Tips for Disruption

Building a new world based on freedom, cooperation, and environmental sustainability in the face of powerful corporations and governments that seek to maintain their domination is not an easy task. To make progress, we need to flexibly embrace a wide variety of tactics and strategies—from strikes, street protests, direct action, and riots to street theater, educational campaigns, and even letter writing—whatever may help in a particular situation. These pages suggest how to effectively create disorder and disruption—because these skills are under-utilized and under-theorized. But we don’t want to disrespect or dismiss the use of other kinds of tactics that may be effective in a particular situation.


General Theory

In a protests, you request or demand change from those in power. Direct action is when people ignore those in power and build new forms of social interaction on their own—cooperatively organized housing, farms, workplaces, etc. Militant disruption falls between traditional protests and direct action—the common situation in which people reject the authority and legitimacy of those in power, yet don’t have sufficient social resources to just build a world outside the rulers’ control. Disruption seeks to prevent business as usual and resist social control, thereby weakening the rulers and opening possibilities for new social structures.

If you’re lucky, you and a group of friends can get together, run through a shopping mall, push some dumpsters into the middle of traffic, and generally run amok. If you keep moving, you’ll never see any police because by the time they arrive at a particular location, you’ll be gone. Tactics that evade the police are almost always the most disruptive. All too often, you see would-be militants getting caught up in the cop game by focusing on confronting the police—pushing against a police line, etc. This is often a mistake, however, if you want to maximize disorder and disruption. When you confront the police, it usually results in order, not disorder, because the police know precisely where you are. They can re-route traffic around you, maintaining productivity and business as usual everywhere else except on your tiny corner until they can amass enough forces to surround and bust your ass. If you see a police line, it is usually best to go the other way or melt away and regroup elsewhere. This keeps them guessing and confused while you’re free to cause chaos everywhere the police aren’t. The police are organized centrally, so if we can keep mobile in several different groups, their hierarchical structure has a much harder time keeping track of it all. It’s also good to keep in mind that disruption and disorder can take many forms. Sometimes, creating beautiful expressions of the world we seek to build—music, art, gardens, public sex, etc.—can be disruptive while avoiding the system’s “us and them” paradigm. The system loves a conventional war within traditional categories—like guerilla fighters, it’s our job to figure out forms of struggle on plains of reality where we have an advantage.


What to Bring.

To be mobile and maximize the area that gets disrupted, you want to travel as light as possible and avoid bulky signs, props, or costumes that slow you down. Carrying water in a quirt bottle for drinking and treating chemical weapons exposure is highly recommended. Use a fanny pack or bag that doesn’t get in the way in case you have to run. The black bloc uniform (black hoodies, etc) is outdated and silly—like wearing a huge target on your ass—avoid it. If weather permits, water repellent clothes protect skin from pepper spray. Layers are good because they provide padding and can e used for disguise/escape. In hot weather, dress comfortably—avoiding heatstroke and dehydration so you can run is way more important than protection from chemical weapons or a disguise. Wear good running shoes. Don’t wear contact lenses, jewelry, long hair, or anything the cops can grab. Never bring drugs, weapons, burglary tools, or anything that would get you in extra trouble if arrested. Never bring address books or sensitive information. Gas masks, goggles and helmets are almost always silly—the protection they offer is far outweighed by the extent to which they make you a target and slow you down. Those who’ve been tear gassed will tell you—it isn’t the worst thing in the world.


Affinity Groups/Decision Making.

Affinity groups are small action cells—usually 4 to 8 people—who share attitudes about tactics and who organize themselves for effectiveness and protection. The best affinity groups are people with pre-existing relationships who know and trust each other intimately. Decisions are (hopefully) made democratically, face-to-face, and quickly on the spot. In a chaotic situation, affinity groups enable decision making (as opposed to just reacting), while watching each other’s backs. Affinity groups with experience and a vision within a bigger crowd can take the initiative and start something when the larger crowd is standing around wondering what to do next.

Some affinity groups use a code word that any member can yell if they have an idea for what the group should do next. Upon hearing the word, others in the group yell it too until the whole group gathers up and the person who called the huddle makes a quick proposal. The group can then agree to the proposal, briefly discuss alternatives, and then move. A code word can also allow regrouping when the group gets separated in a chaotic situation. It is a good idea for everyone in the group to discuss their limits before an action. During the action, taking the time to check in about how everyone is feeling will keep the group unified. Don’t forget to eat and take pee breaks, which will be a lot easier if someone can act as a lookout while you duck behind a dumpster.