from Peace News No 2412, April 1997

  • Silke Kreusel

Twenty years after Seabrook, the German nonviolent movement against nuclear power is still making effective use of the nonviolent blockade as a form of mass civil disobedience against the violence of the state. As many as 9000 people spent a whole night sitting in the road, resisting the frost as well as the water canons, in order to block the route of the Castor nuclear waste shipment as it was loaded onto truck in Dannenberg.

Anti-Castor activities in Germany have involved a broad range of people with differing and often ill-defined political views. Many of these people haven't been involved in political groups before. Therefore it has been important to establish structures which make it easier for such people to be involved without putting at risk the movement's principles of grassroots democracy and nonviolence.

It was the strong emphasis on a clearly-defined nonviolent blockade that encouraged so many people to participate in the "X-tausendmal quer" blockade. Therefore it is worth looking at the organisational structures which allowed principles of nonviolent action to be preserved even on such a large scale as this.

A system of affinity groups

The system of affinity groups comprising nine to 12 people served as the basic organisational structure for this action, but unlike the affinity groups at Seabrook, which had gone through a long process of intense preparation, most of the "X-tausendmal quer" groups were created more spontaneously just before the action.

Founding meetings for new affinity groups were held in order to integrate new participants into the existing structure. About 650 people attended these meetings during the four-day preparation period. They were introduced to the structure of affinity groups, the groups' tasks, decision making processes and the principle of consensus.

A nonviolent action training was also run just before the action, with about 1000 people participating.

The speakers' council

Each affinity group sent a speaker to the speakers' council, the decision making organ for the whole action. This system had been established in a preparation period some months before the action, but then became increasingly successful during the action itself. During the so-called "X-minus" days (the weekend before the Castor transport), the number of affinity groups increased, and the speakers' council grew to 200 persons.

For practical reasons, the speakers' council then had to be divided into ten sections with one or two people from each section forming a "council within a council". It was the first time many people had taken on such a task as this. The whole action clearly benefited from the less ideological, more pragmatic and problem-centric discussions which took place in the speakers' council.

Delicate task of peace-keepers

The main aim of the whole structure was to stick to nonviolent principles and not to react violently to any form of police provocation. Considering the large number of people participating - including those not part of any affinity group and without any preparation - the whole action was a big challenge. Therefore during the blockade "peace-keepers" were appointed.

The peace-keepers' task was to integrate newly-arrived participants into the blockade and explain to them the procedure and principles of the action and the absolute necessity to observe these procedures and principles. They also had to intervene in escalating situations and to arbitrate where necessary. Actually, the peace-keepers' task was a very delicate one because at the front of the blockade there were frequent announcements suggesting that provocations were expected.

It was a core aim of "X-tausendmal quer" to involve as many people as possible in the blockade. This meant there was a tendency for a lot of people to decide spontaneously to take part in the action. These people were openly welcomed and integrated into existing structures in a way seldom achieved in the past.

"X-tausendmal quer" was thus an attempt to transfer some useful nonviolent concepts of the 1970s into the 1990s, when people tend not to organise themselves into permanent groups. In dealing with the problems which arise because of this, "X-tausendmal quer" was a first but major step.

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