donderdag 10 september 2015

Basic knowledge for Activists

The organization of actions is of course not an exact science; it however has to be well thought through. Many elements play a role in organizing a successful action. However, if your plans are good, you have a realistic insight in the means as well as the turn out of the action and if those involved with the action can be trusted, than there is nothing that stands in the way of success. With this article we try to give some advice for activists and try to share our experiences with you.  

"Freedom is the short moment between throwing a rock and the rock hitting its target.” 
- An anonymous activist

Direct Action

Direct action means acting by yourself against injustice and oppression.

It represents a concrete rejection of conventional political actions (such as elections and lobbying), with which we depend on others to accomplish our goals. Many conventional political actions operate on the basis of the acceptance of our own impotence. It makes us think we don't have the right, nor the power, to change something by ourselves. 

The concept of direct action rejects this acceptation of the established order and suggests that we have both the right as well as the power to change the world by ourselves.

Examples of direct actions are blockades, occupations, picket lines, sabotage, lockouts and of course the general strike. Within the community this means organizing our own actions, action groups, independent media and other initiatives in order to meet our social needs. In the cultural sphere we can think about musical resistance and street art (like graffiti).

So direct action is not only a method of protest, but represents the construction of an alternative future by taking our lives back into our own hands, without waiting for approval of politicians or other bureaucrats.


Organizing an action

Make a plan in which you draw out the priorities and goals of your action.

Think well about how you want to share this information. If you act careful and responsible you don't need to worry; share information only within limited circles, with trusted comrades if they necessarily need this information and prevent the use of phones and the internet to discuss sensitive information.

Be very clear from the beginning about the risks of the action and make sure all involved are aware of this. Also think about how your action is going to affect others. If an action will take place during a demonstration or broader protest, think about what the consequences will be for the organization and your fellow protestors.  

Scout the terrain where you want to hold your action in advance and keep track of changes.
Seek for safe ways out and look out for obstacles, potential targets and surveillance cameras.

Collect the required gear which is needed for the action, prepare yourself and dress discrete (so that for instance you can easily disappear in the masses). Discuss in advance with comrades how you will act during emergencies and write down a phone number of an arrest group or lawyer on your arm with marker.

Safety is the key to success during any action. In practice the situation can change quickly and so it’s of great interest to keep track of the developments around you. Keep each other well informed about the situation. When informing comrades give only the information you have and not the conclusions you take from them. This way everybody knows what to expect and panic can be prevented.

Very important is to get away as fast as possible after the action is executed; know when to stop! If you are in a huge group, than blend in with the masses. Assemble on a previously agreed place and look if everybody is there. Make sure arrested comrades are supported and cared for.

Get together afterwards to discuss and analyze the action.

Affinity groups

An affinity group is a small group of militants who get together in order to prepare for a direct action. These groups are organized on an autonomous manner in which everybody shares an equal vote and an equal responsibility within the collective. Sometimes these groups are formed for a specific purpose and sometimes in the prospect of longer campaigns on certain themes. We find the strength of these groups in the things that all members have in common: the thoughts; tactics you want to use; the theme's you want to occupy yourselves with; your skills; or a mix of it all.

Why an affinity group?

Everybody is strongly involved in the group because all participate in the decision-making process and action. It secures that people are determined to get things done.

Another important aspect of these groups is their autonomy. By working together in small groups you are able to find out what is important for you and to put this into practice. Of course these groups can be part of broader networks and campaigns, but first of all you depend on your own group. Ten small groups of ten people can accomplish more than one hundred people acting as one unorganized mass.  

Because affinity groups are able to take decisions about actions and goals, they are able to act fast and creative if the situation changes. This also means an element of surprise for the authorities.

Within the affinity group comrades can watch each others back. Stress, police repression, anxiety, setbacks and doubt can be better discussed in the group instead of being carried by the individual. Also comradeship and cohesion within the group keeps informants, provocateurs and infiltrators out.

How do I start an affinity group?

The absolute basis for an affinity group is comradeship. However, finding friends to go to the pub with is of course easier than to find friends who are prepared to undertake political actions. Sensation seekers, loose cannons and other unreliable clowns only cause problems and therefore have no place within an affinity group. It is of fundamental importance that you only include completely reliable comrades who are prepared to take activism seriously!

When you are able to collect a group of reliable comrades, you can try to expand the group by finding like-minded people. The organization of and participation in events (like manifestations, educational meetings, or a meeting in general) is a good way to find people who are prepared to be committed to the same goals. For affinity groups which have to exist for a long term it is very important to get to know the (new) people involved in the group. Make sure you all follow the same line and let everybody participate within the group.  

The organization of an affinity group    

Affinity groups are based on mutual support and common trust. This is something that has to be worked on. In order to trust each other, you have to get to know each other. Discuss your experiences, concerns, expectations, limits and motivations. Also hang around each other in normal life.

It’s also important for everybody in the group to know what to expect, what the goals are and how these are going to be realized. A common consensus needs to be reached about who does what in the group, how the group operates, how decisions are made, what the group does and how it will act in certain situations. It’s of fundamental importance that all are on the same page, understand the consensus and act accordingly.

On this foundation, consensus plans can be made. This means working out a strategy or action together. Put your goals on paper and think well how to realize them. Do research, choose targets and determine which tactics will be most effective to achieve your goals.

When it is time for action, it is important to keep on checking if all in the group are ok. Follow the previous made consensus and NEVER leave comrades behind!

Take time after the action to discuss it and analyze it.
Ask what everybody thinks, what goals are reached, learn from mistakes and discuss how to use these lessons during future actions.  

The Arrest *

* Some sections are left out because they relate to the specific Dutch law-system.

If you participate in protests or direct actions on a regular basis, one way or another you will get into contact with the cops. However, it is important to realize that you also have certain rights the cops have to concede.

An arrest is a temporary detention as a consequence of a legal offence or to restore public order (for example during a protest). You do however have several rights during an arrest.

Police questioning  

At all costs keep silent; this is the absolute rule of thumb if you are arrested. But whether you talk or not, it is always good to know in advance how a police questioning will go. A warned activist counts for two.

Remain silent!

If you are arrested (together with others) during an illegal demonstration, a sabotage action, a small riot or another legal offence of a minor nature, keeping silent is the golden rule. It will in most cases prevent prosecution because the cops will not bother to trace evidence if all remain silent. With heavier offences it is wise to consult a lawyer, however remaining silent is and stays the golden rule, especially if other comrades are involved!

A good detective will always try to create a good working atmosphere: the cop will try to build a good working relation with the suspect in order to have a 'good conversation'. In general this means the questioning will have an easy start. The situation the suspect is in will be explained and the cop will ask how this makes the suspect feel. The answer will contain emotions and the copper will discuss these emotions in order to make the suspect more at ease, so that he/she will be more willing to talk with the detective.         

At the same time this gives the cop the advantage to see how the suspect is feeling. Is he/she tense, nervous, sad or aggressive? On the basis of this the cop will determine his questioning strategy. After this start a more business-oriented approach is taken. By taking in consideration how the other is telling something, one can learn much of the message he/she is unconsciously giving. It’s not only about what the suspect is saying, but also about what body language the suspect gives (facial expressions, eye contact, posture, etc.). The same form is used to influence the suspect: the cop will first take a unstring position to show that he is open for what the suspect has to tell. However, be very aware: all this is merely a play to enforce an incriminating statement, remain silent!

By asking questions the cop will stimulate the suspect to give as much information as possible. In general a technical distinction is made between open and closed questions. Closed questions can only be answered with yes or no. This kind of questions is usually avoided. Open questions however will advance the conversation and give the detective more clues for new questions. So the more the suspect speaks the more information he shares with the cops. 

If the suspect gives contradictory statements the cop will apply confrontation. If the statement of the suspect contradicts technical clues then confrontation is the legal mean of pressure of the detective. If this confrontation is well done, the mental pressure with the suspect will increase, especially if he/she is detained for a longer period of time. 

Tactical clues

The biggest weapon in the hands of the detective is the technical clues that incriminate the suspect. A tactical clue is for example an eyewitness who has claimed to note your license plate. But many tactical clues can be hit out of the hands of the detective by keeping enough escape routes for yourself.

Therefore the cop will increase the relative value of the tactical clue by sealing up these escape routes. This is called 'surrounding of tactical clues'. Surrounding is the structure of questions based on the occasion of a clue, to prevent later escapes by the suspect. The cop will seal up any escape route by letting the suspect per tactical clue confirm or exclude relations, so that in a later confrontation with the tactical clue the suspect becomes stuck in the web of relations.

For instance in the previous example about the eyewitness who has seen your license plate, the detective will first make the suspect acknowledge the relation between him and the car. This way you cannot say on a later occasion that it was not you who has driven the car, but somebody else. Next the detective will aim at the relation with the place and time of the crime. 

During the practical exercise of surrounding the cop has the following points of attention: funneling and observe. Funneling is the questioning from general towards specific. The cop will do this because he doesn't want you to know which specific information (in relation to the tactical clue) he wants to get. He will not give this information and thus uses open questions in order to get the answers he needs. He will ask for as much details as possible. One or more times he will summarize the information given by the suspect and ask for confirmation, this is the observation. Each observation is meant to close down an escape route. 

To get back to the example, the detective will first ask general questions about car trips, to slowly but surely funnel towards your use of the car, ending in the observation by letting you confirm you never lend your car to others.


The detective will only start the confrontation once all available clues are surrounded, because during the confrontation the cop will show which tactical clues he has, which he will only do once the suspect has no escapes anymore. The most important goal of confrontation is to build up pressure in order to force a confession. It’s heavy to get confronted with your own contradictory statements, because it’s impossible to question the reliability of that source (yourself).


The detective will look for leaking signals the suspect gives unconsciously. These signals can tell if the suspect tells the truth or not. Non-vocal signals are: sweating (starts on the upper lip and forehead), a dry mouth (ask for something to drink), (much) smoking, blushing, ticks in the face, many times touching the head, the nose, mouth and ears, tapping hands and feet, playing around with objects, avoiding eye contact, flexing muscles, thickening of veins, farting, burping and a rigid position.

Vocal signals are: repeating that the truth is spoken ('I swear, really, to tell you the truth'), replay of the ball ('then how did it happen'), avoiding certain themes ('cannot remember this, no comment'), short answers, volume of the voice, speed of speaking, trembling of the voice, stuttering, hesitation, fall back on dialect and short denials ('it wasn't me, no absolutely not').    

During a confrontation with leaking signals it’s mostly about the difference between what the suspect says and the signals he shows. Other signals are confession signals from which the cop knows that the suspect is ready to confess. This can be long pauses, asking for a pen and paper or asking for the height of the sentence.

General method

With the general method the detective wants to minimalize resistance, surrounding clues, confronting and enforcing during questioning, in order to get the suspect to make a closing confession.

First the detective will try to surround the clues. After this a relatively light confrontation will follow, while allowing the suspect to correct himself without too much loss of face. When the suspect corrects himself the detective will enforce this for instance by saying: 'Thanks for clearing this up'. These enforcements are used to get the suspect to correct his story during the later heavier confrontation. During this the cop will see to it that the suspect gets enough time to change his statement and to 'recover' from the former confrontation. 

This to keep a good working relation, because the detective will slowly but surely increase the confrontations. He builds confrontations in heaviness, time and frequency. During this he rewards the suspect every time he changes his statement. This method ensures that the suspect and detective together work towards a closed confession.

So also here the golden rule is: call upon your right to remain silent and minimize proof!

The intelligence services

In the Netherlands there are different intelligence services: the Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (AIVD) and the Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (MIVD). There is also the Regionale Inlichtingen Dienst (RID), which collects intelligence for both the police and the AIVD on a regional level. The first two can only collect information, while the latter also enjoys investigative powers. As political activists we are mostly confronted with the AIVD and RID.

The AIVD has four main tasks:  

Conducting research into organizations and persons who are suspected to be a threat for the democratic legal order, the safety of the state or other weighty interests of the state; conducting security researches into candidates for confidentiality; promoting security measures, to secure government and corporate life, that are of upmost importance for the maintenance of social life; conducting research into other countries.

In practice this usually results into an unexpected visit by AIVD or RID agents at your home, work and/or an unsolicited visit to direct family members to ask several questions. By conversations and building contacts these intelligence services try to get their information. They are always well-informed about your personal situation. Sometimes money is offered to get information as an infiltrator for the AIVD.

It stands to reason that you don't have any interest in a 'nice chit chat' with the AIVD, so refuse to talk with them and be very assiduous! Always be aware of infiltrators who are willing to sell their own comrades out to the intelligence services and provocateurs who try to create divisiveness in the group. Avert infiltrators, provocateurs and other traitors at any cost from your group!

Handling the Media

The media can be a powerful weapon in the political struggle because it offers an opportunity to send your political message to a huge audience.

Still there is enough reason to be reticent in regard of reporters. These days the media is not so much about content, but mostly about serving some sensation to the viewer or listener. So keep in mind the media first of all tries to put you into a certain corner, trying to portray you as the stereotype 'extremist'. By doing so they eagerly cut and paste to steer the interview towards a certain direction and to put matters out of context.

Eloquence and a substantiated consistent story are of huge importance during an interview. Take this in regard when you choose a spokesman for your group or action.

It’s also desirable to make certain agreements with the reporter and to put these on paper. Within this arrangement you can think about a deal which offers you a possibility to look into a publication before it is published or make clear agreements on anonymity. However, in practice most reporters will not agree with this, which makes it important to weigh the benefits against the cons, before accepting an interview. 

Press release

To get attention for a certain action or protest in most cases you will have to send out a press release to the editorial offices of several media.

A press release must have news content and must be understandable without the head and subhead. Always keep a press release short and succinctly, only put in the most important information and keep it concise. Questions such as "Who?", "Where?", "When?" and "Why?" need to be answered by the press release. Don't forget to add a name (or a pseudonym) and (prepaid) phone number, in case the press wants to contact you for further questions or verification. 

The contact information of the editorial office is usually found on their websites or publications. 

The interview

Prepare yourself well for the interview. Make sure you have a consistent and strong story.

Don't get distracted during the interview and if necessary refuse to answer irrelevant questions. Keep in mind only a fraction of the interview is really published or aired. So keep your answers short and brief and do not swerve to far away from the theme, so you can clearly make your point.

If you are with multiple people then make clear agreements among each other about the message you want to bring and about who is the spokesman telling the story.

Practical tips

1. Think about what you take with you to protests and actions depending on the situation. For instance take water and headwear with you on a hot summer day. Take with you enough (cash) money for emergencies. If you suspect police repression, make sure you have disguises (such as scarves), a gasmask, sunglasses, a first aid kit or saline to neutralize pepperspray. Also think about what you DON'T want to bring with you. Sharp objects (such as a dart or stanleyknife) or pyrotechnics can be easily seen as weapons by the cops during a demonstration, which can lead to an arrest or prosecution. So, check your pockets before you leave.  

2. How do you communicate?
Do you and your comrades hear your mobile phone during a protest or is it better to use visual signals? Write down important phone numbers, like the arrest support group, comrades or a lawyer with a marker on your arm. If you go to a foreign country check if your mobile phone also works across the border and make sure you have enough credit. Watch your comrades at all times and abandon no one. Take into account that the cops can confiscate your phone and therefore all information that is on it.   

3. Keep track of the situation around you. Actions are situations that change swiftly and rarely go as planned. The cops use different tactics to keep order during large manifestations. A well-known tactic is breaking up a large group of people into smaller ones to surround them and isolate them. If you are in such an isolated group, prepare for hours of waiting or an arrest. So keep track of the cops and always try to be one step ahead. Make sure that during deployment of dogs and horses that you go out of their way calmly and avoid eye contact.

4. If you organize an action think about the mobilization. Make a realistic estimate about the number of people you can mobilize. During secret actions you must think on how you inform your comrades without the cops or other unwanted guests finding out. During public actions you must make sure everybody knows about this action, for instance by building a website, use of social media or chain mails. Don't underestimate the importance of mobilization. An action can prevail or fall by it.   

5. Bring solidarity into practice, it is our most important weapon. Be constructive with criticism on other individuals or groups; attack no one personally. Don’t bring people into danger that didn't choose for it. Respect your co-activists and support anyone who needs it (for instance share water and medical supplies). Always be vigilant and think clear: so never show up to an action drunk. Act conscientiously.

6. Be creative and let your imagination run free. Act on what is relevant in society. Protest and provoke at will. Adapt your actions to the means you have at your exposal. With minimal means such as a spray can, a printer or a bucket of glue you can make a good start, as long as you have a good strategy at hand. 

Hopefully this article provided you with some new ideas and insights. However, activism is not a matter of theory but of practice! It’s a constant learning process in which we must look critically to ourselves as well as our activism. We must learn from our mistakes.

Direct actions offer a solution for a rebellious generation confronted with the empty existence of the modern consumer society. It enables us to take our faith firmly back into our own hands by defying the status quo.

So share this article among comrades and get into action!

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