How to Safely Run a Public Blockade

Anonymous submission to North Shore

We are really excited by the enthusiasm for railway blockades that has been sweeping the thieving state called “canada”  since the call out to #ShutdownCanada!

As described here (https://contrepoints.media/posts/from-sea-to-sea-train-blockades-colonialism-and-canadian-railways-history), rail has a violent colonial history and is an excellent way to create leverage to struggles for justice and Indigenous sovereignty.

We wanted to share some considerations for organizing a rail blockade so that different groups can easily take up the tactic.

** It is important to note that this is for folks who want to host a PUBLIC blockade. Any sabotage or other activities that might lead to more serious charges should be done by your affinity group in secret. Solidarity with the sabotagers! Some of this information might be helpful for you as well, but this instructional is primarily geared toward public blockades **

Read this. Get ready. Gather your friends and go for it!

Preparation

1. Look at the Canadian Rail Atlas. Determine what line you want to block. Consider strategy and accessibility. Scout the location.

Strategic considerations could include:

– Is this line heavily trafficked by freight? Is it a main through line? Or an off-shoot with a lesser impact.

– Is this line already impacted by another blockade?  If it is, you could consider picking a different spot.

– Can our team easily access the site? Can other supporters easily join us later? Does being close to transit help? Having multiple entry/exits might reduce your chance of being kettled by the police.

2. Create a legal plan. In some areas there are legal collectives that may agree to be on call during the action. In Tkaronto, the Movement Defence Committee is a collective of lawyers and activists who can be contacted to arrange on call legal support for your action. You need to ask them in advance if they are available on the day of your action to support. Discuss the risks of the action with your group. Make sure everyone consents to the risks. Understand who in your group might face increased vulnerability for repression and how you can make sure everyone takes care of each other.

Starting the action, safety considerations:

Flags. A red flag on a rail line is train conductor speak for Stop Now. Trains take a long time to stop. We recommend placing red flags on both sides of the tracks at 1km and 2kms away from your action site in both directions.

Make a safety call. A further layer of safety can be established by calling CN and/or CP, depending on who’s line you are on to alert them to the obstruction. You can make this call anonymously from a pay phone so that a police investigation does not lead back to you having made the phone call.

CN Rail’s emergency line is: 1-800-465-9239
CP Rail’s emergency line is: 1-800-716-9132

They are FREE phone calls, even from payphones, which we also recommend using!

Sometimes commuter trains also run on CN and CP rails. It is a good idea to find out if this is the case and call BOTH companies to ensure all trains are stopped.

Other potential safety layers:

– Have spotters down the tracks or on bridges with good sightlines who are communicating whether trains are coming.

– Use copper wire or jumper cables to activate that automatic block signalling system, which automatically sends messages to operators to stop all traffic (see North-Shore article linked for instructional)

– Use flares with the flagging for visibility

All these happen BEFORE you step on the tracks, which to some extent requires thought around coordination and timing. Because you want to be safe but also arrive shortly after these calls have been made and flags have gone up.

Pre-blockade research and digital security practices

Always remember digital security when doing your research. Stay off google as they are a tool of the surveillance state. A great alternative to Google for mapping purposes (including directions to send out to supporters and other practicalities) is https://www.openstreetmap.org

Make sure that you are using a VPN or TOR or something to mask who it is that is visiting these maps, consulting instructionals, and sending out media advisories or press releases (use a riseup or other encrypted service that is privacy minded), and don’t log into any account tied to you in the same browser.

Careful with facebook and other social media platforms. While it is important to gaining enough supporters to help protect you from police, it is also a risk. Social media sites are as complicit as google (especially Facebook/Instagram, but all social media!), so you must be aware that everything you do on social media is being surveilled with an aim toward repressing you.

Organize on an encrypted platform (not whatsapp, as that is owned by facebook/insta) such as signal or telegram.

Holding the site the longest possible

Activists have a long tradition of using a variety of equipment and gear to maintain blockades.

These include lock boxes (https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/lockbox.html), tripods, handcuffs connecting two peoples ankles under the rail.

http://www.networkforclimateaction.org.uk/toolkit/action_resources/da2010.pdf

https://beautifultrouble.org/tactic/blockade/

We do not suggest locking yourself to stopped trains. Trains can move unexpectedly even when they are stopped and this can be dangerous.

Damaging the tracks in any way is not something we’d suggest doing at a blockade as it puts everyone at a bigger legal risk. Damaging the tracks can be more safely accomplished when no one is around.

Promotion

FOLLOW THE LINK TO FILL OUT YOUR OWN GRAPHIC.
https://north-shore.info/2020/02/22/we-will-respond/

Day of Action

PIFs, or Personal Information Forms, are forms given out at actions and in advance of actions to participants to fill out so that people are able to provide legal support for them if arrested by checking in with legal support, ensuring they have their pets taken care of, and have people call in sick for them. PIFs must be taken off site to someone uninvolved but very trusted so that participants feel secure handing over their personal information to people, and so that the little piggies don’t get access to people’s information. It is very important to have this well coordinated so that a car is at the ready to drive off packets of PIFs to the offsite support team.

MCs and Marshals need to ensure they communicate safety information to everyone, have them fill out PIFs and write the MDC number on them somewhere. Even those of us with it well memorized find we suddenly forget when experiencing panic.

Some groups prefer to work with Police Liaisons. If you choose to do so, make sure you choose two strong and persistent people who will not let the cops give them the run around. Having two people appointed to act in this capacity can be helpful in ensuring participants are freely consenting because all information helps us do that. Police Liaisons ideally can be helpful in delaying the police from acting and thus helping the longevity of your blockade.

Having some people appointed to act as Media Liaisons is also part of your safety practice. Making sure the people speaking to the media know what to say and more importantly, what NOT to say. Not all participants are going to be as up on security culture and may say things to the media that the state thugs might also want to know!

Someone offsite should be sent any photos taken to blur faces and identifying marks, remove any metadata and post on social media.

Legal Considerations

Rail blockades can lead to a range of charges. These include mischief obstructing, mischief under 5000, mischief over 5000.

Rail companies also have a history of suing blockaders.

Remember that arrests do not only occur at an action. Police can use a combination of photos of you at the action, taken by them, or that you posted on social media, combined with other information they have collected on you, from your social media, or from their investigations, to charge you weeks or months after an action. You can try to avoid being identified at an action by disguising your look.

If police do come to your door asking questions that does not neccesarily mean you are under arrest. Do not, under any circumstances, speak to the police. Ever. About anything. Ever.

More Resources:

https://medium.com/@samanthamarienock/action-resources-5f057181a8cd

For information on causing rail disruption without a blockade:

https://north-shore.info/2020/01/05/to-settlers-by-settlers-a-callout-for-rail-disruptions-in-solidarity-with-the-wetsuweten/

https://warriorup.noblogs.org/post/2020/01/25/trainstopping-brochure-and-manual/

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