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(en) Ireland, Two [More] reports on Shannon anti-war direct action

From "Andrew" <andy@dojo.tao.ca>
Date Mon, 3 Mar 2003 19:14:20 +0100 (CET)


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First some local context.  Shannon is a civilian airport being
used to refuel military flights.  On Saturday a direct action
protest that had made public plans to tear down the fence
around the airport and invade it took place.  These are two
views on what happened.  Lots more at www.indymedia.ie
---

Can we stop the bombers at Shannon? YES WE CAN CAN !

Within a couple of weeks of the massive Dublin march we were on the road again
trying to  keep the focus on the US bombers favourite pit stop; Shannon.  The
day started as I arrived at Liberty Hall for about ten minutes past nine.  A
good crowd had gathered there and few people rapidly went over to the other
side of the quays to leaflet the Irish Anti-War movement busses.  The IAWM had
decided that their buses would leave from a different departure point.  The
leaflets clearly outlined what the Grassroots Network meant in real terms when
it called for 'non-violent direct action.'

We were on the road again to Shannon on a fine bright Saturday morning.  We
listened to music, chatted and passed around copies of the newspapers.  On the
front page of the Irish Times we saw the photograph a couple of privates in
camouflage erecting a wall of razor wire taller than themselves.  It was an
impressive picture and a fine example of how the State had been buying into
the hype generated in the last week over the plan to tear down the fence.  As
I looked around at the bus at various people sleeping, tuning into walkmans,
eating sandwiches or openly chuckling as they looked at the Irish Times it
illustrated to me how naÔve the State is when it comes to who we are.  For the
most part the bus consisted for young people who want to do more than march
for peace and listen to speeches telling them why they are against the war. 
This bus rolling towards Shannon had people on it that wanted to be involved
in an action which brought attention to the fact that since the massive
display of opposition to the war the government had done nothing.  Bombers
were still being allowed refuel at Shannon.  Bertie had tried to convince
people that he was against the war at the same time as allowing this pit stop
of death to continue operating.  We however weren't waiting for Bertie.
Following our announcement of our intention to take the fence down, two other
airlines had announced that they would not use Shannon due to concerns over
'security'.

We pulled into the designated stop at the Leix county hotel.  There we met up
with the other buses organised by the IAWM.  Once again we gave out leaflets
explaining the planned action that we would take at Shannon.   We were
laughingly referred to as "trouble makers" and I explained to someone how I
intended to chop though the razor wire with my teeth.  If your going to be
stereotyped by one and all you may as well play up on it for laughs. 

On the bus we had a discussion of how exactly we would go about the action in
Shannon.  There were a number of people who volunteered to take the white
flags.  The original plan was to march up the road towards the terminal and
then link arms and walk towards the fence remained in place.   We decided if
this for some reason proved impossible then we would implement two other
possibilities.  Our delegates were to liase with delegates from the other
buses coming for this Grassroots action.

Once we got past Thomond Park we were waved though our first guarda
checkpoint.  However a little further down the road we weren't so lucky.  One
of the IAWM buses was already stationary at the side of the road and we pulled
in behind them.  The police boarded our bus and they started to search bags. 
I saw one walk off the bus with an armful of spray cans.  One Garda asked me
what was in my bag and I told them books, cd's and a salad.  He was
unimpressed to find out I was telling the truth but didn't go as far as to
search the salad for wire-cutters.  

Finally after a little over 3 hours on the road we pulled into Shannon and
disembarked at the assembly point in the car park outside the supermarket. 
Immediately people with the white flags assembled at one corner.  We decided
to march out of the car park towards the airport and to have a meeting further
up the road.   We pulled out shortly after two o clock and I was surprised to
find about half the people in the car park follow the white flags.  We marched
and chanted our way down the road.  Shortly before the round about we pulled
into some ground on the left, planted the white flags in the ground and had an
open-mic meeting on the megaphone.   The assembled crowd were aware of the
plan (and it had been discussed on the buses from Dublin and Cork.)  It was
re-iterated here that we would march towards the terminal ? white flag people
first and then we would turn at one point and go towards the fence.  The garda
hadn't shut the road off towards the terminal so we were going to be allowed
up it.   The white flags moved out first and we linked arms and began the
chanting "1 2 3 4 we don't want this bloody War. 5 6 7 8 this is not a US
State."   As soon as we got past the roundabout we could see a good twenty or
thirty riot police in full gear beside the fence.  It would not be an
exaggeration to say that there was a huge number of police there.  They?d
formed a wall of yellow that stretched out in front of the fence.  As we
marched up the wall of yellow followed us.   There were cops on horseback
behind us, a platoon of riot police to the left of us, and this large highly
visible yellow wall of gardai in front of the fence.  On top of that there was
a media army who as we marched into the airport stuck microphones in our faces
and asked us if we thought there was going to any violence.  

It had been made clear to everyone that this was to be a non-violent direct
action.  The message hadn't reached all in attendance and one young marcher
who had put some considerable amount of time into his outfit marched with
metal plating, and a balaclava.  Needless to say the Sunday Tribune couldn't
resist taking his picture and ran with the ironic headline "Marching for peace." 

We stopped at a specific point up the road and turned towards the fence.  We
linked arms.  I looked down the line and saw at least 250 or more people who
were now linked together. Together we advanced as one towards the fence.  The
gardai concentrated their numbers in front of us.  It became obvious very
early on that we were not going to go though them and they were not going to
let us get to the fence.  One man repeatedly touched the fence and finally
aggravated a senior officer so much that he was arrested.  We chanted at the
boys and girls in yellow.  One character walked up and down the no-mans land
between the two lines playing a bodhran and raising the spirits of those on
both sides of the standoff.  He even attempted to tap out a tune on a riot
shield.  People from Food not bombs walked up and down the line handing out
tasty bread and sandwiches.  We chanted some more.  One garda made chicken
noises, as he attempted to provoke us into moving forward but he was ignored.
Someone suggested we do a huge river dance spectacular but there appeared to
be few skilled in the art of "ain do tree."   Then finally sponantious, we
began to dance the can can   It was at around that time that the IAWM march
passed on their way to the airport terminal.  I was on the megaphone
encouraging people to join in this dance off against the State.   There were
few takers.  A couple of marchers from the IAWM came over to berate the active
dancers for being violent.  I have been around protests for years but this
sight still had to rank as one of the most surreal moments that I have ever
witnessed.  Here was a line of over 200 people dancing in front of an army of
police in front of one of the most care about fences in the history of the
state and for that they were being scolded.

At this stage lines of communication were not very clear.  Eventually we
decided to make the cops work a bit and moved the line up alongside the fence.
 This appeared to be a fairly good tactic.  When we reached a part of the
fence that cut more into the airfield a few activists flung some grapple hooks
over the fence and started to pull on ropes.   Quickly a number of scuffles
and tug a war broke out between activists and the police.  It was at this
moment in time that the Gardai decided to swoop in and arrest the people
they'd been itching to nick since the start of the day.  A few scuffles broke
out as other activists attempted to de-arrest those who had were being carted
off into the back of a paddy wagon.  The movement up along the fence stopped
and after the paddy wagon pulled out we were back into the stand off with the
flustered cops who'd had to do something to earn their overtime for at least a
few minutes.

It was decided to march back out of the airport keeping the activists as
tightly together as possible so as to not present the law with the opportunity
to arrest any more people.  We marched out of the airport chanting and once
again had a brief open meeting at the far side of the round about.  People
came forward and most of the speakers talked of coming back with greater
numbers.  Names were passed onto organisers of those people that had been
arrested.  In all 10 people were arrested and charged under the convenient
Public order act.  A house in Shannon was used as a focal point to ensure
legal representation for those lifted. 

We walked back to car park and met up with the bus there.  We said goodbye to
our friends and comrades from Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast, Derry, and
Clare.   Back on the bus we listened to the news reports.  2FM reported that
10 arrests happened whilst Richard Boyd Barrett was reported as saying that
the IAWM would not participate in any demonstrations with people who were
intent with violence with the cops.  I found out later that he'd unfortunately
been misquoted in the press.

The next morning on Newstalk 106 I tried to make the argument that there was a
home for a diverse number of tactics within the anti-war movement.  The
presenter, an indignant Rodger Green decided he was having none of that and
claimed that the day was a "damp squib" and at the same time an "incitement to
riot."  It's hard to rectify these two ideas but you can when you are a mental
midget in the media who is more concerned with the 'tax-payers money' and a
'fence' than an actual debate or the facts.

The day action was non-violent a great success.  The Grassroots Network
against the War proved that it was possible to organise non-violent direct
action.  The precious fence didn't come down but two airlines pulled out of
Shannon and state was forced to spend huge amounts of money keeping this
garage for the US Air force open for business.  We can and will build on this
and in a few weeks time when the daisy-cutters are raining down on the
innocent people who have the misfortune of living under a dictator, there are
going to be a lot of people wondering why they were so worried about a fence.
  I think that the State should know that we will be back, and there will be
more of us.  '?d even hope that the Irish Anti War movement would be marching
with us as opposed to separated from us.   Next time we might get to see their
razor wire that they went to the trouble of photographing.
 
DS  (in a personal Capacity)

      To the next time

Saturdays direct action at Shannon was foiled in 
its intention to get onto the airfield. But it 
demonstrated to the anti-war movements that such 
an action is possible to carry out and that is a 
major step forward. Indeed were it not for the 
week of 'its going to be violent' hype from the 
media, the bishops and even some other sections 
of the anti-war movements we almost certainly 
would have succeeded.

The major mistake the organisers made was 
placing too much trust in the comprehension 
skills of journalists. The second line of our 
plan of action read "This action will be an 
example of mass non-violent civil disobedience 
in the tradition of Gandhi's salt march." We 
presumed journalists would understand from this 
that 'non-violent' mean 'non-violent'. 
Astoundingly huge numbers of them decided 'non-
violent' actually meant 'violent protest' and 
headlines to that effect were splashed all over 
the media.

Things turned to real farce at Friday lunchtime 
when Sinn Fein, the Green Party and the Labour 
Party released press statements saying they were 
staying away from the protest for fear of 
violence. To those of us involved in the 
planning the Sinn Fein fear of violence would 
have had us splitting our sides. But 
unfortunately there was little room for humour 
as we knew that many people thinking of going 
would presume Sinn Fein 'knew something' and 
wonder what possible level of violence we could 
be planning that would frighten Sinn Fein off!

The sheer level of hysteria which ran right down 
to suggestions that the army might shoot people 
seems a little unbelievable now after the event. 
But it's a game that those who oppose direct 
action can only play a limited number of times. 
The credibility of all those who added fuel to 
that fire is now pretty damaged -next time far 
fewer people are likely to be scared off.

Pic: Part of the GNAW march, these are in the 
online version at 
http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2003/gnawMARCH.html

Despite all this and the stopping and searches 
of coaches travelling to the protest over 300 
people decided to take part in the Grassroots 
Network Against War action. As agreed with the 
IAWM we explained what we intended to do to all 
those at the meeting point and then left for the 
airport (even before all their coaches had 
arrived.)

We had expected most people with us would be 
joining the pink observer line rather then the 
white direct action line but this turned out not 
to be the case. At least two thirds of those 
with GNAW choose to march up to the fence with 
the white flags. Just short of the airport we 
had a final meeting to explain what the 
situation was one last time and to emphasise 
again that this was a non-violent action.

Pic: Marching to the fence, the front of the 
march

Approaching the fence we saw there were a couple 
of hundred Gardai waiting for us including the 
riot squad. The decision to publicly deploy the 
riot squad in the first line in this manner is 
very unusual. Normally at demonstrations they 
are sitting in vans, out of sight, on stand by. 
It was all the more extraordinary given that the 
vast majority of the population of Ireland 
oppose refuelling. The only conclusion is that 
the image of the riot squad confronting peaceful 
protesters was manufactured not for domestic 
consumption but to keep one man in a White House 
in Washington DC happy.

Arriving at the fence the agreed plan was put 
into action where the people carrying the white 
flags spaced themselves out at regular intervals 
and everyone else in the white line linked arms 
and filled in the gaps. We then slowly walked 
forward until we came into contact with the line 
of Gardai. We had hoped that at this point we 
would massively outnumber them and be able to 
simply walk around them. They were obviously 
worried about this as well as their senior 
officer was quoted before the protest as saying 
that it would be impossible to guard 7km of 
perimeter with 500 men but they would try their 
best.

In the event he needn't have issued this 
disclaimer as there was pretty much one cop for 
each protester in the white line. Plus they had 
enough to spare to have a cop every 5 metres or 
so running up either side of us and dozens more 
visible inside the fence. Still with two or 
three times the number if was obvious that many 
of us could have simply walked around the ends 
of their line.

There was a long good-natured face off at this 
point. Its worth pointing out that our line up 
included several US citizens and Bob from Yale 
(Cork) who will celebrate his 84th birthday this 
week. When the IAWM march (with around 800 on 
it) passed us far from witnessing a violent 
fracas they were greeted by the sight of the 
white line doing a can can in front of a solid 
line of cops. They headed off up to the terminal 
building.

Shortly after they had passed we decided to try 
something different and basically got the whole 
white line moving parallel to the fence. 
Surprisingly this caught the Gardai on the hop 
and quote a few of them just stared at us moving 
off until their senior officers ordered them to 
follow us. This meant one end of our line 
suddenly found they were no longer facing a wall 
of cops but that there was only one every 5 
metres or so. Seizing the opportunity people 
walked up to the fence or threw crude grappling 
hooks attached to hooks to the top of the fence 
and started to pull it down.

In the space of a couple of seconds the fence 
had started to peel off from the top and cops 
had come charging in, rugby tackling people to 
the ground, grabbing the ropes and generally 
shoving people around. However, as we expected 
post RTS, they were not keen to repeat scenes of 
peaceful posters being hit around the head with 
batons so the batons stayed in their pouches 
although some people were punched in the face.

Most of the arrests happened at this point as 
cop's randomly grabbed people out of the crowd 
and threw them into vans. There were further 
arrests of the few brave souls who attempted to 
stop these vans moving off - despite the fact 
that a sea of cops surrounded them. But on our 
side at least things remained calm and we 
offered no violent response to this Gardai 
provocation.

We formed up and marched back to the entrance of 
the airport where we had a short meeting in the 
car park outside, to get details of all those 
arrested for the legal support term and to 
discuss how people felt about the action. Both 
here and on the coach back to Dublin the 
overwhelming feeling was very positive. Most 
people reckoned they felt more positive 
returning from this protest then any of the 
other ones.

Those arrested were taken to court that evening 
and are released on bail. Once again though 
their bail conditions exclude them from the 
entire county of Clare (and not just the region 
of the airport) which seems to be an outstanding 
attack on civil liberties. In cases of barring 
orders to prevent wife beating the offender is 
often told they have to stay 500m or less away. 
It seems that the state values protecting 
warplanes way ahead of 'protecting' battered 
women.

Post Shannon the anti-war movements find 
themselves in a difficult place. The direct 
action proved to be a catalyst, around which all 
the differences simmering in the movements 
surfaced, often in pretty ugly forms. Now that 
all this has been got out in the open we need to 
start a discussion of how we overcome these 
problems in the future.

Pic: Careful now

A few things seem essential. This includes a 
clear acceptance that although we disagree on 
tactics we must unite in opposing the war. The 
situation where some organisations used their 
media access to attack the plans of other groups 
should not be repeated. All they succeeded in 
doing was damaging the movement as a whole and 
damaging their own credibility.

Secondly those who opposed the action because 
they believed it to be premature or too public 
now have an obligation to spell out how they 
want such actions to be planned in the future 
and when they think they may become appropriate. 
GNAW will presumably continue to insist that the 
time is now and that mass actions should be 
called in a public format so that all those 
attending can be aware of and discuss the 
consequences. But its obvious to us that our 
action would have been successful if we had been 
joined by all those on the IAWM march. As well 
as building out own actions we should continue a 
dialogue with the IAWM and others aimed at 
building towards a mass action supported by as 
many sections of the anti-war movement as 
possible.

On Saturday is was obvious that even the few 
hundred of us there seriously stretched the 
ability of the Gardai to enforce the wishes of 
the government against the wishes of the Irish 
people. We aimed to get to the fence and we got 
there despite being out numbered by police. We 
aimed to pull it down and we failed, but not by 
much. We came close enough to demonstrate that 
this sort of action can work, it just needs more 
people to be willing to take part. That is what 
we need to build towards.

Andrew

This report is online with photos and links at
http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2003/gnawMARCH.html

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