Blocs – How to do them Better!

Picture from saturday's marchThe anti-austerity march on June 20th saw a bloc of 150+ anarchists marching together in London – more than we’ve had in a while. (not sure what a bloc is? See note at the end of this article…) Big flags meant that people could find each other, and the masks handed out by NetPol meant that almost everyone had their face covered. Sadly, the actual action that happened was a bit shit. The bloc started off as part of the main march, with NO uniformed police in sight. Flares and smoke bombs were let off. But even though it walked past plenty of obvious targets, there was only minor damage caused. Although the flags and banners meant that the bloc kept together a lot better than normal, people were still often spread out and in danger of getting separated completely. Then came the breakaway – people were led away from the centre of London, and on a long walk south of the river. This was tiring but didn’t lead to any actions. Not only was there less obviously worth doing, the bloc also picked up a big  following of riot vans and police. After what felt like a long and pointless walk, the bloc ended up back at the speeches of the main march. (apparently the target in South London was a property developer, which people spray-painted then left really fast when police moved in)

While it was a good show of force, and better than just walking from A to B, there was SO much we could have done better! This article has three ideas on that…

More Banners

Example of banners on a bloc

Black bloc at the Rostock anti-g8 protests

Police try to get people on a bloc to panic so that they start running too fast and leave people behind, splitting the group into smaller and smaller sections. We need to bring more things that help us to defend ourselves and stay together. In Germany, it’s common to do this using banners – not just at the front of a bloc but around the sides and at the back. This helps stop the bloc merging with the rest of the protest, and makes it harder for police to snatch people. Banners are something that protesters who have taken action can hide behind.

Smarter Breakaways

Because the breakaway on Saturday walked so far, people got too tired to take any action, and police had plenty of time to bring in reinforcements. If we break away at all then there needs to be a goal nearby – the police could have stopped us if they’d tried harder, and then the whole thing would have been pointless. The breakaway also only seemed to have one target. This is a problem because our advantage over the police is speed – we need to be flexible and change our plans at the last minute, and that means picking a route that leaves many options open. In the circumstances, we would have been better off staying on the official route – which went past businesses responsible for austerity, a major private bank, and the largest commercial property company in the uk! (see this map)

Make Plans

The biggest problem on the day was that most of us didn’t take the initiative to do anything. This is despite being a decent size, with hardly any police! It’s not enough to wait for other people to start something before joining in. If everyone had that attitude then nothing would ever happen! Ideally, every anarchist going on a protest should get together an affinity group beforehand and plan to take action on the day. This guide to protests and affinity groups is worth a read.

On Saturday it felt like most of us were “self-policing”. Police have been so heavy handed in the past that no-one expected to have the chance to do more than just tussle with riot cops. The only way to get out of this mentality is to just do it – find like-minded people, get organised and make a plan!

Protesters smash the Ritz (posh hotel) during the March 26th anti-austerity protests in 2011

Protesters smash the Ritz (posh hotel) during the March 26th anti-austerity protests in 2011

(note – a “bloc” is where a group of people with similar ideas get together on a protest  march, holding a “protest within a protest”. Anarchists normally use these to gather people that want to take direct action in one place, so they can back each other up and defend themselves against police. Most anarchists use black bloc tactics to protect their anonymity. This leaflet explains some of the reasons we aren’t happy with normal protests)

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