Thoughts on tactics during “Block G20”: Throwing stones shouldn’t be a default tactic
Written by two anti-capitalist activists from Copenhagen.
We think a discussion has been missing after the protests and actions in Hamburg during the G20. We find that the discussions in the press and in activists circles afterwards have mainly centered around the following subjects; either who is to blame for the riots and destruction in the neighborhoods of Sternschanze and Sankt Pauli, whether rioting is a good mobilizing or press strategy or the issue of activist groups distancing themselves from each other.
This is not our concern with this post. Here we would like to discuss the reasoning behind different tactics and what we can learn for the benefit of future mass actions specifically with the aim of disruption or blockading. We are therefore discussing and referring to the action(s) on the 7th during the daytime and not the later riots during the evening and night (which we are by the way not disapproving of, it is just not what we find useful to discuss for the purpose of improving future direct mass actions).
The starting point for us is a particular situation taking place in the afternoon of the 7th of July. During the entire morning the action of “BLOCK G20 – Coloring the Red Zone” had tried to block the G20 participants accessing the congress hall. The bigger meeting was delayed and smaller meetings were cancelled, but the leaders managed to gather. In this event demonstrators had been told to gather at St. Pauli Station at 15.00 to try to block the G20 participants accessing their dinner party at the Philharmonic (concert hall) at the harbor. It is unclear to us, and clearly seemed to all others as well, whether the action consensus from the morning still applied but our reasoning at the time was that the afternoon action was an extension of the morning action hence having the same aim and tactics.
The following situation happened after the demonstration left St. Pauli station and moved toward the harbor area (Landungsbrücken). A group of around 500 demonstrators, us included, split from the big group to not go directly to the harbor area at Landungsbrücken, but to stay in other roads trying to block all routes from the congress halls to the Philharmonic.
On the bridge on Seewartenstrasse over Helgoländer Allee we where stopped by around 15-20 cops standing in a thinly spread line across the bridge. No one made the first move to break the police line and a nervous mood spread in the group. More people joint from behind not long after, lines where formed and we started to move towards the line of police. One meter in front of the police stones and bottles started flying through the air not from the first line but from lines behind (from the people who to begin with didn’t want to go first), and the people throwing the stuff started turning around and running back. Surely the flying items were aimed at the police, but activists in front were just as much in line. This of course created confusion and panic and we didn’t manage to break the thin line of police. Shortly after many activists showed up on the other side of the police. They moved near the police from behind and encouraged by the courage of our fellow demonstrators coming to our aid we now all ran towards the police line. The police line dissolved, but again people on our side started to throw things and again equally at the police as at fellow activist that had just helped us out. To us it is clear that the throwing of items did not help nor solve our captivity on the bridge it rather endangered a lot of demonstrators. What made the police run away was the activist coming to our help from the other side exercising collective pressure.
How to make a good direct mass action
In our view the aim of the actions during the 7th were to disrupt the meeting preventing participants from gathering. At least that was the aim communicated by the action group behind the “BLOCK G20 – Coloring the Red Zone” action in the morning.
There are several reasons why we think the tactic of throwing items as described above is counterproductive in a direct mass action like the Block G20. Basically it is not effective in breaking police chains (we didn’t even manage to break one thin line even though we outnumbered the police seriously), it creates chaos and confusion in a moment where we need unity and joint strength using our quality of being the many and further decreases the mobility of the mass when people stop and use time to dig for stones instead of moving to the area where we could block the G20. In the end it is tactically insufficient in obtaining the aim of reaching an area you want to block.*
Furthermore we all need to be in solidarity in a mass action and that is it not only about efficiency. Even if it was effective throwing things that hits fellow demonstrators – It would not be cool! Obviously it endangers your fellow activists even activists that have not chosen to apply those tactics and further the police has way better protection gear. Different tactics and analysis aside we would also expect solidarity. So what does this mean? Often we find that different groups/perspectives expect solidarity from the other side in e.g. not distancing themselves from the others but have a harder time to give it back. But no matter what tactic you use remember that you can take other activists as hostages and your tactic can become the dominating one which we find at least require you to stay yourself and take responsibility. Use what ever tactic you want but remember that solidarity goes two – or more – ways.
We don’t argue that the tactic is never useful and that it can never be used, but we find it doesn’t work in direct mass actions where you want to be mobile. It is neither to say that we need to agree on all tactics used or that we should distance us from groups not staying within the action consensus, but in a mass action we are in it together with the same aim no matter whether we approve of each others tactics or not.
What is courage?
We found in the particular situation described above – but also several times throughout the day (which is why we find it important to address) – a celebration and a default mode of unsuitable behaviour: throwing stones and then running away endangering fellow activists.
We find this behaviour the opposite of couragous. Courage on the other hand is putting yourself on the line (not necessary the first line(s)): breaking those police chains using the force of us being many and not running away. It is completely understandable to be afraid – we all are – but this is exactly the key moments where we can make those situations even more difficult by endangering each other.
We find this behaviour embedded in and arising from a macho and individualistic culture where it is cool, though and couragous to throw stones in whatever situation. Further this behaviour also have the tendency of dominating an action as soon as it is used which we think demands responsibility, but also matches a macho culture of taking up a lot of space at the expense of many others which are not listened to. Hence, individual “strong” behaviour is celebrated and encouraged on behalf of showing collective strength (again this doesn’t apply to all situations where stones are thrown).
Let’s be clever
To make good direct mass actions, to make our protests fulfill our objectives (which we know are not always the same, but we assume it is not to throw stones randomly) we need to use differing tactics in different situations. So let’s throw stones when it makes sense. Let it not be the default mode – let’s be clever and apply it only when useful. We are not asking for more concrete action consensuses nor more alignment but a bit of tactical considerations and application of tactics that fit the different situations we find ourselves in.
Again we really hope that this text can spark a discussion on tactics in mass actions and not the morality nor media or mobilization efficiency of rioting.
*We would like to stress that we are aware that tactics and situations change when the police changes their tactics and/or level of violence, e.g. the situation could be radically different outside Northern Europe where our personally experiences stem from. But to the best of our knowledge these reflections also fits many other countries outside Northern Europe.
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