Nonviolent action against NATO in Lisbon

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A report and evaluation of the anti NATO activities in Lisbon

- Andreas Speck, War Resisters' International

On
Saturday, 20 November 2010, some 80 activists from a range of
countries blockaded one of the access roads to the NATO summit in
Lisbon, to protest against NATO and NATO's war in Afghanistan. Police
intervened quickly, and about 45 activists were arrested, but
released on the same day late in the evening and during the night.


The
action was one of many actions against the NATO summit in Lisbon, but
was the focus of War Resisters' International's activities for the
summit. This article looks at how the action was organised against
many obstacles, and argues for more nonviolent direct action and
civil disobedience against NATO.


The long and difficult road to Lisbon

When
Lisbon was announced as the location for the 2010 NATO summit at the
Strasbourg summit in April 2009, this choice posed some problem for
nonviolent direct action, but also for the international anti-NATO
movement in general. No Portuguese group had previously been involved
in the anti-NATO network as represented by the International
Coordination Committee No to War – No to NATO
(ICC), and also
War Resisters' International did not have any active contact
in Portugal1.

However,
in May 2009 WRI established first contacts (with the help of its
Spanish affiliate alternativa antimilitarista-moc),
and activists from two Portuguese collectives – Luta Social2
and GAIA – set out to form a new group against NATO, the
Plataforma Anti-Guerra, Anti-Nato (PAGAN)3,
which was officially founded on 30 September 2009. WRI decided to
invite a representative of PAGAN to its own meeting and the ICC
conference in Berlin in mid-October 2009, which was the beginning of
a fruitful cooperation. A first meeting of the ICC in Portugal,
hosted by PAGAN, took place in Lisbon in mid-December 2009.

Although
the decisions of the ICC meeting in Lisbon very much followed the
model established for Strasbourg – activities would include a
counter-summit, a demonstration, a camp, and actions of civil
disobedience – this sometimes felt more like a wish list, and it
was clear that a lot of work would be needed to make it happen.

One
of the problems which could never be solved was the relationship with
the Communist Party controlled Conselho Português para a Paz e
Cooperação - Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation

(CPPC)4. PAGAN invited CPPC to the December meeting of the ICC in Lisbon, but
without success. Several members of the ICC also met with
representatives of CPPC before and during the time of the ICC meeting
in Lisbon, but without being able to come to any concrete agreement
on cooperation.

From
the perspective of nonviolent direct action, nothing concrete was
discussed or decided in Lisbon in December 2009, besides an
expression of interest to organise some form of action of civil
disobedience.

Within
the European Antimilitarist Network5
(which does not really have a name) a decision had been taken at the
meeting in October 2009 in Berlin to focus on a nonviolent action
against NATO in Lisbon, if such an action would be feasible. It was
clear that this would require some base in Portugal, as a lot of the
logistics had to be organised in Portugal, but also for political
reasons: if only activists from outside Portugal would take direct
action, this would feel awkward, almost like some form of “peace
imperialism”. Thus, it was felt that it was crucial to work with
Portuguese activists on a nonviolent action.

Attempts
to get Portuguese activists to join a European action at AWE
Aldermaston in Britain in February 2010 failed, and a next meeting of
the network took place in July 2010 in the Spanish village of
Jarandilla, not too far from Portugal, and with strong participation
from PAGAN. At the meeting there was a long and difficult discussion
on what to do in Lisbon in November 2010, but without really
satisfying conclusions. Ideas such as a banner drop were discussed,
but no concrete plans were made on how to make an action happen. Most
of the more Northern European groups within the network felt that
there was not enough basis for a larger scale mobilisation for
Portugal, and decided to support an action in Portugal, but not to
mobilise for Portugal. An alternative action was supposed to be
organised for another place shortly before the NATO summit, but
failed to materialise for a variety of reasons.

For
October 2010, the ICC and PAGAN had organised an Action Conference,
in parallel to an anti-NATO conference organised by the educational
organisation Cooperativa Culturas do Trabalho e do Socialismo
(Cultra)6,
which is related to the Bloco de Ezquerda7,
one of the left parties in Portugal. Shortly before the conference,
the CPPC-led coalition Paz sim! NATO não! (Peace, Yes! NATO,
No!)8
released a statement, condemning PAGAN and accusing them “to
instrumentalize the demonstration
” and of “a troubling
absence of political responsibility … [which] can only be
interpreted as a regrettable attempt to jeopardize the nature, goals
and characteristics of the demonstration that has been convened by
the «Peace, Yes!; NATO, No!» Campaign
9.


This
statement marked an escalation of the conflict between PAGAN and the
ICC on one side, and the CPPC organised
Paz sim! NATO não! coalition.
It was not a coincidence that the statement was released just two
days before the Action Conference and a meeting of the ICC in Lisbon.
Attempts by former WRI Council member and former MEP Tobias Pflüger,
who had worked closely with the Portuguese Communist Party during his
time in the European Parliament, also failed.

Nevertheless,
the discussion during the Action Conference were constructive, and
activists from Vredesactie/Bombspotting and WRI also did a
nonviolence training in parallel to the Cultra event, which linked in
with the discussion on a nonviolent direct action during the NATO
summit at the Action Conference. Finally, a decision was made that
the action would be a blockade of one of the access roads to the
summit, but that there would not be a public mobilisation for the
action. The need for some sort of “action camp” was also stressed
again, and some activists linked to the network of Rhythms
of Resistance
10
in Portugal took on the task of trying to find a suitable place.

In
the weeks that followed PAGAN was repeatedly accused of preparing for
violent action in the Portuguese media, and at least one of the
articles also mentioned War Resisters' International
and Bombspotting
together with the 'Black Block'11.



The week before the summit

Less
than two weeks before the summit finally a suitable “action camp”
was organised – a warehouse in the Poço do Bispo neighbourhood of
Lisbon. Also, nearby a place for a nonviolence training had been
organised – thus some of the required infrastructure to prepare for
an action was finally in place.


From
Monday on international activists began to arrive in Lisbon, to avoid
the re-imposition of border controls due to the suspension of the
Schengen agreement from Tuesday, 16 November on. A lot of work still
needed doing: more scouting, to decide on a place for the action, and
to work out a scenario, which would include how to get there. A
training and a training agenda had to be organised, including a
public show training for Thursday, which was meant to counter the
accusations of preparing for violence in a visible and convincing
way. And – people also started to do small actions, including
clowning and samba.

I
myself arrived on Wednesday evening, sneaking through in spite of
border controls. Already on the coach from Madrid to Lisbon I
received the news that Lucas Wirl, an organiser of the ICC, had been
denied entry to Portugal, and was being deported back from Lisbon to
Berlin. Later that evening, more news about people being denied entry
arrived: a coach of 35 activists of WRI's Finnish section
Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto (Union of Conscientious
Objectors)12,
two activists from aa-moc in Spain, five French activists...
the list grew longer by the hour, and the picture that emerged was
that nonviolent activists were denied entry.

Worried
about our friends, we continued the planning of the action. The
public training on Praça do Rossio13
in the centre of Lisbon on Thursday afternoon received an
unprecedented and very impressive media attention – the media
probably outnumbered the people taking part in the public training. A
few hours later, at 18.30pm, a “flash mob” in the form of a
die-in took place at Rossio train station near by, although with a
lot of media present.

One
of the successes of these activities was that the tone in the
Portuguese media changed. While there was still some talk about an
imaginary 'Black Block', the emphasis shifted to civil disobedience,
which – however – was not yet really understood14.
Still – the message that we were seriously preparing for a
nonviolent action of civil disobedience did come across, and in the
future questions on violence focused on “how do you make sure that
other people don't use violence?”

Another
consequence of the media coverage after the actions of Thursday was a
new statement from the Paz sim!
NATO não! Coalition, even
sharper in tone. It accused PAGAN, WRI, and the ICC of “a
shameful and intentional attitude of pure political parasitism
”,
and again condemned civil disobedience: “[The
Coalition] clarifies, once again, that it disagrees
with, and distances itself from, the so-called «actions of civil
disobedience» which seek nothing other than providing media time to
initiatives, and above all, to organizations without any significant
roots in Portuguese society, as is the case of PAGAN, or which, as is
the case of the ICC, act in clear disrespect of the peace, social and
popular movements of Portugal
15.
How sectarian can it get?

Friday
was meant to be the day of training for the action, but a lot of
things still had to be decided and prepared. The group working on the
scenario for the action was working hard to work out a plan. The
training took place in the afternoon – one Spanish speaking group,
and two more or less international groups with Portuguese
participation. In one of these groups suspicions about police
infiltration came up, and it was decided not to go into details of
the action scenario during the training. The training was followed by
a legal briefing.

On
Friday late at night, the affinity groups received their briefing on
the action scenario, and final adjustments were made. It was also
decided that groups should – where possible – stay elsewhere at
night, or leave early in the morning and don't go directly to the
place of the actions.

Last
changes were made to the press release, and the SMS distribution list
to invite selected press to a meeting point close to the action was
finalised. Long after midnight, everything was finally ready for the
action.


The action: NATO – Game over

We
stayed the night over at the camp, but had decided to leave at
6:30am, to have breakfast in the centre of Lisbon somewhere. The
action was supposed to start at 9am, with each affinity group making
its own way to the agreed place.

The
plan was to blockade Avenida de Padua, one of the access roads to the
NATO summit, at the junction with Avenida Infante Dom Henrique16,
very close to Cabo Ruivo metro station. At 8am an SMS was sent to the
selected press, inviting them to the meeting point near by for
8:50am. We decided to go by metro, but had to get off in between and
let several trains pass, as we were too early. Finally, we took a
train and arrived at Cabo Ruivo station at 8:55am.


When
we got out of the metro station, we saw only very few people at a bus
stop near by. Walking down Avenida de Padua, a police car passed by.
Shortly before 9am, people arrived from all directions and hiding
places and got onto the junction. Quickly, bicycle locks were put
into place to lock people together on their feet, and within a short
time the road and part of Dom Henrique were blocked. At almost the
same time, the first TV camera teams arrived. In the middle of the
junction, the aa-moc activists dressed in suits poured red painted
over themselves, and then lay down in the “blood”. We had made
it, and had successfully established our blockade.

Within
minutes, police arrived. Attempts of the police liaison team to
establish contact and talk with the police were not very successful.
Quickly, the police moved in to remove the partly locked-on
protesters from the road, moving those locked-on together – a very
dangerous operation, which could have resulted in broken legs. Other
protesters were pushed to the side – there was no clear criteria
who was to be arrested and who not from those who were not locked-on
and blockading the road.

Police
was also not very careful when removing the lock-ons or bicycle locks
– if they had been trained, then certainly not to any health and
safety standards. Luckily, in spite of the police's dangerous
attempts to cut through locks, nobody got injured.

Within
about one hour, the blockade was cleared, and 45 activists had been
detained and transported to the police station. Nevertheless,
everyone (who was not arrested) felt that the action had been a
success.



After the action

Those
not arrested decided to make their way as a group to the
counter-summit, and to discuss there what to do next, and how we
could support those that got arrested. Meanwhile, the legal team was
in contact with a lawyer who was attempting to get access to those
arrested.

After
some discussion within the group at the counter-summit, we went
together to Monsanto, where the police station is located, to wait
for the release of those arrested. It was quite interesting, as you
could see people being brought from the cell tract to another
building for interrogation, and we cheered them on whenever that
happened.

For
a long time it wasn't clear whether people would be released on the
same day, or would stay in detention until Monday, to be brought
before the court. Only at 5pm in the afternoon the lawyer for the
first time got access to the detained. Nevertheless, the atmosphere
in the police station was good, and people did not let themselves be
intimidated by the police.

In
the evening police started to release people, and every time people
got out of the police station, there were welcomed with applause and
loud cheering. Shortly after midnight, the last person left the
police station, and we finally could go to sleep or party.

On
Saturday afternoon, also the demonstration organised by the CPPC-led
Paz sim! NATO não! campaign
took place. Unfortunately,
initial agreements about participation and speakers from the ICC did
not hold (which had been clear at latest after the October
declaration of the campaign), and even worse, the Paz sim!
NATO não!
campaign had announced publicly before
that members of PAGAN would not be welcome at the demonstration.
Reiner Braun, a member of the ICC who went to the demonstration,
described this as follows: “The inglorious
climax of their sectarian policy was the joint action with the police
to exclude other left forces from the demonstration. Only thanks to
the wise and always open conduct of the international
anti-NATO-coalition an escalation of the situation could be avoided,
so that public attention focused on the common rejection of NATO.
17

According
to the Paz sim! NATO não! campaign18,
about
30,000 people took part in this anti-NATO demonstration.


Lessons learned

When
we went to Portugal the first time, in December 2009, we probably
underestimated the complexities of the political situation within the
Portuguese left and anti-war movement. While we were aware that there
was fierce competition between two left parties – the Communist
Party
, which also has a base in the Portuguese trade unions, and
played an important role in the “revolution” of 1974, and the new
Bloco de Ezquera, more an electoral party than a party with a
strong local base in the communities – we probably did
underestimate how much impact this would have on the joint organising
of activities against the NATO summit.


Problematic
was especially the role of the Communist Party, and its front
organisation, the Conselho Português para a Paz e Cooperação
(CPPC). Being used to a quasi
hegemonic role within the Portuguese left, they were unable to adjust
to the new
times and to accept that with PAGAN there was an independent
coalition against NATO, which they were unable to control.

I
guess in such a complex situation, a bit more transparency also from
our side about who is organising what might have helped to avoid some
of the misperceptions and escalations. While neither the ICC nor
anyone else ever tried to hide the fact that the demonstration was
organised by the CPPC-led Paz sim! NATO não! campaign,
we also did not make this
very visible in our publicity – mostly to avoid to make the split
within the movement publicly visible. Internally, but also, whenever
asked, publicly, there was never a doubt that the ICC did not
organise the demonstration, and it did not try to claim otherwise.
Given the display of sectarianism we witnessed,
it is however doubtful if this would have made a difference.

I
want to focus my evaluation on the actions of civil disobedience,
however, because these were the focus of WRI's activity in Lisbon.

First
of all, it is probably right to say that everyone involved felt that
the actions went well, and was successful. On several levels, we
achieved our objectives:



  • we
    managed to blockade one of the access roads to the NATO summit for
    about one hour in total


  • we
    managed to get publicity for the action itself, but also for the
    reasons for action: NATO, the war in Afghanistan, etc


  • we
    managed to do an action in Portugal, with Portuguese participation,
    which can serve as a point of reference and as an inspiration for
    future nonviolent actions in Portugal.


However,
while the outcome was good, there are some lessons to be learned
regarding the process of preparation.
All of the following needs to be viewed in the light of the short
time frame (one months since the decision for a blockade was made in
Lisbon in October 2010), and the problems of communication between
activists based in different countries – most communication had to
be by email, and not everyone was able to communicate securely via
encrypted email. An additional complication was that only about one
week before our arrival it became clear that there would be a 'camp'.

One
of the main problems was that none of the core organising groups did
spend much time before arriving in Lisbon on thinking about and
discussing our own structure in the days of preparation. This was not
discussed during the action conference in October 2010 in Lisbon
(there was no time left), and that was the last face-to-face meeting
before November.

In
practice, that meant structures were improvised as we went along.
While affinity groups were formed in the camp, there was no clear
understanding about the relationship between the camp structures and
the structures for the action, and the preparation of the action.

In
the end, a scenario group was formed by the main organising groups
(CAGA – formerly PAGAN Porto, WRI, Vredesactie, aa-moc), which did
work on the scenario for the action, and in the end did brief
affinity groups. However, there was never a spokescouncil of affinity
groups, which would have given a mandate to the scenario group, nor
was the scenario ever discussed in the spokescouncil and the affinity
groups.

For
me, this means that for future actions we should spend more time in
advance on discussing not just the action, but also our own
structures, so that we can make sure that they reflect our ideas of
participatory planning and grassroots democracy. We know from our own
past experience – for example in Strasbourg in 2009 – that we can
organise large-scale nonviolent direct action in a participatory way,
relying on tested concepts such as a spokescouncil. But this requires
to spend time and energy on our structures, and not only on the
action itself. Maybe in Lisbon it would have been too much to ask
for, but it is an important aspect to keep in mind.


We need more nonviolent action

Not
only Strasbourg 2009 and Lisbon 2010 show that the international
anti-NATO movement needs more nonviolent action – and not only
during a NATO summit. In terms of summit actions, in Strasbourg the
only place without violent confrontations (in spite of violence from
the police) were the actions of civil disobedience, and in Lisbon it
were also the public training and the action of civil disobedience
itself which diffused the accusations of violence, and also
contributed a lot to the public impact the totality of the actions
against NATO had (including the demonstration organised by the Paz
sim! NATO não!
campaign).

But
nonviolent action should not be limited to protests against NATO
summits. If the anti NATO movement wants to be a force to be taken
serious, it needs to develop more protest practice in between
summits, on a local, regional, national, and continental level. While
summits are important points for a crystallisation of protests, where
we all come together and do actions together – or at least
coordinate our actions together – the strength of a movement lies
in its day-to-day activities, which should range from information to
nonviolent direct action.

Within
the international anti-NATO movement, there are a range of
organisations with a lot of experience in nonviolent action and civil
disobedience, but also many organisation with no experience
whatsoever, and even with reservations about the use of nonviolent
action.

The
action in Lisbon showed that it is possible to overcome many
obstacles in the preparation of an action of civil disobedience if
everyone involved is committed to it. I think we need more openness
from those sceptical about nonviolent action for these forms of
action, and more openness on the side of experienced NVDA activists
in sharing their experience, but also in working with groups and
organisation with little and no experience, but willing to learn.

As
a movement, we can only grow from this exchange. I hope that in
Dublin in April, at the anti-NATO conference, we can discuss as a
movement about the role of nonviolent action within the anti-NATO
movement, and how we can strengthen and expand nonviolent action.





Andreas
Speck is on the staff of War Resisters' International, and a member
of the International Coordination Committee No to War – No to NATO
(ICC).



Notes


1Although
WRI officially has an Associate in Portugal – the Associação
Livre dos Objectores e Objectoras de Consciência (ALOOC)
, it
has not been possible to re-establish contact, or to verify whether
ALOOC actually still exists.











9Statement
by the «Yes to Peace!; No to NATO!» Campaign, 13 October 2010,
http://www.pazsimnatonao.org/en/2010/10/14/statement-by-the-%C2%AByes-to-peace-no-to-nato%C2%BB-campaign/





11Polícia
receia desordeiros internacionais na Cimeira da NATO, SOL/Sapo.pt,
12 November 2010,
http://sol.sapo.pt/inicio/Sociedade/Interior.aspx?content_id=4186




12See:
Finnish Peace Activists Denied Entry to Portugal, 18 November 2010,
http://wri-irg.org/node/11684




13See
for the invitation: http://wri-irg.org/node/11680




14See
for example: A crise também chegou ao black bloc e toda a
desobediência será pacífica, El Publico, 19 November 2010,
http://www.publico.pt/Mundo/a-crise-tambem-chegou-ao-black-bloc-e-toda-a-desobediencia-sera-pacifica_1467051




15Let
the truth be known!, Statement by the “Peace Yes! NATO no!”
Campaign, 18 November 2010,
http://www.pazsimnatonao.org/en/2010/11/19/let-the-truth-be-known/





17Reiner
Braun: Information on the new NATO Strategy and report on the
actions of the peace movement on the occasion of the NATO summit in
Lisbon on November 19th – 21st, 2010, 13 December 2010, via ICC
email list.




18PSNN!
Mais de 30000! Grande Manifestação “Paz Sim! NATO Não!”!, 20
November 2010,
http://www.pazsimnatonao.org/2010/11/20/mais-de-30000-grande-manifestacao-paz-sim-nato-nao/


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