Critique of Faslane 365

Sunday, 7th October 2007 at 23:17 UTC 7 comments

With Faslane 365 now behind us, its possibly about time to begin critiquing the project. Unfortunately, as is always the case, this is going to be mostly negatives, but this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that it was either a total failure nor is this a sign that I think it was either futile or a complete waste of time. But it hasn’t been a perfect project, and it has had limitations from which it needs to learn.

Let’s start with a bit of the concept, the idea that the base should be blockaded for a year, and the call for 100 people per day to get involved with this. Lacking any pre-prepared groups of over 100 before the actual blockading part of the project commenced, it was no surprise that this daily target was not met on a single occaision. Britain does not have the required numbers to carry out this level of blockading, nor the militancy to maintain such blockades.

The high standard set in the definition of non-violence communicated to all participants meant any kind of defence of the blockades would be impossible. To my knowledge almost none of the blockades involved vehicles, tripods or drop-and-run blockades, putting a huge emphasis on ‘bodies in the way’. The Bradford CND symbol did a wonderful job, so why did so few other groups create inanimate objects to assist in filling the road?

While F365 brought many new faces to NVDA, it developed many bad habits along the way. I found the insistence on the importance of getting arrested to be quite disturbing at times. It was fetishised by so many of the participants, that any real debate about the importance of staying free and active became impossible. Non-compliance with police procedures had no political meaning, only a tactical case for slowing down the overall process of arresting a large number of people.

The thought that, any human, when given the uniform, role and powers of a Police Officer, will quickly descend to the lowest depth of humanity, simply didn’t cross people’s minds, and lots of protesters were heard standing up for police even after the arrest experience. It was all focused on notions of ‘witness’ and some inherent value to being arrested (as opposed to some value in doing something which will subsequently result in arrest).

I heard a handful of stories about people getting arrested, picked up by police, carried off the road, and then forgotten, some of whom decided to ask the police to arrest them, while others made the more sensible move of getting back into the road. I don’t know of a single person who walked away free, found the group mini-bus and waited for the ride home (I do know of people who’ve made it back to home while technically under arrest on other occasions).

Some of the blockade plans were designed to get maximum numbers into the road when others were more successful with putting in small numbers at a time over a longer period. Mass protest is good, but only when the numbers are used to their potential. This latter approach had a much longer lasting effect for sure. Wisdom was not developed recursively, partly because many groups were out of Scotland by the time the next group arrived, so blockading groups struggled to build on each others successes or learn from each others failures, and this was enhanced by attitudes informed more by activist mythology (of which Faslane provides too much) than actual tactical thought; there were exceptions, especially the discovery of super-glue mid-way through the year and the Spanish paint-action which the police refused to tough for fear of ruining their uniforms.

Had something been done about starting the blockades with such a big shove that they could have remained as a total lock-down for at least the first month, then it would have been much more newsworthy, but to have big rushes of 30 protesters at 7am each morning would make next to no difference once the police were used to clearing the area in 10 minutes each day. When people challenged this and other tactical errors in pre-meetings, they were often shouted down.

Then there was the time/energy issue: each person attending was expected to do 4 different trainings beforehand which were presented fairly formally and in a way which only applied to the narrow range of blockade tactics everyone was already using, something I found particularly frustrating. The different sessions often totalled 10 hours, if discussion times were included; this is incredibly time consuming if you are a group which has any other activist project on the go at the time.

In Bradford, this saw a refugee support group struggling to maintain itself, a Samba band ceasing to learn any new pieces and lacking any energy whatsoever (it still does, and I still blame Faslane) and then on top of this, various people have disappeared from campaigning circles because they didn’t want to be involved and every got quite obsessed by it. In York, it was a fledgeling environmental action group which suffered most I feel, and the more so as fundraising took up even more time. Yes, activism takes time, but trainings should be generalised where possible to ensure maximum scope for application and longest possible ‘life-span’ on the benefits. Bare in mind that the trainings were often separate from the planning meetings, and then you’ve got some scale of the issues.

In the context of English groups travelling to Faslane, there was an inherent problem; activists being given their first ever legal class covering Scottish law, when mostly they’ll be faced with English law. Also, some problems with people thinking they’d been taught everything in an hour; certain legal observers I know of actually spend their off-protest spare time reading laws and making notes and reading articles and all sorts to try and get on top of the diversity of laws which might be used, and they still don’t know enough even after a few hours revision per week, let alone a single 2 hour session.

It seems a month of blockading would have been more successful, though obviously fewer people would have returned a second time. There are fewer people in a situation where they can take several days out to visit Scotland mid-week than there were nearly 50 years ago when nuclear blockades were actually fashionable. The timing was a difficult one; yes it was the right year, but the ‘year’ was over by February (when parliament voted), and starting and ending at the beginning of October meant colliding with the Tory conference twice. Why not Hiroshima day? Or the 1st September? This would have given a far clearer run on the media’s attention.

All in all, Faslane 365 has had many positive effects, though often at a very high price in terms of worn out activists and some very sloppy development of new activists. Having had to go the long way round discovering decent analysis myself, knowing most won’t bother and will either become frustrated and leave or quickly set in these ways, it may mean very little in terms of positive development for social movements as a whole in the UK. But these are all things we can learn from, and in some ways, having the Climate Camp as well to balance out almost every one of the negatives above meant quite a few of those who went to Faslane then broadened things out much later on.

This might sound bizarre to some, or go over the heads of others, but I’d like to compare Faslane 365 to the Alpha Course: it simplified things to the point that they could be handed over in a simple course, but didn’t lead on to any kind of deeper questioning or discovery of more nuanced alternatives or developments of the ideas proposed in the earliest instance. A simple introduction turned into a rut of continuing simple-ness, that could have long term implications. A good idea, a positive outcome, but with really serious drawbacks. Lets hope lessons are learnt and debates opened, even if its a little late.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Bradford, Nuclear Weapons, Participation.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Monday, 8th October 2007 at 22:51 UTC

    “The thought that, any human, when given the uniform, role and powers of a Police Officer, will quickly descend to the lowest depth of humanity, simply didn’t cross people’s minds”

    To recycle a famous phrase, I find this comment “naive and inflammatory”. Even such a conformist as I has had bad experiences with police officers, but I’ve also had many good ones, and known police officers to act wisely under stress. You could do with remembering that the people inside the uniforms are just that – people – and that they’ll probably have a very different outlook on the situation to the story that you choose to fit it into.

    Oh, and I also think you’re too harsh on the alpha course. They depend very much on the dynamics of individual discussion groups and having led such a group myself, I certainly didn’t try to keep it overly simple. Humph.

    Reply
  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Tuesday, 9th October 2007 at 1:14 UTC

    In response to the Alpha thing, I know that its quite varied, and that some try harder than others, but I’m also aware that this remains the impression many people leave with. Didn’t mean to criticise anyone in particular.

    Reply
  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 10th October 2007 at 0:57 UTC

    Yeah, just to add that I wasn’t in a brilliant mood when I wrote this, but I do stand by most of what I said. Faslane 365 was actually a pretty big risk for such a small core group to take, and they’ve done a brilliant job between them; it has to be said, they were a bit short on resources in every possible department.
    And Greg, I happen to have the cops article on the short list for October rewriting!

    Reply
  • 4. sophie dutton  |  Wednesday, 10th October 2007 at 9:43 UTC

    G, I’m not commenting about your article, I’m just giving you a bit of evidence to support your idea that “The thought that, any human, when given the uniform, role and powers of a Police Officer, will quickly descend to the lowest depth of humanity, simply didn’t cross people’s minds”.

    Now, I’m not sure that I agree – I’ve met some lovely police officers, and some violent anti-war activists, but there have been studies to prove that this is actually the case. The one I’m thinking about is the Stanford Prison Experiment

    Reply
  • 5. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 10th October 2007 at 15:57 UTC

    Thanks Sophie, as I said, I’m writing something on this soon I think, so I’ll probably use this then. Any other research you can think of?
    Duck, you tend to be good at this?

    Reply
  • 6. Greg  |  Wednesday, 10th October 2007 at 16:23 UTC

    No, don’t give her another excuse to procrastinate from her lit review!

    Reply
  • 7. freeluncher  |  Tuesday, 8th January 2008 at 21:01 UTC

    Some half decent points, especially about the excess time doing training that most of us have already done a million times, but I think you are a little harsh. I saw many actions at Faslane involving inanimate objects, I was there when some folk locked on to a concrete-filled oil drum which blocked the road to the base for several hours and caused the Police no shortage of difficulties. I have seen tripods just about every single time I have went to Faslane, and that is many, MANY times.

    Also, you wrote – ” Britain does not have the required numbers to carry out this level of blockading, nor the militancy to maintain such blockades.”
    I think we do have “the numbers”, as has been seen umpteen times at large anti-nuclear demonstrations. Millions of people oppose the lunacy of nuclear weapons, it is just a case of getting them out.

    As for the Police, I agree with some of those who have commented that there are many decent Police Officers, but I would agree with the thrust of what you say, basically we give them far too easy a time. We should be embarrassing them, shaming them, and making it very difficult for them.

    Also, the purpose for many of us in getting arrested is to try and get a chance to argue the illegality of Trident in a court of Law. I don’t think it is “fetishising” arrest to think this quite an important aspect of our activism. Remeber Sheriff Gimblett.

    Peace

    Reply

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