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Apr 28, 20

If it Falls, Let it Drop: Lessons from the Car Blockades

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On April 24, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp began a controversial “re-opening” of the state’s economy, the first governor to do so in the entire US. This deadly move is aimed at disqualifying recently unemployed public benefits applicants from assistance in a state where public resources are scarce. As we write, COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in Georgia.

In this context, autonomous groups in Atlanta organized car blockades, not to demand the return to normal – as the #ReOpenAmerica protesters have done – but precisely the opposite: to decelerate the economy ourselves. On the day of re-opening we took action, knowing that the whole country would be watching, and that new tools for protesting during the pandemic must be developed.

Across the country, others have utilized their cars to elevate the demands of prisoners struggling for release from detainment centers – struggles that have included jail breaks, strikes, and riots – to avoid certain contraction of the virus. Others still have used their vehicles to blockade Amazon fulfillment centers in conjunction with self-organized workers who are exposed to dangerous and repressive conditions as they single-handedly prop up the economy. Inspired by these protests and unwilling to cede tactical territory to the right-wing, we feel that we have learned some lessons on the nature of car blocklades and are eager to share them, that they may continue to be tested and developed by others who refuse to accept the new carceral consensus and the coercive return to work.

PRELIMINARY LESSONS ON THE EMERGING TECHNIQUES

1. Know what you want to block, and get there as soon as possible.

On the morning of April 24th, one protest caravan symbolically circled the Governor’s Mansion. This protest benefited from a clarity of purpose, and was executed successfully. Later that afternoon, caravaners attempted to shut down traffic along Interstate 20, but experienced difficulties along the way. After substantially blocking up traffic along GA-42, a high traffic street with substantial logistical use, the caravan attracted attention from the police, who were able to pre-empt a highway slowdown by setting up a chicane along the entrance ramp. This prevented protesters from being able to access the interstate in a coordinated manner, which in turn allowed state troopers to easily corrall isolated cars along the interstate. Cars believed to be at the front were issued minor traffic citations.

We believe that it remains possible for small groups of brave and organized people to shut down interstates. As soon as a caravan begins interfering with traffic, the police will try to intervene: had the caravan driven a normal speed and avoided police attention until they reached the interstate, the disruption would have been orders of magnitude greater.

2. Have a way to share information and to cultivate a shared sense of action

Consider utilizing a central meet up point prior to “roll out,” where caravaners can briefly gather. Utilize iPhone’s “AirDrop” function to spread a route map and other agitational materials, so that you don’t have to risk sharing potentially contaminated fliers and so that information can be disseminated quickly amongst people that may not have each other’s phone numbers. This technique is used widely by both by protesters in Hong Kong, as well as people involved in car culture’s “side shows” because it allows for a rapid, horizontal sharing of information at scale.

We experimented with using a live video chat during the action, so that caravaners could share info with one another and feel more connected during the action. It’s not certain whether this helped or harmed the effort overall. While using the chat did allow for a degree of coordination, having an open discussion platform constantly running tends to accumulate a lot of signal noise, and it’s difficult to parse out necessary information or make consensus decisions on the fly. In the future, we recommend using a platform which allows for one-way broadcasting, either in addition to or in place of an open chat.

3. Signs and banners

Being a new tactic, and a tactic used by contesting social forces, it is very important to have flags, banners, and signs to illustrate that we are not calling for people to return to work. We are utilizing direct action to interrupt the smooth functioning of an economy doesn’t care whether we live or die. While we have made significant strides in honing our ability to cause logistical distributions, we must not forget that we are also engaged in an optics war. Get creative, use signs and symbols that people will understand, and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.

4. Don’t carpool

While not everyone has a car, everyone who does have their own vehicle should drive it. In a car blockade, every car that you have increases the strength of the caravan. An ideal arrangement for participants is for each car to have one driver and one person managing communications. While shutting down traffic in a car full of your comrades is a wonderful experience, maximizing the amount of cars participating is essential.

5. Stay close together

If you leave too much space between cars, the police will attempt to divide the caravan, effectively ending the blockade. There should never be large enough gaps between cars for police vehicles to enter.

Because saying close together is so crucial to the success of these blockades, make sure to pick a target that’s feasible to block with the number of cars you’re anticipating. It’s easy for cars in the same lane to follow right behind each other; it’s much more difficult for cars to stay coordinated across multiple lanes (but also possibly more difficult for police to encircle). Be ambitious, and take account of how many cars you will need to be effective.

Make sure to decide who will be at the front of the caravan, how many lanes you will be occupying, and how you will be communicating. Walkie-Talkies are cheap, and extremely helpful for coordinating between the cars that need them.

Share Lessons, Take Care

What we have learned from previous waves of struggle – from the general strikes of the last century to the indigenous pipeline blockades of the last few years – is that direct logistical interruptions are more damaging to the system than symbolic gatherings at sites of supposed institutional power. Blockades are simple, and we do not need intimate knowledge of one another to perform them. Car-based blockades have great potential to be an effective tool for direct action in a period of social distancing, and we must learn how to conduct them effectively.

If the pandemic shows us anything, it teaches us that our survival is still intimately bound with the survival of the system we are fighting against. What exploits and kills us also provides us with food and housing. As long as we still need globalized supply chains to sustain ourselves, any substantial disruption of the system will also disrupt our daily lives. We cannot expect to simply remove the things we dislike without changing what we do like: our needs and desires are not simply oppressed by the prevailing system, but are built by them too. The falling economy throws us into an unstable and dangerous future, but nothing could be more dangerous than the preservation of the system which created this crisis. The bureaucrats are unable to resolve the present impasse: we build movements capable of taking over necessary infrastructure and refashioning it in an ethical way, for us and for the Earth.

We aren’t operating in an easy environment right now, and things will continue to be strange for some time. We anticipate that the end of the quarantines will also be the return of the global wave of mass mobilization, and we are prepared for this. In the case that such circumstances do not emerge, we can hardly imagine that the current forms of protesting will be sufficient to address the coming difficulties and atrocities. If we are not vigilant, new forms of exploitation will emerge under the banner of public safety. In this case, we must develop ways to physically oppose the authorities without exposing one another to the virus. It is certain that law enforcement will develop strategies for dealing with car demonstrations soon, should they spread. Determined people should be sharing reflections and breakthroughs with one another, to better prepare ourselves, and to more rapidly develop the necessary tools and reflexes to survive the pandemic with dignity.

We look forward to hearing back from others, who will craft their responses in the form of concrete actions.

April 26, 2020
All Out Atlanta
Action Committee for Immediate Defense

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