Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding

Chapter 14 - Sustaining yourself and the Campaign Community

To keep a campaign focused and dynamic, we need to reduce the number of things within the campaign which limit its effectiveness. Respect and communication between one another, and looking out for yourself and other people, will help the campaign run more smoothly. This chapter attempts to deal with problems that have happened in the past, and suggests some ideas to deal with them.


Campaigns are usually made up of a very mixed bunch indeed. That is usually their strength, and reflects the diversity of nature. People get involved for many different reasons and there is usually a wide range of motivations and political views within a campaign. There will also be a whole multitude of objectives and many differing views on how best to achieve them.

The campaign must make sure that this diversity builds strength and does not divide. Doing this requires tolerance. It is when people start to think that they are the only ones who are right and that other people are doing things wrongly (ie. they become intolerant), that problems arise.

Everyone has different skills to offer. For instance, some may be very practical and will like to build tree houses or lock ons, some may have good strategic brains and will want to plan intricate blockades, others are good at staying calm and communicating and like to stay in the office, some like to do all the hard work which keeps a protest camp going - collecting wood and cooking healthy food. Your campaign will be really strong if everyone is doing what they are best at and enjoy most (although it is a good idea to rotate roles, especially boring ones). It only becomes a problem when egocentric people think that their way of campaigning is the only way, and that everyone should drop their own plans and fall in line.

If this happens, discuss it as a campaign and deal with it sooner rather than later. People can get tunnel vision and become very intense and difficult to communicate with, so if they are criticising others for doing things differently, tackle this or it will fester. Discuss how valuable diversity is within a campaign. There needs to be a respect of differences at the very least - and at the very best, there will be a celebration of all your talents, skills and opinions.

Mutual Support

Whatever the outcome of your campaign - win or lose - it will stir up the most extreme of emotions in you. You will experience extraordinary things very quickly. Many people find that a direct action campaign is the most important, life-changing and empowering thing they ever go through in their lives. But some, especially if you lose and what you seek to protect is destroyed, say that it was their worst experience ever, and that they couldn't go through that pain again. All in all, direct action can sometimes be very traumatic for most people. The best way to cope with all the stresses is to help and support one another.

With everyone going through such strange emotional upheavals, strong friendships will develop, and direct action can certainly build up the sense of community that is very much lacking in modern society. However, stress and frustration may manifest as internalised anger and in-fighting. This is one of the most destructive, distressing and time-consuming things that can occur.

Infighting usually comes from people under stress who are looking for someone to blame and scapegoat. It can manifest itself as mistrust, bullying, intimidation, abuse and gossip. Be aware if people are spreading malicious rumours and bad feeling; they are either hyper-stressed or dodgy - this is a common tactic used by infiltrators to destabilise groups. Before getting suspicious, try talking to this person to see if there is any substance to their accusations. Paranoid witch hunts help no-one.

Try to avoid stress and frustration by supporting one another. We are neither inexhaustible machines nor soldiers who can consistently take loads of abuse. It is positively healthy to get upset about it all - it would be worrying if you were not affected. It is important that people talk, giving one another time to listen to worries and stresses.

After being thrown around all day by security guards you may feel very abused. Make sure that you look after each other. Make someone a cup of tea if they look like they need it. Look out for signs of serious stress in each other. Massage is a very nice way to relax and comfort someone. Don't forget the "strong" people who may pretend to be fine all the time.

Don't be afraid to let each other know what you are feeling. Many people find that they cannot cope with the stresses of campaigning for very long. Others don't realise that they are not coping very well and still carry on, possibly leading to burnout (see below).

Some people may have, or develop, more serious problems which affect their mental health. The rollercoaster of emotions and experiences which characterises direct action campaigning may make these problems worse. If someone really needs help, give them as much support as you can, whilst encouraging or arranging experienced specialised advice. There are no easy answers, but independent advice centres and groups like The Samaritans and MIND (see Chapter xx) could be a good start point.


Burn-out is common on direct action protests. It can be cumulatively caused by several things: sudden change in lifestyle, taking on too much, not having enough time for oneself, constant pressure, exposure to destruction of places we love, abuse from people who don't care, poor diet, sleep deprivation. If action is taken when someone is sliding into burnout, it can be prevented and the activist can return to campaigning. If preventative measures are not taken, burnout can seriously affect someone's life and at the very least cause them to give up campaigning.

Stress reaction begins with the release of adrenaline, which gives temporary bursts of energy. By continually pushing ourselves harder we can stay on a high, but this cannot last. This should be followed by relaxing, curling up in a corner and recuperating. If we don't recuperate, ignoring messages that something is wrong, then our bodies and minds will resort to something painful or dramatic to get our attention. This is burn-out.

The symptoms of burn-out can include: being really intense but unfocused, inability to reason and communicate clearly, hair- trigger emotions which quickly produce tears or flare-ups, paranoia, chronic fatigue, falling asleep everywhere, minor illnesses, frequent headaches, stomach pains, backache, depression, anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed.

It is difficult to deal with, as the person concerned usually claims that they are fine. If you notice people around you going close to the edge, try to ease their pressure without challenging them. If you suspect you are burning out, don't be afraid to ask for help. Burn-out treatment could include steadily delegating responsibilities, avoiding new ones and taking a break. The campaign will not stop without you, and a refreshed person is far more useful than a burnt-out shell. Eat well, sleep well, have a change of scene and pamper yourself with hot baths and massages. More serious cases may require weeks or months away from the campaign. Stay physically active but avoid responsibilities or mentally straining work. Try long walks, gardening and tree planting.

Gender Issues

Sexism is everywhere but it may surprise people how often it crops up in direct action campaigns. Women may have very different direct action experiences to men, so the issue is very important to discuss. Outright sexism is rare in campaigns (it is not usually tolerated), but it is usually manifested in many more subtle ways such as machismo and competition.

Direct action can slip into machismo very easily as it involves many traditional "male" stereotypes: "bravery", "endurance", "conflict". Try to avoid this. It is more likely to be men who get very carried away with all the excitement and see direct action as a competition. Humour is a good way to bring the over-eager back to reality. Co-operation and inclusiveness will do more for the campaign than individual acts of bravery and heroic elitism.

This is all very difficult to do when there are more men than women in the campaign. Try to avoid this happening as it will be very difficult to get the gender balance back. At every campaign, when there are more men than women at camps, it has inevitably spiralled out of control until, in some cases, all the women were driven away! Women can get fed up with some men's domineering attitudes and behaviour. When other women turn up they're equally put off by the inequality and the lack of female support. One symptom of this is that some women feel as if they have to act aggressively just to get themselves heard.

It is shocking how many protest camps fall so easily into stereotyped roles - with women often ending up doing the cooking, clearing and washing up. This is NOT to say that these are unimportant, only that they must be shared by ALL. Challenge out-dated gender stereotypes!

Women-only actions and camps have occurred in many campaigns. You could try it out for yourself and see what you think, if gender is becoming an issue. Womens' actions have kick- started direct action against many issues around the world. Some women find it the only way to work.

t is also very noticeable that some men frequently talk over and interrupt people (especially women) in meeting situations. Men should be aware of this recurring problem and try and respect all contributions equally. If we are to successfully challenge the predominantly patriarchal system which brings about the environmental destruction we are fighting, then we must look at ourselves and our interactions. Women should not be made to feel unable to make suggestions for action because of others being macho, sexist or bullying. Throw-away sexist comments are insulting to many women, and it is men who must be aware and desist.

Living Communally

The step from living in a house to living communally with many others in a protest camp is a major one. Communal life is about compromise, communication and co-existence. This section is not about the practicalities of a camp set-up (see Chapter xx for that), but suggests ways of making camp life more harmonious.

One of the best ways to ensure communication is for a camp to hold frequent meetings, so that decisions are made by everyone. Communal meals are an essential part of camp social life and should be held at the same time every night. They are also a good preliminary to a meeting, so that gossip and banter can happen beforehand.


Protest camps attract a wide diversity of people, not all of whom have come to stop the road. Camps need to discuss, as a community, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and ways to work things out if problems arise. It is essential that any decisions which are likely to be controversial are discussed collectively. Defining the boundary between the communal and the private, in terms of property and personal space, may prevent problems later. Communal living should not mean never having any time to yourself or any privacy; in fact these aspects are essential. Be considerate of others' privacy and needs.

If a camp grows too big, not only will the land suffer, but consensus on decision making will become harder. This is a good time to consider splitting into two camps. In defensive camps this can make good strategic sense too.

A welcoming atmosphere will help to build a campaign and sustain the people in it. Try to make the camp environment as welcoming and friendly as possible. Mark the entrance to your camp with colourful painted gates or archways. Talk to every visitor and newcomer, make them a cup of tea and explain how the camp works - communal meals, meetings, loos, washing up, sleeping space, info bender, camp agreements etc.

Basic tasks such as washing up, cooking, firewood and water collection and tidying up hold your community together. They should be shared and not seen as chores, but opportunities to get to know one another. Set up a communal fund to cover food and general camp needs. Someone should take on the role of collecting these funds. If everyone contributes then no-one will go hungry. People without money should not be excluded, and providing they put time and effort into the camp, everyone can usually support them willingly.

Occasionally, some people or groups differ greatly in opinion, or just cannot get on for whatever reason. In these circumstances, it is best to amicably agree to disagree, perhaps move to or set up another camp, and concentrate on stopping the road.

If individuals start to behave in a way which is not acceptable to the rest of the camp, with no obvious excuse, this needs to be addressed. One method of getting people to contribute more is to call a camp meeting where everyone, in turn, says what they have been doing to help the camp or campaign. It should become apparent to the troublesome person that they are not contributing positively.

For more serious situations where someone's conduct has upset the camp - stealing, using or threatening violence, or being consistently and uncontrollably drunk for example - a meeting can be a forum for confronting and discussing these problems. After complaints have been heard, the person should be given the opportunity to explain themselves and offer to change. The collective should decide whether to give them another chance (perhaps with help to change) or they should be asked to leave.

Drunkenness may be a problem on campaigns, especially at protest camps. Drunk people are a liability on actions, will present an unwelcoming image, get aggressive easily, have damaged campaign offices, and have started fights. Even if drunken people do not do these things, their behaviour can be intimidating and insensitive to others. Similar problems can also arise from drugs other than alcohol. Some camps such as the Pollok Free State in Glasgow have at times become alcohol-free zones. This will not necessarily be the end of the problem, as it will need people strongly committed to the ban, and prepared to back each other up, to succeed. People suffering from alcoholism may need to get away from campaigning to deal with it.

Maintaining Personal Stamina

Campaigning can become addictive and individuals may become obsessive. This stems from a feeling of urgency, and a belief that if we don't carry on the campaign will suffer. No individual should become indispensable, and responsibilities must be shared as widely as possible. This means people can stand back and take much needed breaks.

Sleep - When work starts there never seem to be enough hours in the day to stop it. As a result, people often work through the night, planning actions, putting up rope walkways, building defences and writing leaflets or news releases. It is not a competition to see who can stay awake the longest, and having six hours sleep in the last forty-eight won't help you stop a road. Whatever other people do, try to get your head down somewhere quiet when you need to. Take time out every day, with a longer period once a week. Knackered, bad tempered people don't make good decisions.

Food - You are what you eat. If you keep your diet as healthy as possible then you should be able to sustain frenzied campaigning longer. If your diet is mainly derived from skips, try to get fresh fruit and vegetables too. Yeast extract or seaweed contain vitamin B12, which is very important if you are vegetarian or vegan. Land use and food production are both inextricably linked to planet abuse. Being an activist does not make you immune from personal responsibility to the wider natural world.

Drink - There are lots of indigenous medicinal herbs which we can use to make teas. They are tried and tested holistic remedies which it is wise to learn about. They are better for you and less exploitative than multinationally produced tooth-rotting soft drinks, or cash crops from Southern nations. To prevent illness from water butts, sterilise them from time to time using boiling water or Camden tablets (sold for home brewing).

Common Camp Ailments

The remedies mentioned are suggestions and not definite cures. We have concentrated on natural medicine, as some people prefer not to use pharmaceutical drugs and may find it difficult to get to see doctors quickly. If in doubt, speak to someone who knows what they are talking about.

Serious stomach bugs ("Donga Belly") - Symptoms: Eggy burps, bloated guts, flatulence, diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting. It is thought to be caused by Giardia, a protozoan gut parasite. It is spread by people not washing their hands after shitting and via dirty cutlery and crockery, especially if licked by dogs. Prevention is better than cure. If you get it, rest, don't eat, drink lots of fluid, and avoid alcohol which will dehydrate you further.

Try this to balance dehydration caused by diarrhoea - boil one pint of water, add one teaspoon each of salt and sugar. If you have it, also add a teaspoon of slippery elm powder (available from herbalists, health food shops) which helps to protect the stomach lining. Peppermint tea is also good for guts. If the bug refuses to clear up, you could blitz it with the antibiotic "metronidazole". Anyone with bad guts should not cook or prepare food and should keep their own eating utensils as it is infectious.

Trench foot - When living outdoors, especially in winter your feet will get wet. If you don't wash your socks and dry your feet regularly, then they may start to rot. This is trench foot, which can lead to gangrene and, in the worst cases, will only be cured by amputation.

Scabies - This condition is caused by a little female mite burrowing into the skin usually at certain sites: between fingers, on wrists, hands, buttocks and skin folds. Infectious by physical contact (intimate and non-intimate), sharing clothes, bedding etc. To get rid of scabies, try elder leaves, boiled up with lots of garlic, and sponge it on. Elder has a long history of use as an insect repellent. You could also try mixing a few drops (in any combination) of bergamot, lavender, peppermint, or rosemary essential oils, with vodka or vegetable base oil and a very small amount of lemon and / or thyme oil, then rub in between fingers and toes and on other infected parts.

defaultIn addition, try rinsing yourself with an infusion of yellow dock root after washing. Crushed garlic, rubbed all over, will get the buggers and make it less likely that you will infect anyone else! If you wash every day and boil your clothes up frequently with some thyme oil in it, you should get rid of them. Ironing clothes also kills the beasties.

If you choose to use a chemical agent, beware of lindane and other organo-phosphates, commonly used to treat scabies etc. as they are nerve poisons.

Head, Body and Pubic Lice - These itchy buggers feed on blood and dead skin. They are happy to move from person to person if they get the chance. They live mainly in hair and clothing. The most effective way to get rid of them is to change clothes and wash and comb your hair using a nit comb. As a last resort shave all your hair off. Any of the above methods mentioned in "scabies" could also work for lice.

Ticks - These are blood-sucking parasites, which wait on the underside of leaves for a passing meal. They bury their mouth parts in you and won't come out. Pull them out carefully or the mouth parts may remain in you and possibly go septic. If they won't come out, twist them anti-clockwise, after suffocating them in Vaseline or, as a last resort, burn them off with a cigarette.

Impetigo - This is an unpleasant bacterial infection which may indicate that you are really run down. The symptoms are itchy pustules, blisters and yellow flaky scabs on the skin which don't heal. New grazes should be washed twice daily with warm water and soap to prevent them becoming infected. It is very contagious so sufferers should have their own personal cutlery and crockery. They should avoid physical contact and keep away from young children.

Most people go to a doctor for antibiotic cream. Homeopathic remedies which may help are Antimonium tartaricum or sulphur. Visit a homeopath or research it before taking anything. Herbs for eating and drinking which may help are heartsease, hops and echinacea (natural antibiotic).

Natural Additions To Your First Aid Kit

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!