the Disillusioned kid: Outlaws outwit the Sheriffs
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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Outlaws outwit the Sheriffs

A group made up of students, pensioners, Christians, anarchists and Young Greens would normally be a recipe for disagreement, dispute and disunity, if not disaster. The contingent which travelled from Nottingham to Scotland last weekend as part of Faslane 365 incorporated all these demographics and more. Not only did the group manage to operate coherently, but it was able to block the North Gate of HM Base Clyde for more than four hours.

Faslane 365 is an attempt to organise a continuous blockade of the nuclear submarine base at Faslane in protest against government plans to replace the Trident nuclear missile system. Groups from around the world are encouraged to travel to the base and attempt to organise their own autonomous blockades. At the time of writing, the Faslane 365 website claims 102 days of presence by 75 different groups. Totals which have entailed 696 arrests, but only 26 prosecutions.

The group from Nottingham (which included a number of people from nearby Derby) travelled to the base on Saturday (March 31) and Sunday (April 1), blockading the base on the latter. The contingent's theme was Robin Hood, which allowed us to contrast his robbing from the rich to give to the poor, with the government's theft from the poor to fund Trident, and many members were dressed as members of Hood's Merry Band. The police seemed to find it very amusing to asking people why everybody was dressed as Peter Pan.

Saturday was spent milling near the North Gate (the main entrance to the base), marching around the base and relaxing on the beach, all without much of a plan. It is possible that the police took us for a bunch of disorganised fluffies, incapable of sorting out a serious blockade. Whether this was part of some grand plan or simply a reflection of the fact we actually were hopelessly disorganised is debatable. Once we started planning for the next day, however, the commitment of everybody involved became clear and things began falling into place.

The plan involved coordinating the arrival of three minibuses at the North Gate shortly after 6.30 in order to catch the morning shift change. Things looked bad when one of the minibuses suffered a puncture barely a mile from the base, but some quick thinking and everybody's understanding of the requirements of the plan meant that even this didn't stop us, although a fourth minibus did arrive later than planned.

Against everybody's expectations, the police seem to have been caught napping, having had only a handful of officers defending the gate. As a result, by the time the third minibus to arrive had deposited its passengers, there were fifteen people blocking access to the gate. Blockaders were secured by a combinattion of concrete lock-ons, chains, D-locks and a number had even volunteered to be plastered together. The police had little option but to close the gate and redirect traffic to the South Gate, which isn't normally used on Sundays.

Within about ten minutes the police began constructing a blue screen around the blockaders in order to "sanitise" them. This friendly-sounding euphemism is their way of justifying isolating those engaged in a blockade from their supporters while they proceed to cut them out. Fortunately those outside didn't relent in their nopisemaking, bashing barriers with sticks, stones and anything else which came to hand. The police were less than keen on this and, perhaps still smarting from their failure to anticipate our plan, took to threatening people with dubious charges of criminal damage.

People's spirits were lifted by the appearance of the Rebel Clowns who announced that as it was April Fool's Day they had declared themselves all King and Queen for the day and decided to put Faslane, along with the submarines it supports, up for sale. In their usual manner the clowns kept protesters entertained and confused the hell out of the police, although one was arrested, apparently (I wasn't there) after climbing into a passing car.

The clowns managed to make the police look particularly stupid when one of their number put a bike lock on the prisoner handling area, located just down the hill from the North Gate, apparently trapping the police inside. It emerged, once a cutting team, reinforcements and the Inspector in charge appeared, that the key to the aforementioned lock was sitting right next to it, leaving those inside looking distinctly red-faced. The Inspector gave those of us in the vicinity a lecture about the distinction between "lefitimate" and "anti-police" actions, which amounted, in my reading, to, "Nobody's ever thought of doing this before. We'd really rather you didn't do it properly in the future."

The police don't seem to have been in a massive hurry to cut-out the blockaders, but it's clear that one of the concrete lock-ons caused them some real difficulty and it was the blockaders attached to this who were the last to be arrested. Once they'd been cut-out, blockaders were taken to a prisoner handling area, for processing, before being sent off to various police stations across Strathclyde.

Later in the day there were two further arrests. I wasn't there, but these followed a Palm Sunday march up to the gate. According to the accounts I've heard, one of the marchers refused to move, carrying on singing hyms while the police insisted she returned behind the barrier. At this point she was joined by a man who was also arrested. By the end of the day there had been eighteen arrests, including the clown. All were released by 5pm the next day with nothing more serious than a warning letter, which says, essentially, "We have sufficient evidence to prosecute you, but we're not going to this time."

Everyone involved, as far as I can tell, regards the action as a huge success. We managed to function as a unit inspite of our difference and achieved a far more successful blockade than any of us had anticipated. Hopefully these newly formed alliances will not simply evaporate and we can work together in the future. I for one am already chomping at the bit to go after a new target and there's also talk of some people participating in the forthcoming student blockade.

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