chapter 10 - Going on the Offensive

To actually ever overcome the forces of the State, we must take the action to those propagating environmental and social vandalism. If campaigns remain entrenched in a defensive mentality, they will always be stunted, under pressure and ultimately controllable. Don't dance to their tune - seize control, take the fight to them, and get in their faces!

Thinking Strategically

Strategic, creative and lateral thinking is essential in the "David and Goliath" direct action situations we face. Identify the objectives of each action, and seek to achieve them using as little effort as possible for maximum effect. This means standing back, viewing their whole operation, identifying the Achilles Heel, and going for it mercilessly.

For example, on the first day of the Newbury clearance contract in January 1996, protesters knew that all the security guards were billeted on a farm, down a narrow lane, about 15 miles from Newbury. Rather than sit and wait for them to arrive to start work, a handful of activists hired a truck, stole some scaffold poles, and made two tripods (see 'tripods', chapter 12). They then drove to the farm before dawn, and hid a tripod at each end of the lane. As the guards were boarding their coaches, the tripods were erected to block the lane. Those coaches, and their 300 guards, weren't going anywhere that day - so no destruction work was done!

In Windsor Great Park in Summer 1995, chainsaw crews turned up to fell the mighty oaks. They were whizzing up and down the huge avenue of trees in a LandRover, vainly pursued by a few exhausted protesters on foot. One person had the wit to see that the weak spot was the LandRover. He locked himself to it, so the chainsaw crews had to walk, and protesters could reach the trees in time to save them. Those trees are still standing.

Always seek to ambush and wrong-foot contractors before they get to you. Their plans are complex and their organisations rigid, so a little spanner in the works here and there can spoil their plans beautifully! Both the examples above also illustrate the vulnerability of their reliance on vehicles. Always maintain an element of surprise in your actions. Do the unexpected - for instance, travel to actions by an unlikely route. Decoys also often work well.

Stopping Surveyors

The importance of hindering surveyors at every opportunity cannot be over-emphasised. You can do it covertly or openly - ideally do both.

Covert disruption

This has the advantage of yielding information as well as causing chaos, and should be done before open disruption if possible, as that would put surveyors on their guard. Just watch the surveyors start work. Before road construction begins, they will work along the route by taking measurements off "base stations". These are inconspicuous metal pins at intervals of 100m or so, sunk into large concrete foundation blocks buried in the ground, or hammered into existing roads. (Base stations will themselves usually be placed years before construction starts, at the road planning stage). By noting exactly where surveyors place their equipment, you will learn the locations of the base stations. This is a good job for people who enjoy dressing in camouflage gear and lying in bushes with binoculars! Be accurate, as finding them again will be tricky, especially in the dark. After the surveyors go home, you could map base stations by pacing or measuring their distance from a landmark, on a compass bearing.

When you have enough information, and just before the surveyors finish finding all the base stations on the route, go and dig them up. You will need a claw hammer, spades, and crowbars, and a couple of people - it's hard work. Use a lever to remove the concrete block. Fill in and disguise the hole afterwards, and take away or hide the base station. A weekend night is the best time. It's "criminal damage", so don't get caught. You must remove as many consecutive stations as possible for maximum effect. If done comprehensively, this could delay work enormously.

At later stages in the construction process, actual survey markers begin to appear - usually wooden stakes, but sometimes bright paint marks on trees or the ground. They may indicate areas to be cleared, compound or fence lines, or various other information. Two vertical posts about 0.5m apart with an angled batten between them will indicate an excavation gradient. Whenever you find stakes, either adjust, reposition or remove them completely, after noting their position. If you move them, don't make the route bigger!

If you find paint marks on trees, black them out completely with paint, and paint similar black squares on all the trees in the area. The surveyors will have to start again. Deal with paint marks on roads by spraying lots of similar marks all over the place, if you can get the right paint. If not, paint the whole area black.

Try to work out what marks signify by comparing their position with route maps. Don't get caught, and beware false survey stakes placed as a tempting trap to catch stake-pulling protesters.

Open disruption

This is more straightforward. Go up to the surveyors, and stop them by standing in their line of sight, as close to their sighting instrument as possible - a banner works well. Try being friendly, and they might chat and reveal useful information. If they are paint-spraying, get in the way, and try and grab the paint can.

If you outnumber them and there are no police or security about, they may just go away. If not, chase them well off the route, following them in vehicles if possible. Teams of mobile surveyor- stoppers, preferably with CBs or mobile phones, can be very effective.

Surveyors are very twitchy about their expensive instruments... if you do things like adjust the height of the tripod legs or get mud on the lens, they may get angry. If equipment is left unattended, it could be converted into an interesting habitat feature in a ditch or dense hedgerow. Stopping surveyors' vehicles stops them working too; record their vehicle descriptions.

As surveyor-stopping becomes commonplace, they will acquire a permanent security escort. The answer to this is to outnumber them.

Site Invasions

To stop the road, you must try and stop their machines on their sites. Intelligence and observation are essential. Know what machines are working where, and how to stop them.

Approaching the site from several directions, and targeting different sites at the same time, should panic and split security. If the site is fenced, have a strategy for getting through or over the fence. Ladders, rolls of carpet, wire cutters and scaffolding may come in handy.

Construction sites are dangerous, noisy places, designed for controlled work, not chaotic protests. Machine drivers will be concentrating on their work, and may not see or hear you. All vehicles have blind spots. Be aware of this, and take care of yourself and others.

Stopping a machine is simple, if nerve-racking at first. Approach the machine and stand directly in front of it, where the driver can see you. Look him in the eye, gesticulate amicably, and make it clear you're not moving. Sometimes the driver, knowing you can move, will carry on; consider sitting down with your back to them if this happens. Once you've stopped the machine, you can climb onto it, and / or lock onto it (see 'locks', Chapter 12).

photo of  construction site invasion

Machine operators may be pissed off with their role, and unnerved by you, so talk to them. They'll say that it's just a job, and they have a wife, kids and mortgage; it's probably true. Abuse from you is more likely to provoke them to react in the easy way - by punching you or someone else. They are generally bigger and grumpier than us, and aren't the real target of the action. Watch out for violent situations, and try to diffuse them (see 'dealing with violence on actions', later in this chapter).

A chain of operation is only as strong as its weakest link. If, for example, one digger is loading several dumper trucks, stopping the digger will terminate the whole operation. Alternatively, if the trucks pass through a pinch point (eg. a bridge, gate or traffic lights), you could block one there and stop everything. This is likely to be less dangerous than trying to stop all vehicle movements at once.

Decoys running manicly about will attract the attention of security guards, whilst others can zigzag towards the target vehicles and lock on. Decoy raids on other sites may also draw security away.

Using "passive resistance" when caught will tie up several security guards or police, allowing other protesters through. This entails lying down and going floppy to form a dead weight. Several people are needed to carry a totally relaxed person, giving other protesters room to manoeuvre. Linking arms and legs to those around you will make everyone harder to remove. Check with others as they may not want to be tugged about. Passive resistance is also a clear demonstration of peaceful non-cooperation.

Targets on site

Excavators, Dumper trucks and Bulldozers: Excavators (also known as earthmovers and diggers) move earth and smash things up. Dumper trucks transport "spoil" dug by diggers either off route, or along the route to be shaped by bulldozers. Excavator arms can be climbed and the hydraulics locked onto. Sitting on, or in front of, trucks and bulldozers will only halt them briefly. Locking on inaccessibly underneath works well, if the driver knows you're there (see 'locks', Chapter 12). Some might even use further immobilisation methods...

Graders and Rollers: These flatten and level land, after the bulldozers. Graders have a scraper blade in the middle, and rollers have two rollers!

Cranes and Pile drivers: Cranes work on major structures like bridges or flyovers, or to lift heavy materials like portacabins and large pipes onto site. Pile drivers are used for sinking piles to form the foundations of structures. Both are good for hanging banners, and make fun climbing frames. Climb as high as possible, and block the top turning wheel with a metal bar, which should prevent the jib being lowered. Read "Crane Sits" if you're planning an extended stay up there.

Site offices / Portacabins: These are the hub and hierarchical pinnacle of the contractors on route. This is where the consultant engineers tell the contractors what to do. A good source of fine details on work schedules, and an essential target for actions; thus, they hate you getting inside. If you can't get in, get on top. Small holes discreetly made in the roof will surprise them next time it rains!

Land Rovers: These are the usual vehicles in which security, bosses and surveyors move about the route.

Concrete batching towers: Major schemes may have their own on-site concrete production plant, supplying concrete for major structures. Good banner-hanging sites.

Concrete mixing lorries: These transfer concrete from batching plant to site. If they are halted for about an hour the concrete will start to set in them. Contractors get very shirty if these are blocked, especially as they are often owner-driven.

Directional concrete delivery pipes: These transfer concrete from lorries to the shuttering which moulds the setting concrete, via a bendy pipe. Concrete pours are key to construction schedules. They must be done quickly, smoothly, and completely, or will be structurally unsound. They are thus key things to sabotage.

Crane Sits

Cranes are bought in at an expensive daily rate for important jobs. So, every single day that you spend up them costs them loads and seriously screws up their schedules.

The Prepared Crane Sitter

All this is obviously difficult to get up there, so a prolonged sit should be done with at least one other person. It is also good to have a ground support team to help you up, watch out for your welfare and to liaise with the press. For your general comfort, wedge the platform between the crane struts and tie it on securely. This will also make it harder for them to get to you. The best time to get up a crane is the early hours of the morning when no-one is looking out for a couple of sneaky sitters!

If you've jammed the cog at the top of the crane, they shouldn't be able to lower the jib. They may then use or threaten force. In the past, security guards with climbing gear have been sent up to pull you down. They should find this difficult if you are determined enough. On one occasion thick mattresses were placed under the crane and sitters were threatened that if they did not come down, they'd be thrown off. Hopefully, this was an empty threat. Expect to be arrested for Aggravated Trespass or Section 241 for "depriving a workman of his tool" (see 'arrestable offences, chapter 15"). Good Luck!

The British record is six days, six hours and 38 minutes set at the M65 protest in Lancashire in 1994.


Blockades are generally used to stop vehicles from entering or leaving a compound, building or site, or from passing along a stretch of road. They can paralyse an operation, whilst requiring relatively few people. To plan a blockade, first select the target; decide what the most effective thing to stop will be, and where it can be stopped. If the contractors are depending on a specific machine, then that's the thing to stop. Identify bottlenecks - for instance, gates or narrow bits of road that the vehicle must pass through. Ensure you have identified every possible exit, as partial blockades are pointless.

After reconnaissance, decide on the most effective time to launch the blockade. The ideal time is just before the target vehicle is about to leave. Too early will give the police more time to bust the blockade, and too late is useless. Work out the logistics of springing the blockade, taking into account the need for prior concealment, surprise and timing. Have look-outs with CBs or mobile phones.

Whether you use D locks, tripods, lock-ons, vehicles or any other method, it is vital to practice it thoroughly, and check all the equipment, beforehand. For actual blockading tools, see Chapter xx. You may have literally half a minute to spring the blockade, so think it through and get it right. A diversion can stop police or security interfering at the vital moment.

Bikes can provide stealthy transport to a site as well as form the actual blockade. At Twyford Down in March 1993, Winchester College schoolboys broke ranks with their money-grabbing masters to blockade a M3 site entrance effectively. They chained their bikes together and lay underneath them.

An alternative to blocking a site entrance is to suddenly stop a vehicle whilst in transit between depot and destination. For instance, at Newbury 1996, activists lay in wait in an underpass below a roundabout. When the bulldozer convoy approached and slowed down, they ran out suddenly with a banner, and stopped it. This was very simple, and worked. Placing logs visibly in the road in advance, or quickly erecting tripods, may help to persuade drivers to stop. Stash equipment beforehand. If you try this sort of thing, remember that road safety becomes an issue, and the police will not like you blocking the highway. Be bold, quick and careful, and expect arrests. A Critical Mass or Street Party type of blockade can also be used; see Chapter 11.

Yet another idea is to use scrap cars - the blockading possibilities of a driveable pile of junk are limited only by your imagination! (See 'scrap cars, chapter 12)

Days Of Action

Days of Action are great for boosting morale, publicity and numbers, especially on smaller campaigns. They are useful at the start of a campaign or when one has been running for a long time and activists are exhausted or bailed off route. As these actions are a good introduction to direct action for new people, make sure that everyone feels they have contributed to shutting down the road for the day. However, organised days of action also mean organised and prepared police and security.

Checklist for Organising an Action

  1. Choose a name, date and broad focus as far in advance as possible (at least a month).
  2. Start networking now!
  3. Fundraise.
  4. Ask people from other towns and cities to organise and advertise transport to the action.
  5. Organise accommodation, food, toilets and entertainment.
  6. Prepare Legal Support, Action Observers and contact a solicitor.
  7. Consider whether to invite media, and if so, send out a press release.
  8. If intending to stop work, know what work is happening where, and get to know work patterns.
  9. Ensure you have a realistic and strong focus for the day.
  10. Form an elementary plan, including decoys and back up plan. Build in a large element of flexibility so that people coming in can have an input.
  11. Acquire necessary equipment and tools, including communications.
  12. Think about transport needs on the day - walking, bikes, hire vans and public transport are all options.
  13. Draft accurate maps of the area, including more detailed ones of the target sites.
  14. Make sure you have a team of people to fill all the important roles on the day - drivers, legal support team, media spokespeople, site guides for each affinity group, camp sitters, cooks, office staffers, route monitors and people to clear up afterwards.
  15. Hold briefings and training sessions preferably the day before.

Get an early night the night before an action. Wake people up in plenty of time and have breakfast prepared.

Targeting The Evidence Gatherers On Site

Police and private detectives are increasingly using technology to gather information during protests. Their evidence may prove crucial in convicting activists, although most is used for general surveillance and profile-building. It is important to minimise the amount of info available to them. The majority of their evidence is collected in the form of film and photos, although they will also make a verbal record on Dictaphones, and may have directional microphones to record you.

They are easy to spot on worksites, standing in a small group back from the action but always near it, carrying cameras and notebooks. Police may have "EG" displayed on their uniforms, and wear blue hard hats.

Simply standing in front of them with a banner will hinder their filming and annoy them. Stay with them. Be careful not to actually touch them or their equipment, as this may count as assault. If they are police, or if police are nearby, you will be asked to move off and probably threatened with arrest after a while. The best approach might be to retreat after the warning, and let someone else take over. It's vital that everyone realises the importance of obstructing them, and gives them a hard time.

From a distance, you might be able to obstruct filming using a mirror to reflect the sun, or with a camera flash gun; be aware that flash guns can actually damage video cameras, if you're close enough. Creating a smokescreen can be good in certain circumstances - if you're up a tree for instance. Make sure you're not filmed chucking the smoke bomb (see page yyy).

Audio recordings, including video soundtracks, can be disrupted by shouting, blowing whistles, chanting and drumming. Another alternative is to constantly describe the destruction caused by the road into the microphone, so that it will be heard if the tape is used in court. Don't give your name or any personal details, or converse at all.

Watch out for undercover evidence gatherers. They may pose as the press, or as amateur photographers. If in doubt, keep an eye on them, and ask to see their press card. If you're certain a photographer is dodgy, make sure everyone knows.


This can be a very powerful tool on mass actions and demos. You will have to outnumber the police and ensure there are no surveillance crews around. If someone has just been nicked then a large crowd can surround the policeman and the person and then bundle the arrestee out of there. No arrest - magic! The nicked person should disappear. This is very empowering, but only do it if you can get away with it. It works best on one-off actions, otherwise the person may get recognised and re-arrested on another day.

Targeting Contractors Off-Site

You can exert significant pressure by targeting a company away from the road site. Subcontractors and suppliers are particularly vulnerable, as the main contractor relies on smaller companies.

Target existing contractors, and, more effectively, potential bidders for contracts. Make a list of as many contractors' offices and worksites as you can find. Corporate Watch (Chapter xx) should be able to help you find information; see also Chapter xx. Publish these details as widely as possible, and call for solidarity actions, office occupations and pickets. Hopefully actions will start nationwide, especially if your group shows the way with actions in your area. Tell the media, especially the construction press, about your targeting campaign. If you have foreign contacts, an action against a contractor's office abroad will really worry them!

Newbury campaigners produced the "Greasy Palms List" in 1996. This was a comprehensive list of the offices of just about everyone involved in building the road. Numerous actions resulted, including targeting coach companies, with several pulling out of their contracts to transport guards to Newbury.

If contractors have links to consumer products, you could call a boycott. This was done when Twyford Down security firm Group 4 bought a controlling stake in Ecover, the "green" cleaning product company. Boycotts take a lot of energy, but if nothing else, will raise public awareness and embarrass the company.

You could also try visiting contractors' senior management at their lovely homes; get addresses from company search data. A picnic on the lawn on a Sunday morning is nice and media- friendly. The same tactic can be used to keep the pressure on all sorts of undesirables, from Undersheriffs to politicians.

Office Occupations

The decision-makers sit in cosy offices far removed from the reality of the destruction they cause. Occupying such an office is an effective direct action, especially for a relatively small group of activists. Before you get to the target office, agree on the aim. Is it a press stunt, a symbolic occupation, an information-trawling exercise, or designed for maximum disruption? Everyone should agree on what to do inside, and how long to stay for - and stick to it.

Reconnaissance is important. Look for ways in, such as open ground floor windows, fire escapes, and side doors, and ensure everyone knows the basic layout. The best way in is usually the front door! Anyone who doesn't want to go in could picket the entrance, and leaflet cars in the workers' car park. Make a simple plan to get in. Entrances often have security locks, swipe-card readers, or intercoms. One smartly-dressed person going in and opening the door for everyone else often works. Small bits of wood can wedge the door open. Have an excuse such as courier delivery, an employment inquiry or a pre-booked appointment with a named worker. Alternatively, you can sneak in behind employees going in, or catch the door as one leaves. Ensure that you aren't spotted beforehand.

Once in, the fun starts! You might all look for the office of those actually working on the road, or scatter through the building to cause chaos, but stay in pairs at least, as office workers can defend their space assertively. Keep it calm and non-confrontational, especially as most workers you come across will not be decision-makers; seek out the bosses! Reassure workers who seem frightened by your invasion that you intend no violence, and distribute leaflets explaining your case to them. You may want to make demands, such as a meeting with senior management. Take press phone numbers with you, for interviews from the office. Banners hung from the roof look good. photo - office occupation

If your goal is disruption, rearrange paper and filing cabinets, lock doors and hide keys, unplug everything, make noisy music, barricade yourself into empty offices, play with computers, photocopy your bum and fax it to the DoT, phone friends in Australia, lock yourself to the radiator, etc. Keep it tidy, and they might not discover what you've been up to until later; obvious criminal damage or theft on these type of actions may lead to everyone being arrested if you are few in number. Some occupations have involved smashing up as much as possible, but these are risky, and may cause public relations problems.

If your goal is info-gathering, get in and out quickly. Rummage through filing cabinets and photograph or photocopy everything interesting. Alternatively, you could fax documents to the campaign office, who should be briefed to keep their fax line free. You may want to borrow some files to study at your leisure... chuck them out of a window to waiting colleagues who can spirit them away immediately. Don't hang around waiting to be arrested. Leave a pre-printed disclaimer in place of the files, stating that anything removed will be returned undamaged within 24 hours. This gives time to read files and copy useful stuff. You can return the files either to the office doorstep in the middle of the night, or (anonymously) to a Police Station Lost Property Office in a different town. It's essential to return everything if anyone does get nicked for theft; although the disclaimer has no actual legal weight, charges should be dropped if files are returned as promised. Remember that this is only a general outline - actions like this require extensive planning.

Everyone should leave together, and make sure no-one is left inside. Be aware that police often search everyone before they leave the office, especially if anything has been removed or damaged.

Bureaucrat Baiting

The roadbuilders need offices to get the road built as much as they need bulldozers. There will be people sitting at their desks doing essential work such as drafting contracts, and they must be stopped! Identify the key people in the roadbuilding agency (see Chapter xx), and target them persistently. Do the same for contract bidders during the contract letting procedure. Target anyone else who appears to be doing key office work on the road at any time.

The objective is to hinder the work of the key people as much as possible, by clogging up their in tray, phone and fax lines, and e-mail. This will make extra work for them, tie their bureaucracy up in knots, and make them feel personally responsible.

Some techniques might be to place adverts for bargain goods in free ad papers, with their direct phone line as the contact. Produce cheap fliers advertising an unbeatable offer with the same phone number, and put them everywhere. Do anything that will tie up those phone lines!

Order them things they will need to spend time returning or cancelling, like china figurines from newspaper colour supplements, or subscriptions to book clubs. This is much more effective than just bombarding them with junk mail. Ordering goods and services from other dodgy companies is especially fun; for instance, phone up and hire them extra machines from the plant hire company working on the road.

Network their contact details as widely as possible on the internet, amongst local supporters, and to national activist networks. Encourage people to use their imagination...

You may want to publicise a big phone and fax blockade on a particular day, to really clog up the communications at a vital time.

You could blockade the key staff from getting to work. Remember that the objective is to cause as much chaos as possible to the office and key people, not to intimidate.

Shareholder Actions

All public companies must hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM), where all shareholders are invited to vote to approve the company Annual Report and accounts, and to elect Company Directors. An AGM is when a company is under greatest public scrutiny, and thus provides an excellent opportunity to embarrass it. Companies are legally required to carry out certain functions at their AGM, and so serious disruption could theoretically place the company in breach of the Companies Act (see Basic Law for Road Protesters - Chapter xx), or at least force them to re-arrange the meeting. We don't know of an occasion when protesters have achieved this in Britain. Any campaign against a company should include visiting their AGM. To explore this area further, see the Shareholder's Action Handbook (Chapter 17).

The first stage is to buy shares, through a bank or stockbroker. As a fee is charged per transaction, it's best to pool money and buy as many shares as you need in one person's name, and then transfer one share each to everyone who wants one. Transfer forms are available from the registrars who are administering the shares. Return forms to the registrars, who will arrange the transfers at no extra cost. This will take time, so buy and transfer the shares as soon as possible - preferably months in advance. If you have enough cash, you could advertise for potential shareholders amongst national activists.

The registrars will send shareholders advance notification of the AGM - usually held in Summer - and also of any additional Extraordinary General Meetings (EGMs). Looking at the venue well beforehand will help to form your plans. Discuss what you want to achieve - sympathetic press coverage, embarrassment, or outright chaos? Escalating tactics, for instance by asking questions at first and becoming disruptive as they remain unanswered, may allow several objectives to pursued at the same meeting. Read the company's Annual Report to prepare questions. Don't be distracted by aiming to win the votes, as they are decided according to how many shares each voter holds, and the board will hold a controlling proportion. You could set up a bogus shareholders' association, purporting to be the voice of small shareholders concerned with the company's direction, and send out provocative press releases. This should stir things up nicely in the financial press!

Networking all your activist shareholders will encourage their attendance. Provide transport, as AGMs are usually held in cities - often London - far from your local campaign. Decide also whether to arrange and publicise a demo outside for non-shareholding protesters to leaflet shareholders and wave banners. Send out a press release describing a photo-opportunity outside. Prepare leaflets to put on shareholders' chairs; they might even read ones which superficially mimic the company's own literature.

Consider holding a discussion or briefing meeting the night before the AGM to finalise plans, and perhaps arrange accommodation.

On the day, dress smartly, and don't forget your share certificate. Be prepared for serious security - you may be frisked, have your bag X-rayed and your pockets searched, and be "metal- detected". Smuggling in cameras, stinkbombs, whistles, handcuffs and other paraphernalia of disruption will be tricky, especially if they're metal. Hide small items in your underwear or shoes.

AGMs can seem intimidating. The board will sit on a raised platform at the front, with the first few rows of seats packed with company employees, and security guards in suits. Security will also lurk around the edge of the hall. The roving microphones which shareholders use to ask questions will be carried by security, and can be switched off if you start ranting. Keep hols of the microphone until they have answered your question.

The meeting will begin with an introduction by the Chairman, followed by the start of business. This is usually the time to start asking questions or disrupting. A common tactic is for the company to appear reasonable by putting "environmental questions" at the end of the agenda. Don't be fooled; demand that the environment is moved to the top. Keep making demands, and don't take no for an answer. Disruption can take many forms - whistles, clapping, chanting, chucking paper, running around, climbing up the walls, and storming the stage. Ideally, the objective should be to shut the meeting down.

"Normal" shareholders will soon get fed up of your antics. Although a few might listen to your arguments, most are only interested in their dividend. Expect impatience at least, and perhaps threats. You might counter this by raising issues which play on their concerns (ie. money), or "infiltrate" them with convincing-looking activists posing as ordinary shareholders, who urge that "we listen to the greens".

Disruption will be countered by the goons in suits, who may eject "troublemakers". Help each other if this happens, and increase the chaos factor. Beware aggression or damage that may get you arrested and give ammunition to the company's PR office. photo - billboard subversion

Subvertising Billboards

Only your imagination limits this type of action. Car adverts using sexually provocative imagery or wilderness backdrops are particularly tempting targets. To maximise the subversive impact, make your amendments look real. Measure up the type-face used on the advert. Most computers have lots of font styles, one of which should match. Increase the size of the individual letters using a photocopier. If you dress up in white overalls and fly-post confidently over the original message, then you probably won't get caught. Alternatively do it at night, although this looks suspicious.

Spray painting is a quicker method, but it is prone to spelling mistakes and illegible hand writing unless you use a stencil. Billboard subvertising can be used to advertise campaign events.

Hunger Strikes

These have been used during road protests mainly by people in custody at a police station or in prison. For instance at Twyford Down in 1993 and Newbury in 1996 they were used to challenge draconian bail conditions, to resist increased conditions when arrested for breaching bail, and in combination with refusing to give fingerprints. Hunger strikes are best used to strengthen a clearly publicised demand. Have a support team to deal with media and monitor your welfare. Be realistic as the authorities are very unlikely to back down to any major demand. If you are not prepared to starve to death, set a period of time and call it a fast.

It is important to drink lots of still mineral water if you hunger strike. This will also cleanse your body of toxins produced when fasting. If you plan to hunger strike, you could practice by gradually increasing the length of your fast. Refusing food for more than a few weeks may irreparably damage internal organs. Hunger strikes should not be undertaken lightly.

Filming On Actions

Filming on actions is good for evidence for court cases, building up an archive, doing our own media work, images for publicity materials and as a tool for direct action training. However, there is a balance to be struck between gathering useful material, and being in a position to help the police, who would love to get their hands on your videos and photos. By taking videos and photos, you are in a very responsible position and should not abuse it.

The cops have got quite sophisticated at evidence gathering (see page yyy) and can quite easily stitch people up in court. It is undeniably useful to have your own evidence in court which contradicts what they say or, at the very least, shows another side to the story.

Record the circumstances of an arrest, as that is what the police usually lie about. You'll need to stand back and film the whole scene - the police preparing to go in and randomly arrest people, warnings, threats etc. After a while, you'll get a feel for when the police are about to go in. It may also be helpful for photographers to make quick notes at the time to help them interpret the photos.

If you are filming for your own records, ask people's permission first and do something useful with the footage. If you have any particularly striking images, send a copy to the campaign. Send it for the attention of the campaign archivist.

If you film anything that is useful for court purposes, you should contact the campaign and let them know. Try really hard to contact the arrestee as they probably won't have noticed who was filming. If you film actions you should be prepared to turn up at court for people. If your video or photograph is used as evidence then you may have to swear in court that you took it and that it hasn't been tampered with. A signed statement may be sufficient, however. The campaign should label, store and archive photographs and videos chronologically. Don't store them anywhere where they may get seized by the police.

Ask before you film as many people are understandably very sensitive about cameras. Be prepared for people to get annoyed if you don't ask first. Some feel filming actions is parasitic - photographers standing on the sidelines, either making money as a journalist or getting a collection of exciting snaps. Direct action is not a spectator sport! Some people may get in trouble with the pictures you take. They may be on bail conditions banning them from where they are. They may be wanted by the police for other things. They may be doing something that they do not want captured on film. Don't film anyone committing criminal damage unless they ask you to.

Any camcorder operator or photographer is in danger of having footage seized by the police. This happens to aid their own evidence gathering or to suppress coverage of their own actions. They may take the camera as well as the film. If they seize anything, make sure they sign something as proof that they have taken it off you.

Criminal Damage And The Campaign

"The argument of the broken window is the most valuable argument in modern politics."
-Emily Pankhurst, suffragette, circa 1913

This is a discussion of the strategic and practical implications of damaging property; for legal definitions see Chapter 15. Of course, we are not condoning or inciting anything, just aiming to honestly tackle a real issue.

The issue of "Criminal Damage" is controversial to many; some say it alienates support, and your opponents will call damage to property "violent". It is an "offence" taken more seriously than many others by the police, which suggests that it might be effective... this is not the place for an in-depth discussion of the ethics of criminal damage, as you need to think about it for yourself. Watch a bulldozer ripping up irreplaceable wildlife habitat so that rich corporations can get a bit richer, and ponder the meanings of "criminal" and "damage".

photo - machine damage

Some people systematically undertake acts of covert sabotage. This has been a common method of resistance for centuries. It raises important issues. Sabotage can inflict heavy economic damage, and force the use of 24-hour security measures, increasing contractors' paranoia. A small number of people can be very effective with inexpensive low-tech tools. Sabotage can also be used strategically - for example, disabling a key cherry-picker the night before an eviction. However, it can be risky. If caught, remand and long prison sentences are likely, so security and planning are essential. These pressures can induce paranoid stress. As well as personal risk, covert sabotage has implications for the whole campaign. It may make reprisals, such as vigilante attacks on camps, more likely. It could result in someone being arrested for another's actions (however, all direct action can have these backlash effects). Covert damage is difficult to justify publicly, as understandably no-one wants to admit knowing anything about it! If considering sabotage, think carefully first, and consult the security sections of Ecodefense, Without a Trace, and the Ozymandias Sabotage Handbook. Search for these on the Wide World Web and see Chapter xx. Don't get caught.

"Swords into Ploughshares" activists have openly damaged military weaponry, taking complete responsibility for the action. Four women who disabled a British ground attack aircraft destined for the Indonesian military to use on civilians were, in a famous victory in July 1996, acquitted by a jury, who accepted the argument that their action was legally justified to prevent genocide. This type of accountable criminal damage inflicts economic cost directly on the target. By taking accountability, you can morally justify and explain your actions and arguments to a wide audience. In the arena of the court you can be proud of your actions. The controversial nature of open criminal damage will ensure public and press interest. Hopefully this will inspire people and get them involved. Having support groups will mean that more people feel actively involved in the criminal damage. These actions are very likely to result in prison sentences, as courts probably won't accept legal arguments to justify smashing up bulldozers. Planning the action and supporting those imprisoned takes a lot of time, preparation and energy, and may dominate the wider campaign. It is important that those who take these actions aren't put on a pedestal. Being unafraid of prison removes one of the State's last powers over you.

On a worksite action, activists may accidentally rip a security guard's jacket, damage a fence merely by climbing over it, or deliberately remove survey stakes, break a floodlight, or damage machinery. All of these can result in arrests. Whatever your views on Criminal Damage, we're assuming that you don't want to see fellow protesters convicted for this sort of thing. So put your camera away. This also applies to the press, so check they're not around. Anyone who insists on filming people breaking things deserves to be treated with serious suspicion.

Some people protect those doing damage by standing between them and potential hostile witnesses, or by staging a diversion. The culprits will wish to protect themselves by wearing gloves and hood plus scarf, balaclava, face-paints, or similar. Look out for evidence gatherers!

An important point to consider is that obvious criminal damage on an action gives the police an excuse to search everyone, if there's enough of them and not many of you. Anyone with anything incriminating may be arrested.

If much criminal damage happens, the campaign will find itself attacked in the media for allowing or encouraging "vandalism". Don't score a PR own goal by breaking things in the presence of the media. Large rallies, where a cosy press stunt is the objective, are bad places to start practising bulldozer maintenance! See page yyy for ways of dealing with media criticism.

Avoid any encouragement or celebration of criminal damage on campaign literature, to avoid conspiracy charges or injunctions.

Secrecy Or Openness When Organising?

There is a balance to be struck between secrecy and openness when organising actions. It is important for as many people as possible to have the empowering experience of pulling off a stonking action! But this mustn't compromise security or jeopardise the action. The stress of campaigns can cause some people to feel as if every corner is bugged and everyone is a potential police informer. Secretive cliques of paranoid loons will disempower everyone else, and make others feel untrusted.

On the other hand, if you are entirely open and fine details of your plans are known to everyone, then it is likely that the police will interfere. The nature of the action may be a factor in how open you decide to be. Actions where surprise is a key factor will require more secrecy.

Some groups have tackled this by having open discussions on how secretive to be. When organising something which obviously has to be kept secret (like the location of a Street Party or the timing and location of a blockade) you may decide that the action is organised on a "need to know" basis. Once this is agreed, then people will hopefully feel that they do not need to know every detail, understand that it is for strategic reasons, and not because they are untrusted. Then they can just get on with making it happen. The burden of keeping a secret can be a heavy responsibility. It shouldn't be the same people over and over again.

Some people feel they have to know exactly what the action is before taking part, so they can decide their own personal risk factor. Small affinity groups, organising openly within that group, can pull off their own effective surprise actions.

See Chapter 13 for more on security measures.

Dealing With Violence On Actions

Violence from contractors, security guards and police
Many road protesters have experienced little or no violence from security or police. The way you relate to those whom you are challenging may diffuse volatile situations. Try to keep the atmosphere of your actions as light as possible. Include music and humour in your actions and don't be afraid to smile. Be aware of what is going on around you and diffuse situations before they ignite. You can distract a hostile person and calm them by talking to them gently.

Reacting to your protest with violence may be the easiest way out for them. It means they don't have to rationally argue why they are destroying nature or peoples' homes. Violence may be deliberate, designed to subdue and intimidate you into giving up. Don't be intimidated.

If you are attacked, try looking them in the eyes and asking why they are hurting you. If they don't stop, call to other people for help and shout "Camera!". Your aggressor is unlikely to want to be caught on film. If you can get away, run to join other protesters. Some self-defence and martial art techniques may be useful for escaping from holds without using violence. Pressure points behind the ears, in your neck and on your wrist are sometimes used to enforce compliance, especially by the police. Wriggling about and shaking your head makes them harder to find. As a last resort, if you are getting an inescapable kicking, "duck and cover" to protect your vital organs. Bring your knees up to your chest and tuck your head in. Clench your hands to protect the base of your skull and cover your temples with your arms. Roll to your right to protect your liver.

If you see someone being attacked, draw peoples' attention to the incident and call for cameras. If the situation doesn't improve, you could try calmly surrounding the incident with people so that the aggressor feels overwhelmed. Another method is to directly intervene, physically pulling them apart and restraining the aggressor.

protestor assaulted by 'security'

If you are assaulted by a police officer, use all the above mentioned tactics and call out shoulder ID numbers to worry them and to inform action observers. However, they sometimes swap or remove their ID numbers.

If you wrestle with the police or intervene in another's arrest, you may face arrest for obstructing or assaulting a police officer (see De-arresting, page yyy). They will protect each other and pile in heavily if you appear to be threatening one of them.

"Quickcuff" rigid handcuffs get tighter if you struggle and are used to restrain and force compliance through pain. According to police guidelines, these should only be used on people being violent or resisting arrest. These guidelines are usually ignored. If you are hurt by them, see an independent doctor and get injuries photographed immediately after release. (See Anti- Quickcuff Gauntlets, page yyy).

The standard police weapon, replacing the truncheon, is the extendible baton, sometimes with side handle. These aren't used often on road protesters. Many police are also now equipped with CS gas spray canisters. These are only supposed to be used in self defence, and have not yet been used on road protesters in Britain. If you are unlucky enough to experience it, turn away, try not to inhale it, close your eyes and ideally cover your face in a wet cloth. Afterwards, use a cloth to wash your face with cold water containing lemon juice - avoid hot water as it will open skin pores and allow more gas-spray to enter.

You may meet specialist "public order units" who are more aggressive and violent; for example, the Metropolitan police's "tactical support group" (TSG) or Merseyside's "operational support group" (OSG). If you are charged by a baton wielding policeman you could "duck and cover" at the last moment (see above). The bully will hopefully trip over, falling flat on his face, at which point you can run away.

Even the nastiest pigs don't usually bite... but police dogs do! They are used to intimidate and force you to move. Ecodefense (see Chapter xx) has some ideas on how to deal with them, although it is mainly applicable to guard dogs.

Police horses are also used to intimidate. They are trained to move sideways into crowds and will tread on you if you don't move. If you push confidently on the chest or nose, it may hesitate. The rider will not appreciate this, especially if you touch the bridle or reins. Horses hate the smell and sound of pigs (real ones!), and it is also rumoured that lion or any other large cat's dung will frighten and hold horses back. Some suggest that if you attach a long clip-on rein (available from saddlery shops) to the bridle, you will be able to turn a horse from outside the rider's reach. This has never been tried and sounds dangerous. If are actually charged head on, some suggest that if you sit or lie close together, then the horses will stop or swerve to avoid you. We don't really know if these tactics work.

Women have faced sexual assaults and obscene comments on actions. A minority of security guards and police thrive on this power relationship, particularly when carrying women off a work site. Complaints to senior security managers and the police have occasionally been taken seriously in the past, but don't rely on this.

British female activists have discussed many ways to deal with this problem without having to rely on the authorities to sort it out. The most effective is to build stronger female solidarity and support. Ideally if someone is assaulted or insulted, they would tell the other women on the campaign who would go to the site as soon as possible and identify, surround and "shame" the man. Hopefully the other guards will shun the offender and force him to leave. Often women prefer to deal with these things themselves in their own way, as male protesters may make the situation worse by getting macho and over-protective. Men need to be aware of these issues and try and be helpful, supportive and sensitive.

Violence from protesters

People on actions may lose their temper and lash out, particularly if provoked. If someone appears close to breaking point, try to calm them down and take them away from the provocation. If you know an individual is prone to violence, you might not want to tell them about certain actions. Beware of "agents provocateurs" - infiltrators whose mission is to stir up aggression and generate physical conflict.

If politicians and the media decide that an event was "violent", don't condemn it. This just plays into their hands. Highlight the damage and violence that is used by the state. Expose eco- vandalism for the violent act that it is.

This book is now out of print. You might be able to get a copy from a UK library by ordering on the inter-library loans scheme.

Road Alert!