How to Take Up Space (and hold onto it)

By Josh Hehner

Pick a Relevant Target

The target should directly reflect the struggle at hand, whether it’s a center for our opposition or merely symbolic of their machinations. Ideally, the target should also be photo- and tele-genic, so that the media spectacle propagates the event to a wider audience. Research your target as much as possible. Know its connection to your campaign, figure out whose toes you’ll be stepping on, know the lay of the land (approach and escape routes), and the locations of nearby hospitals and jails.

Plan the Occupation

The energy and resources required for a successful direct action will be determined by the people you can mobilize and the amount of state power that will be mounted against you. Assess the needs of the action thoroughly and develop teams to bring together what’s required. Invite all affected communities and concerned citizens to participate in the planning. Meet regularly and well in advance. For important decisions, use consensus-style decision-making wherever possible, so that all who will be put at risk by a plan will be part of its development. Decide how forthcoming you can be about your plans. More people will take part if they know what is being planned, but a certain degree of secrecy may help avoid pre-emptive impediments. Some organizations mandate a small trusted group to choose a specific target while planning all other aspects of the action openly.

Invite Lots of People

Get the word out to other activist groups, sympathetic citizens, the public and the media, through street posters, flyers, volunteers who will call people, e-mail lists, websites, public meetings, press releases and press conferences, radio announcements, etc. Plan a place nearby to rally before-hand and to disperse from safely afterwards. Even after leaving the action, people should stay in groups to avoid being picked off and arrested. Be wary of undercover infiltrators and provocateurs who might engage in unplanned actions, thereby “legitimizing” police repression.

Taking Over

Meet near your target and move there together. Stop traffic as carefully as possible, then swarm the target area. A mass of bicycles may be helpful. Flow around obstacles, because a moving mass of people is generally harder to stop. Alternately, people may decide to sit down in the road, but they should remain ready to deal with aggressive traffic and police attack. Depending on how much resistance you are likely to meet, you may need more advanced techniques such as tripods, lock-downs or barricades. The general idea is to become as hard to be removed as possible. Long, colourful strips of material or lines of wool webbed just above head height, between lamp-posts, street signs and trees, are both visually appealing and discourage police horses from charging.

Entertainment and Support

Keep energy and spirits up by planning street theatre, games and other activities. Avoid long speeches and boring chants wherever possible. Another option is to bring a sound system and kick up some tunes. Musicians are sometimes appropriate. Support includes everyone not directly participating in the action. This includes cheerleaders, people to supply food, and gophers. Medical supporters should hand out water to prevent dehydration, provide first aid and chemical weapons decontamination in the event of police attack, and help out injured activists because ambulances will not deploy to an areas that have been designated “riots.” Legal supporters will observe police behaviour, counsel people as to their rights, and support arrested activists. Before the action, organize lawyers to provide pro-bono legal work and distribute their phone numbers to participants.

Ending the Action

When the action is over, make sure everyone leaves together, and that all people are accounted for. Consider organizing a jail solidarity rally to support any arrested activists, although the presence of an unruly crowd outside a police station can sometimes delay a comrade’s release. At very stressful actions, consider some kind of ongoing after-care to deal with post-traumatic stress. Celebrate the victory heartily. Debrief, analyze successes and weaknesses, and plan for the next action.

Josh Hehner is a Toronto activist. Visit for more detailed information on planning your own spectacle.

Legal disclaimer: this article in no way counsels you to commit an offence. You’ll do that of your own accord. This paragraph absolves me and Broken Pencil of any legal claims or criminal charges.



Leave a Reply