Affinity group formation: building a confident team
By Fox (Instagram: @SnowfFakefoxtrot)
[Image: Snowflake Quebec checks in on two locked-on arrestables from another affinity group, Christian Climate Action, outside the blockaded Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]
The day before our first action, our newly-formed affinity group meet again.
After our Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training the day before, the Snowflakes affinity group (AG) meet at another location. We’re planning to go to a quiet park, but the 100th Remembrance Day parades block our path. Instead, we end up in the crowded basement level of a café, squeezed around two small coffee tables.
It’s a far more public location than I’m comfortable with. Not only that, but having just met the day before, we’re still somewhat uneasy around each other. It’s a strange atmosphere. We ask some questions and play games for a short while to get to know each other better. We establish personal boundaries – things we are or are not comfortable with regarding each others’ behaviour or the actions we’re willing to take. Our words are careful until we slowly begin to feel more comfortable together.
We start to work through each others’ concerns and plans. People queuing for the toilet stare at us as we calmly and openly discuss illegal actions and arrest, without revealing crucial information such as times or locations. We establish hand signals and code words that might be useful in case of problems in the field when we don’t want to give out key information.
Suddenly, two police officers walk in from the parade.
I speak a little too loudly, abruptly interrupting Charlie talking about spray-chalking and locking herself on to fencing:
“I’ll get home before dark.”
The group falls silent for a moment, and spot the coppers.
It’s an alert signal we had established just minutes before. The key word combination or phrase, such as “before dark”, is designed to sound like it’s part of normal conversation, so members of the affinity group can alert each other to danger without strangers understanding.
The police officers come and stand directly beside us, queuing for the toilet. Our conversation switches to banal chatter, quickly filling the silence. Bravo surreptitiously slides a bag of patches and gear, marked with extinction symbols, under the table where it’s out of sight. I lay a forearm on the table to cover the “Rebel for Life” patch I’d had in front of me.
The conversation is disjointed and awkward, sounding almost too upbeat as we pointedly ignore the officers. Around a minute later someone suggests we head for the office. Everyone enthusiastically agrees – for some strange reason. We grab our gear and leave the coppers below, regrouping outside with a sigh of relief.
“Good thing we got our language sorted,” says Charlie.
As we continue talking on our way to another meeting point, Delta reveals he’s considering getting arrested too. In a perfect combination, we find out one of XR’s founding members, ‘Gamma’, is looking to join an affinity group for the next day of actions – the two buddy up as arrestables.
Recommended to do so by an experienced activist, Veteran and I head back to the hall in the afternoon for some more technical training and to pick up gear for tomorrow’s actions. Inside the main hall, another even bigger group – around a hundred and twenty people – is receiving their NVDA training, as we had yesterday. It’s encouraging to see how full the room is. We skirt past them to meet someone we’ve been directed to in the next room over – in this case, a stairwell. ‘Builder’ asks us to turn our phones off and leave them outside of the room.
Builder explains he’s someone with experience creating, acquiring or advising on how to make and use the physical materials activists often need to complete their actions. Opening a large duffel bag full of activist resources, he describes different methods activists can ‘lock-on’ to each other or buildings.
The idea of this is partly to physically block something from functioning as usual, like a road or the parts of a machine. However, lock-ons also prevent the police from simply dragging activists away, slowing arrests down and increasing the duration of disruptions.
Some are straightforward, like a bicycle D-lock around the neck or handcuffs being attached to a gate. The technique was allegedly recently used by an activist who attached themselves to a digger at the HS2 construction site where old-growth forest was being bulldozed to make way for new railway lines.
The example Builder has the most of are ‘arm tubes’: a model where two activists chain one arm to their buddy’s, using a chain and carabiner around the wrist, placed into and drainpipe tubing to prevent the lock being easily undone. Police then can’t simply drag the activists away from whatever they’re occupying or blocking, as they risk injuring the locked arms.
To move them, police have to request special tools to painstakingly cut through the tubing until the two activists can be separated, arrested and removed one by one. It’s a way of enhancing the use of one’s body as a blocking tool to directly cause disruption for a longer period of time.
In this case, he’s mass-produced a bunch of simple arm-tubes using plastic drainpiping, and says once the tools are out these can be cut through in a matter of minutes. However, he explains other activists have created arm-tubes using various combinations of metal piping, mesh wire, metal rings and cement to make them heavy and sturdy – a nightmare to cut through or move once locked. Depending on how sturdy the lock-on is built, the whole process can take hours, increasing the disruption caused to the activists’ target.
I’m asking questions and learning all the details. Veteran just nods and smiles; she’s used these several times before. We thank him for his time and I relay his advice to the rest of the Snowflakes. By evening, we’ll have the information on our first action target…
More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.