Newsletter Shut down NATO/NATO-ZU No 4, 20 April 2009

Dear supporters of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO,

welcome to our fourth and last newsletter. We did it! With your support, we managed a successful NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO blockade! Even though the action in Strasbourg was overshadowed by acts of violence, we can say that we blockaded nonviolently and successfully!

We would like to say 'Thank you' to to all those who supported us actively in the previous months during the preparation! We want to thank all donors, who made the financing of the action possible! And we say thank you to everyone who came from France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Finland, and and and to take part in the action. You all helped to shape the action and to turn it into a success of nonviolent resistance!

This newsletter includes information on:
1. Resumé of the action
2. Summary report on NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO
3. Requests for contributions for a documentation
4. Appeal for donations
5. News on the website of NATO-ZU
a) Further reports
b) Press mirror
c) Photo gallery

1. Resumé of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO-blockade - Nonviolence is possible!

In spite of huge police deployments we managed to nonviolently blockade on Saturday 4 April as planned, and without interference from the police. About 200 people from Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Britain, Sweden, Finland and many other European countries participated in the blockade of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO on the northern access road to the conference centre where NATO was meeting. Other groups of Block-NATO managed two more blockades in the centre of Strasbourg. All together more than 1,000 people participated in nonviolent blockades within the framework of Block-NATO.

Unfortunately, the blockade action were overshadowed by the violence at the demonstration in the harbour area of Strasbourg – violence, which originated from the police, but to a large degree also from parts of the participants in the demonstration. How much this was the work of police provocateurs masked as „black block“ is difficult to prove. But there are several witnesses testifying that there were provocateurs. The media reports were especially dominated by the burning Ibis hotel and the burning former customs station close to the Europe bridge. We see the massive use of tear gas by the police even without provocation against the demonstration as a „strategy of escalation“ from the side of the French police.

Also in the days before there were already violent confrontation between police and demonstrators, and escalations in the vicinity of the camp in the rue de la Ganzau, in which also NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO had its base.

In spite of all of this we think that our nonviolent action was successful, especially with the background of the escalation during the demonstration. Our action showed clearly that nonviolence is possible and necessary.

For NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO we can say that:

* the concept of a nonviolent blockade organised in affinity groups worked well in Strasbourg, in spite of violent escalations in the days before, and contributed to an effective disruption of the summit, even if this is not presented this way in public;
* the preparation in the camp – action trainings, preparation of the action via the spokescouncil, international co-operation, and coordination of the action (leaving the camp on Friday night) – contributed greatly to the success of the action;
* we think that our police liaison and the meeting with the police on 1 April contributed to the fact that the police did not intervene to heavily against NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO and Block-NATO – even though tear gas has been used initially against the other blockading points;
* the concept of autonomously organised blockading points within the framework of an overall concept of Block-NATO allowed NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO to give its blockade its own character.

In the evaluation round of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO some resentment had been voiced about the events in the vicinity of the camp on Thursday and Friday, which led to an escalation. Even though NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO de-escaleted in both cases, this required a lot of energy, which would have been better invested into the preparation for the action. Many participants voiced their wish that in future camps should be organised with a clear nonviolent concept. With the preparation group of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO there is at present no common position on this issue. A detailed evaluation meeting of the preparation group of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO will take place only in June. We would be happy to receive many more evaluations from people who participated in Strasbourg until then.

2. Summary report on NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO

A successful nonviolent blockade in Strasbourg in the middle of violence.

On 4 April 2009, more than 200 activists of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO (an international nonviolent initiative co-founded by War Resisters' International) managed a successful nonviolent blockade of the northern access road to the Palais de Musique et de Congres, where the NATO summit took place. At the same time, other groups of the coalition Block-NATO (of which NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO is a member) managed successful blockades in the inner city on the main road connecting both orange zones (Av. de la Paix / Av des Vosges - Place de la République) with 500 people and one on the Route du Rhin with 500 people. In total, more than 1000 people took part in nonviolent blockades. All three blockades remained there until about noon, when the spokes councils of the blockades decided to end the blockades, and to join the demonstration.

While the two inner city blockades were initially attacked by police with tear gas, there too the situation calmed down after a while and the police relaxed too.

The nonviolent blockade of Block-NATO and NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO showed that even in such an escalated situation it was possible to protest nonviolently, and to disrupt the NATO summit with this action of civil disobedience. According to a report in the Badener Zeitung, the blockades led to the diversion of the convoy of the heads of state and government, and caused disruption to journalists wanting to cover the summit.

While later in the day violence erupted in the port area of Strasbourg, where the international demonstration was taking place, the careful preparation of the blockades ensured that there was no violence from the side of the activists.

Preparation in the camp

The final preparation for the blockades started in the camp in the rue de la Ganzau, in the south of Strasbourg. The camp was the base for a wide range of activists, from pacifists to the so-called “black block” (not at all a homogeneous grouping), and many people who did not have any clear affiliation. In the camp, Block-NATO and NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO had their own “barrio”, where every day at least three nonviolence training sessions took place, affinity groups were formed, the representatives of affinity groups met in the spokes council, and in general all the planning and preparation for the blockade happened.

On 1 April, representatives of Block-NATO and NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO also met with the police, to explain the planned action of civil disobedience, the nonviolence guidelines, and the role of the police liaison persons as communication channel between the police and the spokes council. While the police listened with interest, they did not commit themselves to nonviolence and insisted on using all “appropriate means” to clear blockades, which did not rule out the use of tear gas. The police also made it clear that it was their job to deter us from our planned action.

Thus, the nonviolence training did not only include working in affinity groups, consensus decision making, blockading techniques and general aspects of nonviolence, but also a discussion on how to deal with tear gas, which for many of the participants was something they had not experienced previously and clearly felt scary for many.

While the participants prepared themselves for the blockade, the situation was heating up several times in the area around the camp. On Thursday evening, after an anti-repression demonstration in the city of Strasbourg during which a lot of damage had been caused, police accompanied groups back to the camp and at the north-eastern entrance to the camp police fired a lot of tear gas at groups of people on the field there. As a consequence, people started to build barricades at the other entrances to the camp.

To intervene here, NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO decided to call a camp plenary to discuss how to deal with the situation. At the same time, we contacted the International Coordination Committee (ICC), which was organising the counter-summit and the demonstration, and asked the ICC to try to intervene with the police, while we would try to de-escalate from inside the camp. This coordinated efforts calmed the situation down in the end, but a planned spokes council of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO fell victim to these de-escalation efforts, as there was no capacity left for it.

On Friday, the last day before the action, the discussion in the affinity groups and the spokes council shifted towards tactics for the action. We discussed the different possible blockading points in our area, whether affinity groups would feel comfortable with one, two, or three blockading points, and – above all – how to get to our blockading area. At the same time more trainings took place, and new affinity groups joined the action and the spokes council. At a count in the afternoon, we had about 150 people organised within NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO, a number which would grow to more than 200 after the last training session in the afternoon.

While people where busy preparing for the next day, the situation escalated again, this time on the rue de la Ganzau. It seems the reason for this escalation was the detention of a group of clowns for identification purposes. Although all the clowns had been released, people built barricades on rue de la Ganzau, and even set the first barricade on fire. This time, de-escalation attempts of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO did not help, and it was more thanks to the police, which did not have an interest in an escalation, that the situation calmed down after a while.

During the afternoon and in the evening, most groups of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO left the camp and stayed the night in different places in the north of Strasbourg.

The blockades

Early in the morning, at 3am, the other groups of Block-NATO left the camp and tried to reach the publicly announced meeting point at the university, in the south of the city. Without warning they were attacked by police with tear gas, but managed to withdraw and bypass the police, clearly avoiding any confrontation. Other groups went directly to the university, where they were also attacked by police with tear gas when they tried to leave.

The affinity groups of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO had a different tactic. We did not have a public meeting point, but had decided that each affinity group would make its own way to the blockading point, to arrive there at 7am sharp. The plan worked. We did not encounter any police in the area, and not only reached the blockading point on the Avenue Pierre Mendez France without any problems, we also could establish the blockade without any interference by police. At 7:05am, the message went out that NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO was blockading the northern access road to the NATO summit.

Later in the morning, the other groups of Block-NATO also managed to establish their nonviolent blockades. In total, more than 1,000 people participated in the three blockades of Block-NATO and NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO.

The atmosphere in the blockades was relaxed, and joyful. We did it! After all the discussions of the days before we had not really expected to be able to establish blockades, and even less to be blockading for hours. Everyone was prepared to be cleared away by police using tear gas within minutes, but in the end the blockades decided themselves to end the blockade, and to join the demonstration, thus proving our autonomy about our form of action, and not leaving the decision to the police.

The demonstration

NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO ended its blockade at noon with a small ritual. We then began the long walk to the port area of Strasbourg, where the demonstration was supposed to start, bypassing the security zones. However, when we got closer, we saw black smoke in the sky coming from what we assumed was the Europa bridge over the Rhine, which links Strasbourg on the French side with Kehl in Germany, and over which a feeder demonstration from Germany was supposed to come. When we got to the Pont d'Anvers, leading to the port area, we first made a stop at van of the kitchen collective Rampenplan, which was waiting for us with some food.

While we were eating, police arrived in force and drove onto the Pont d'Anvers, spraying pepper spray from their vans. We quickly withdrew further away, and soon after called for a spokes council to check if all affinity groups were fine.

The police presence prevented us from joining the demonstration (which was not really a demonstration, but ended in chaos), and after a while the affinity groups decided to call it a day.

Later in the evening we again met in the camp. While some of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO facilitated a camp plenary to discuss what to do in case of a revenge attack by police (there had been rumours to this regard), and attempted to de-escalate the situation, others joined a NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO evaluation plenary. While people were tired after the day, shocked by the violence of the day, and worn out after days of dealing with escalation and de-escalation, the general mood was that NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO and Block-NATO had done a very successful action, much more successful than anyone imagined us to be the night before. However, the satisfaction about our success was mixed with sadness about the general course of events.

Those who still had energy joined the music and the party, while others fell into their sleeping bag completely exhausted. Luckily, it stayed calm during the night.

On the next day, it was time to say good bye. A last police checkpoint, and we were on our way home.

Andreas Speck, War Resisters' International, 8 April 2009

3. Requests for contributions for a documentation

We would look to publish a more detailed documentation of NATO-ZU/Shut down NATO on our website. We welcome personal testimonies and experiences of everyone who participated! Please send your reports and also selected photos to kontakt@nato-zu.de

4. Appeal for donations

Once again Thank you to everyone who donated already! We did not yet finish the final accounts, but it is very likely that we lack some money, especially as we had unplanned expenses, i.e. the loss of a megaphone, two damaged printers and a minibus of the English affinity group, that has been damaged in a confrontation between police and “the black block”. We would therefore welcome if you could spare a few Euros or Pounds. Thank You!

You can donate online here.

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5. New on the website of NATO-ZU

a) More reports

We are collecting personal stories, comments, press releases of individual groups, links to videos here.

b) Media reports

You can find links to selected media reports here.

c) Picture gallery

You can find photos of our action here.

We welcome if you send us some more photos!