Disrupt Land Forces is, in so many ways, an experiment. It is an experiment in relational organising, the logistics, in campaign strategy, in messaging, and in ways of being together. We like it like that.
In 2022 we ran our first repetition of this experiment, incorporating the results from the previous year. You can read about DLF 2021 here. We learnt many things, some of which we would like to share with you here.
There are only two rules at DLF:
1) Do not physically harm any living being
2) Respect everyone else attending and the ways they choose to resist
That’s it. You can say what you want, and do what you want, as long as you follow those two rules. The second one is harder for most people than the first. But it is crucial to the experiment.
There are many social movements pursuing many goals using a varying strategies accompanied by a diversity of tactics. One thing strikes us about this situation – everyone has a strategy that would work if everyone did it, but most of the time not enough people do it for it to work. That’s why we started to ask ourselves “what would it look like to build a strategy that does not require everyone to follow it?” What does that even mean? What would it look like to build a strategy that assumes a diversity of approaches and tactics? Not only that, but one that celebrates difference in approach rather than treats it as a problem to be solved via “better” organising?
But how do you make that real? Ideas must touch the ground somewhere. One of the places that idea touched the ground for us and became real was in the organising structure itself.
We formed a Core Organising Group, the aptly named the ‘COG’ to drive the organising. No matter how lofty our goals of decentralization – we find that some amount of central coordination is needed to run a week-long-mobilization-festival-of-resistance. There are things that work better when they are centralized across the mobilization. The seven person COG met weekly for six months in the lead up to the event. To follow the ‘festival’ metaphor, we were like the producers, but very hands off. We set out to provide a stage but not tell the band what or how to play. Just make a space that was conducive to people taking action, collaborating in ways they may not have otherwise, and feeling supported and empowered to take action in ways that felt meaningful for them. We sought to be minimally prescriptive about how, when, and to what extent people could participate.
It turns out that making a space that encourages certain things, and discourages others – like dissing other activists, undermining others, and other non-helpful behaviours – is complicated in our critique laden culture!
Here are some of the things that we organised to build shared cultures, values, and understandings that encourage full, conscious active participation. We sought to be minimally prescriptive about how, when, and to what extent people could participate.
– Clear Objectives: We articulated our preferred objectives for tactics and the mobilisation itself. We noticed that people’s imagination for political tactics is somewhat limited by experience, strategic knowledge, and risk appetite. We wanted people to try new things, to put their bodies in new places in new ways and to learn and be empowered. We wanted some people – if not all – to address our stated objectives: to show that people do not consent to the expansion of the weapons industry. And to indicate to the people attending that they were explicitly unwelcome.
– Induction: We held an induction where we articulated the values that we wanted to highlight. We emphasized that if, for example, you don’t agree with someone else’s tactic, you are under no expectation to participate. We suggested this might mean no one would actively undermine anyone else’s tactics by encouraging others to withdraw from it, publicly criticising it, making personal attacks on the people organising it, or anything that takes power away from that tactic.
– Workshops: We dedicated the first two days of the festival to workshops. The workshops served a lot of practical purposes (e.g. legal briefings, taking and holding space, information about the companies being targeted, etc.) but they also served the goal of shaping the container that we were asking participants to fill with their own ideas. They set the stage.
– Handbook: We wrote a handbook for participants that contained practical information (such as: contact details for ‘point people’; a guide to our digital communications channels; a map of the immediate area where the festival was taking place). It described the culture we envisaged for the festival, explaining the reasoning behind our approach and the problems we had encountered in previous organising to give a context for the vision.
– Saying Yes! We made the conscious decision to say ‘Yes!’ as suggestions flowed in no matter our immediate emotional or intellectual response to the idea. We aimed to respond to new ideas with an open mind by saying “Yes…And…” We found these behaviours to be contagious, giving permission to respond to each other’s ideas by adding to and building upon them, as opposed to shutting them down and advocating for our own idea INSTEAD. Setting that tone seemed to encourage people to combine their ideas in interesting ways, rather than present them as binary choices like “we can do this OR that”.
– Challenging Scarcity Mindset: We explicitly named and challenged the “scarcity mindset”. Giving it a name seemed to help us and the others we were working with to recognize impulses born of capitalist competition and divisions. The scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset tells us that there is never enough of anything. “There is not enough time, not enough people, or not enough capacity, not enough space for everyone’s ideas. Only the best, most efficient, most effective ideas deserve space and time.” The culture of domination insinuates that the magical market place of ideas will always dynamically and efficiently allocate resources to the “best ideas”. This “not enough” anxiety can lead us to be closed off to new ideas or alternative approaches because we are subconsciously worried that it will take time away from what we really SHOULD be doing (even if we are not totally sure what that is). It can encourage rigidity in ways that are not helpful for movement building.
– Community: We made space for building relationships on richer foundations than just mutual hatred of the military industrial complex.We had a live music concert and an open mic night in the hall where everyone had the opportunity to simply be together in joy.
A healthy movement needs to balance robust discussion and healthy critique with solidarity, unity in struggle, and mutual support across difference. It is important for movements to have space for people to disagree. What we have found in practice has been that the tendency is for groups to go too far into the critique mindset, dismantle every idea that comes their way, and find themselves in a state of paralysis where no course of action is pursued. We believe that an imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing. We found that over-emphasizing the collaborative “yes and” approach worked against the dis-empowerment caused by the hypercritical culture and usual tendencies of large groups. It pulled us closer to that elusive state of balance that we are all so earnestly chasing.
Okay enough about setting the stage, we didn’t sign up to a “the making of” documentary – once you set the thing up what actually happened?
The Stories of Disrupting the Weapons Industry
We closed the month of September and kicked off the festival of resistance with a beautiful ceremony called the Solidarity Fire. As the opening event, it also did a lot to set the tone for the week. We were privileged to be in the company of the local First Nations community members who not only allowed us to rent their community hall for the week as our “home base” but also attended many of the week’s events, particularly the solidarity fire. We set up a projector near the fire, which aired a live zoom call with three locations in West Papua and one in the Philippines. They also lit solidarity fires, so that via the magic of the internet, we could connect and tell campfire stories even where oceans divide us. It was a very special event.
We heard the story of Musgrave Park, the fire pit, and the hall that we were organising from. We heard how the Aboriginal community had fought for those spaces where culture can continue to be practiced and celebrated. This deepened our gratitude in being welcomed into the space and afforded its use, because it made visible to us the struggle it had taken for the space to exist at all.
We heard stories from our friends across the seas, and heard echoes of our own stories in theirs. It was truly an honour to be a part of such a grounded and unglamourous act of solidarity – the act of simply listening.
The next two days we workshopped and planned, but we were aware that the bump-in for the weapons conference was taking place at the same time and it may at short notice, produce opportunities for action. One learning from this experience was that if there is a possibility of an action, most people will choose to prep for the action so the workshops were not as well attended as we would have hoped. The upside of this opportunism was that we DID manage to capture a vehicle that was delivering a drone to the convention centre as part of one of the arms dealers displays. Two young women climbed on top of it, ripped back the tarp to reveal that there was a literal drone underneath, and unfurled their banners before being taken into custody. They became the first two of eleven arrests that week. We consider that not many, considering over 100 people participated.
Monday, the Queens Birthday, we held an “eat the rich banquet” over lunch. Then we headed down to the convention centre to further disrupt the bump in with noise, confusing costumes, and lots of wild gesticulating with forks. Despite the 8-foot opaque fence that had been erected to keep us away from the entrances of the convention centre, we made our presence thoroughly felt and heard.
This was our first real opportunity to practice taking and holding space as a crowd. We received feedback that people who attended the workshops aimed at ‘taking’ space on this subject found them helpful, with people reporting that it helped them to know what to pay attention to in the incredibly dynamic action space. It was chaos, but if the activists can see the organised patterns in that chaos better than the authorities can, they have an advantage. Colour, noise, costume, constant movement, and decentralized live decision making were our friends in this situation. We were simply confusing to look at. Key Learning: Confusion creates opportunity (as long as you can remain slightly less confused than your opponent). So be weird. It can be tactically advantageous as well as fun.
The public holiday meant that quite a few random citizens were moving past after sunning themselves and playing in nearby parkland. Feedback was that we should have more materials to provide passersby, so that they could make sense of what they encountered. A leaflet perhaps, indicating: What was happening? Protesters? Doing what? Why? Aimed at whom? Instead of just forks.
Action at the Conference:
Tuesday was another thing altogether. This was our mass rally moment, and the first action to take place once the conference had started. We heard from a powerful line up of speakers including Senator Shoebridge, flown in from Sydney. We held the space for some hours and made sure all those attending the conference knew we were there and why. We said Bon Voyage to our beautiful mindful walkers, as they set off on a long, slow, mindful walk around Brisbane’s CBD holding signs with anti-militarist messages, and signs promoting the festival. We also sent love and appreciation to our Quaker friends, who were by that time already some hours into their 24 hour fast and vigil for peace. They spent that whole day and night camping out on the hard, cold concrete of Brisbane CBD, telling passers by that a convention of arms dealers was happening in their city, just across the river.
By evening, our rock- star mobile projectionist turned up to distract the vigillers them from their rumbling bellies with a film about the global arms trade. The film turned out to be an amazing engagement tool with pedestrians in the area, many of whom stopped to watch for some time and engaged us in conversation about the peace movement. This was a nice surprise as we had only ever intended the film as a piece of entertainment and distraction for our fasting friends.
Key Learning: Things are often multi-purpose, if you remain open to new purposes emerging.
Meanwhile, Those of us not at the vigil were engaged in the practice that we came to name “unwelcoming”. Small, mobile “unwelcome” teams engaged conference participants as they left the Centre signalling that arms dealers were deeply unwelcome in the town. They desperately avoided eye contact as they scuttled to their taxis, limousines, mini buses and hotels. We operated at the ends of police lines which moved back and forth with us. Key Learning: When your action space is large and spread out (as with a conference centre that takes up an entire city block and has many entrances and exits) mobility and flexibility are key. We are still workshopping the skills of flowing into and out of spaces as they open and close, or become more or less tactically relevant. But we were able to identify the importance of being aware of and responsive to changes in the physical space around us, and moving as a team, as something we’d like to work on further.
Weapons Industry Tour: The following morning, we were back early as we embarked on a tour of the weapons corporations of Brisbane. We traveled in convoy to no less than FOUR locations and held actions at each. Considering how difficult it can be to get a group of people to move in a coordinated way from one pub to another, we felt pretty good about that.
The first stop on the tour was NIOA, the company that supplies the Australian and New Zealand police forces with the vast majority of their ammunition. We were honoured to be in attendance with Uncle Ned Hargraves of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, who (via microphone, amplifier, and person-up-a-ladder) asked the staff of NIOA to come down to the car park to speak with him about the death of Kumanjai Walker in his community, and what their company planned to do to address Blak deaths in custody.
We took care to remind them that we had not come to their front door with guns, unlike the police officers who shot Kumanjai in his own home when they came to speak with him. They had nothing to fear from us as they had all the weapons, not us. They were not persuaded to parlay with Uncle Ned. It seemed for them, accountability was more intimidating than gun violence.
The community of Yuendumu is organising to address Blak deaths in custody, racial discrimination in the court system, and distorted reporting on police violence by the media.
Their campaign is called Karrinjarla Muwajarri, which approximately translates to “ceasefire” in English. They have a suite of demands which we encourage you to read in depth on their website. The demand being highlighted in the action described above was for police to be banned from carrying guns in remote communities.
The next stop on our whirl-wind tour was Thales, acclaimed for its continued sales of military equipment to the Indonesian forces who then use them to violently oppress West Papua, as well as its manufacture of key components for nuclear weapons. We were again graced with powerful words from Aunty Sue Haseldine of the Gugada nation, a survivor of the nuclear testing carried out at Maralinga in the late fifties, and George and Irene Dimara, survivors of the Biak massacre in West Papua.
We then hurtled along to Elbit, an Israeli based company who also supplies the Indonesian forces. We heard from Mujib, who told the powerful story of his escape from Afghanistan and his subsequent fight to get his family to safety.
Our final stop was Boeing, one of the largest manufacturers of weaponized aircraft in the world. Two of our senior women rode their broomsticks up to the ledge and dropped a banner that said “no matter who fights, Boeing always wins”. They stayed on the window ledge, peeking in at the staff and showing them pictures of war zones where the weapons their employer makes are used. The rest of us held the car park below with our bodies, our words, and our music. Key learning: always have a ladder on hand.
After four actions in a day you’d think we’d have a quiet night in, but the fun never stops at DLF. A funeral procession for all those who have lost their lives to the war machine was held, and did a lap of the entire convention centre. Young people lead the procession in ghost costumes as a powerful visual reminder of how many children never grow up because they happened to be born in the wrong region of the world.
As night fell, the procession concluded outside the main entrance where our tireless projectionist was setting up a memorial slide show to project onto the walls of the convention centre. Inside, the arms dealers were enjoying their gala dinner. We took the opportunity to use projection (which is only effective after dark) to introduce them to some of the people their weapons had murdered. Justice for Palestine led a moving “say their names” action in memory of the children of the Gaza Strip, followed by a similar memorialization of activists and land defenders who had been murdered or disappeared across Latin America. This section was led by two El Salvadorian women, who spoke powerfully about the intersection of environmental exploitation and state violence.
Thursday was the final day of the conference, and after the more somber tone of the previous day’s activities we needed a pick-me-up to get over the line. So we sent in the clowns.
A clown army descended on the conference centre as the attendees were leaving for the last time. They were disrupted and delayed at every turn by the slapstick stylings and unbounded creativity of our crew. A tug-of-war blocked off a driveway, police were baffled by our cunning implementation of ladder technology, and a home-made catapult got two shots of paint-filled melon off before being confiscated by the cops. Key learning: Always have a ladder on hand. Seriously.
By this time, we had refined our ability to work as a crowd, we had been practicing for three days and found our on-the-ground, in-the-moment communication was noticeably better than it had been at the start of the week. This allowed us to move around and across spaces, spreading our disruption across exits despite not having enough people to hold all of them at once.
After we had furiously farewelled the arms fair, we packed up the hall in a mad scramble. We were lucky to have food not bombs doing a serve the following night, so we were all able to reconvene and let our hair down together one last time. THANK YOU to the crew at food not bombs for making that possible for us. It was such an important decompression and celebration of the beautiful chaos we had caused together.
That doesn’t feel sufficient to describe what the week was, what meant, or how it felt. That’s just what happened. But so much more happened that we can’t quite put into words. We held some reflection sessions over zoom, and we’ve lifted a few choice quotes from there.
“Felt like I was in the right place doing the right thing in the world”
“We were able to assess and refine our tactics as we went, reflecting and changing up roles”
“When West Papuans were teaching their dance – all were experiencing joy with each other – being able to have fun with each other – quite precious – everyone so loving it – made it all worth it – connecting with each other – nothing else tops that”
“There was special moment for me on arrival, which was during radioactive dance – noticing the way that song and other songs travel through time – with good energy and are taken up in new struggles and actions/movements and the feeling of connection”
“Massive opportunity to learn”
And there you have it, a festival of resistance, a temporary autonomous zone, a community that can converge and coalesce in a location and dissipate again like mist, a performance piece that is still being written. An ongoing experiment.
We fear we haven’t been able to adequately describe quite what DLF was like. To get a better picture, you’ll just have to come to the next one 😉
Until then, however and wherever you can
And remember you are loved.