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Molly Fischer, Capital New York


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Common Uses

To physically shut down something bad (a coal mine, the World Trade Organization), to protect something good (a forest, someone’s home), or to make a symbolic statement, such as encircling a target (the White House).

Blockades commonly have one of two purposes: first, to stop the bad guys, usually by targeting a point of decision (a boardroom), a point of production (a bank), or a point of destruction (a clearcut) see THEORY: Points of intervention; or second, to protect public or common space such as a building occupation or an encampment.

Blockades can consist of soft blockades (human barricades, such as forming a line and linking arms) or hard blockades (using gear such as chains, U-locks, lock-boxes, tripods or vehicles. Blockades can involve one person or thousands of people, and can be a stand-alone tactic or an element of a larger tactic like an occupation.

Successful blockades can be primarily concrete or communicative see PRINCIPLE: Make your actions both concrete and communicative. Either way, all participants should be clear on the goals. For example, if your blockade is symbolic, it does not require a decision dilemma see PRINCIPLE: Put your target in a decision dilemma. If, however, you have a concrete goal, like preventing people from entering a building, you must ensure that your blockade has the capacity to achieve that goal. In other words, make sure you’ve got all the exits covered.

Whatever the case, it’s important to lead with your goals. Don’t think in terms of less or more radical; think in terms of what is appropriate to your goals, strategy, tone, message, risk, and level of escalation see PRINCIPLE: Choose tactics that support your strategy.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind, adapted from the Ruckus Society’s how-to guide, A Tiny Blockades Book:

Build a crew. It all begins with a good action team and good nonviolence/direct-action training.

All roles are important. A good support team is essential.

Know your limits. Make a realistic assessment of your capacity and resources.

Scout, scout, scout. Spend a lot of time getting to know your location.

Know your choke points. These are the spots that make you the most secure and pesky blockader. Choose a spot that your target cannot just work, walk, or drive around.

Practice, and prepare contingency plans.

Don’t plan for your action; plan through your action. Think of the action as “the middle,” and expect a ton of prep work and follow-through — legal, emotional and political.

Have a media strategy. Make sure your message gets out and your action logic is as transparent as possible see THEORY: Action logic. Don’t let communications be an afterthought.

Eliminate unnecessary risk. Make your action as safe as it can be to achieve your goals see PRINCIPLE: Take risks, but take care.

Do not ignore power dynamics within your group or between you and your target. Race, class, gender identity (real or perceived), sexual identity (real or perceived), age, physical ability, appearance, immigration status and nationality all affect your relationship to the action.

Dress for success. Make sure that your appearance helps carry the tone you want to set for your action. Dress comfortably. Ensure that support people bring water, food, and extra layers.

Be creative. Have fun.

Key Principle at work

Put your target in a decision dilemma

When employing a blockade with a concrete goal, your ability to “hold the space” will depend on your decision dilemma. If you are able to prevent your target from “going out the back door” (metaphorically or literally), you have successfully created a dynamic where you cannot be ignored.

Potential Pitfalls

A complex and confrontational tactic like blockade requires meticulous planning and preparation, and should never be attempted without significant preparation, research and training see PRINCIPLE: Take risks, but take care.

Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer and strategist serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. Joshua has written numerous movement strategy essays, chapters for several books, and a few organizing manuals, most recently Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate the Climate Crisis, with Hilary Moore (PM Press 2011). He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations.

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