In the UK, some occupations have come out of student union meetings, but most have been started by small groups of people aiming to ‘escalate’ struggles they are part of. Aims normally range from putting direct pressure on university management, to ‘creating a space’ where radical ideas can be discussed. Occupations have been especially effective at providing a base to organise from. This guide focusses on that type of occupation – but there others. For example in 2009 students from Zagreb, Croatia, wrote ‘The Occupation Cookbook’ – which describes how they took over their entire faculty and ran it based on principles of direct democracy, open to everyone. Occupations run by the majority of students are also a good tactic, and that guide is worth reading as well as this one. Bear in mind that while occupations have been used to win demands, this needs a LOT of perseverance and won’t happen by just taking a lecture hall for a few days. For example, the “Free Hetherington” occupation at Glasgow University won some big concessions (including no further cuts to courses and no compulsory redundancies), but only after six months of occupation (see https://freehetherington.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/student-protesters-declare-victory-as-glasgow-university-sit-in-ends/)
Before you start picking a location and preparing, try to get some idea of what you want to achieve. If the main thing is to run workshops and events, you will need a big space with good access above all else. If you want to hit the university managers economically and stay as long as possible, then a place that can be well-secured is essential. How long you want to stay is also important to think about. Traditionally the answer to that would be “as long as possible!”, but over the last couple of years people have used a tactic called “shock-upations”, where a building was taken for no more than a few days, then left again. This means less cost to university management and less time to run events, but is also more sustainable and easier to defend.
1.2 Choosing a Location
It is important to choose targets for political effect, but don’t forget to consider access, visibility, and security too.
Disrupt management where possible. Get in the way of what they do. If you don’t, you might as well not be there. Don’t just take a building because it looks impressive – you will soon find yourselves looking irrelevant.
The less doors you have to cover, the easier the building will be to secure.
Make sure there is access to running water and toilets. You will regret it if there isn’t.
Kitchens are really really useful. Food that you bring with you should be practical: fruit and nuts will keep you alert and happy! Go skipping the night before for free supplies.
Try to take somewhere that can have a quiet space or turn off all music when people need sleep. Lecture theatres can be uncomfortable for sleeping.
While lecture theatres are easy targets, the university will normally just cancel all the classes that would have been in them, rather than rescheduling (even if you want to let classes continue!). This pisses off a lot of students and staff – so it is better to occupy administrative buildings rather than teaching spaces if you can.
Try to occupy somewhere with a photocopier so you can print as much propaganda as you like.
Bring laptops! Choose somewhere with Internet access, or make sure you bring internet dongles that you’ve checked are working.
Also, check the space has phone reception.
Make sure there are windows which you can open! Lots of lecture theatres lack these, and they are useful for fresh air and banner-drops – not to mention getting supplies and people into the occupation.
Think about whether your space is wheelchair accessible: this is far more likely to be the case in new builds than old builds. This is both a practical and political concern, in terms of how inclusive your protest is of the whole student community.
1.3 Taking the Space
One major mistake in occupations has been this: people take hold of a space but not the doors. This leaves you open to losing access to the space, and having your occupation prematurely closed down. Take the doors, not the space! You can take relatively large spaces with surprisingly few people if you follow this advice. Sometimes student union officers will tell you that taking control of doors causes unneeded arguments with university management. ignore them. Taking doors back later is much more difficult than taking them in the first place (although it can be done.) So once again, take the doors, not the space!
How your occupation begins will depend a lot of things, such as what type of institution you are occupying, how many occupiers you have, and the politics of the student union. At the beginning, try to get as many people there as possible.
If you know where you are going, get a few people in before you announce it. This will help stop security guards keeping you out.
Scope out the building beforehand. What sorts of doors will you have to lock down, and how many? What sorts of furniture are available for building barricades? Are there security cameras? What tools will you need to bring to secure the space? Are there escape routes?
Have backup plans incase you cannot get in.
Make sure you get important materials in right at the start – sleeping bags, food, etc. Blankets and sleeping bags are good because universities have a habit of turning off heating in occupied spaces.
Delegate a few people to go speak to any staff that happen to be in the building, and explain what is going on (even if you don’t expect anyone to be in!). Any management or security staff should be asked to leave
When you assemble people to go into occupation do NOT assemble at the place you are going to occupy.
If you think you it’s a good idea, and your student union isn’t too dreadful, consider organising an extraordinary general meeting of your Students’ Union and pass a motion to occupy.
Do not announce the location of your occupation publicly before it happens!
Colonise the campus beyond the immediate space: if a part of the university is occupied, make it feel as though the whole university is. Make big flyers and banners and hang them off important buildings/in public areas. Spam propaganda everywhere.
Some tasks can be done better from outside of the occupation, especially if you end up in a ‘siege’ situation (ie if uni security won’t let anyone who leaves get back in). Also, some people can’t commit to being in an occupation full time but want to help out in other ways. So if you can, get a group together beforehand that can commit to taking on some of these tasks, for example getting food into the occupation, contacting and answering calls from the media, drumming up support through leafleting and doing stalls.
1.4 On Demands
Occupations may or may not have demands (some of the best have had none, only to say “we are taking this space and using it for what we feel it should be used for.”) It is important that your opening meeting decides on whether there should be demands, and what they should look like.
The “no demands” strategy alleviates a lot of the stress of having to negotiate with bastard bureaucrats. It will make clear your antagonistic stance towards the institution and its management, while allowing you to get on with all sorts of useful things in your occupied space.
If you do make demands, at least a few should be easy to meet. There is nothing more disheartening than being defeated on everything. An example might be demanding a public meeting with the Vice-Chancellor.
On the other hand if your demands are too “realistic”, then you will have nothing to compromise on when you negotiate. University management will want to look like they have not given in to everything you asked for
Even if you have no others, you should have a demand for “no victimization of students, and no punishment for those involved in protest.” (Reassure everyone by saying that you will occupy again if any student is victimised.)
Do NOT make a huge list of demands. To anyone outside of the occupation you will look like lunatics. As far as political statements go, less is often more.
Often a university will want to go into negotiations with occupiers. If they do, then decide as a group if you want to take them up on this or not. If possible, record all discussions and make sure they are fully relayed to the whole group. Definitely keep documents of EVERYTHING.
Do not get bogged down in negotiations. If you feel negotiations are going nowhere, you’re probably right. They may be used by manag/wement to sap your energy.
1.5 Checklist of Things to Bring
Bedding, tents for privacy if it’s an open space
Tools, bike locks, etc for securing doors
Food for first night, water
Laptops, mobile internet USB dongle
Occupation phone + sim. (get both new and in cash for better security)
2 The Middle
2.1 Internal Politics
It is important that occupations are inclusive, democratic and accessible, but exactly what this means should be decided internally.
Many occupations have been run on the basis of “consensus decision-making” – a system where people try to make decisions acceptable to everyone, rather than just the majority
Consensus decision-making can help to avoid fracturing the group, and is often the most practical option, but can sometimes stop decisions actually being made
If there’s a mix of political backgrounds in the room, then have a mix of decision making systems: some votes, some consensus.
It’s probably a bad idea to have a leader. Leaders tend to end up being dicks, and also make people far more culpable to the authorities. People who act like leaders need to be told to shut up.
Do not set up a “steering committee” for the same reasons, rather appoint working groups for specific tasks that are then dissolved once the task is complete. Everyone should feel in control of the occupation as everyone else.
Make sure that student union sabbatical officers don’t take over the occupation. They almost always have their own agendas, which likely will not be shared. Have no qualms about telling them you disagree with something, and don’t accept what they say just because they got a few hundred votes in some election. Also don’t let them take over all negotiations with management.
Do not let “political factions” take over your occupation. Of course people from all political backgrounds should be welcome, but it is very unhealthy to let one clique run the show. We are yet to meet a political party that does a good job of running an occupation, and often when these groups take over (or ‘caucus’ before meetings and try to push decisions through) it becomes very alienating for everyone else.
Occupations should be “safer-spaces”, in which any discrimination based on gender, sexuality, disability, race, and ethnicity are actively combated. People ought to be sensitive and self-aware of their position within the group. At least one occupation has had a women-only sleeping space
People that get sidelined and ignored in the ‘real world’ (for example queer folk, women, people of colour), often find the exact same thing happening to them inside occupations. If this happens to you, it’s totally acceptable to organise to stand up for yourselves. Other people should support the demands of anyone trying to make the occupation a safer and more inclusive space.
It is sensible to have a general meeting at least once daily at a set time, so that developments can be discussed. Let these meetings run the occupation.
Meetings should not be allowed to go on for hours and hours. If something complex needs doing it may be good to set up a working group, who then report back.
Media can be massively important for any occupation. Doing good media work will allow you to get your story heard, gain support and solidarity, and exert far greater pressure. But you should also be aware that journalists may smear you, and you may have a difficult relationship with the mainstream media. Some occupations just want to be quiet and stealthy, to disrupt the university without creating a media spectacle. Here are a few things you could think about doing:
Make a facebook group (Perhaps set up facebook account so that this is anonymous)
Create a twitter account
Get an email address – Gmail gives you a lot of space for free, riseup is more secure
Make a website, where people can get quick access to information about location, updates and news, photographs, and have links to your facebook, email, twitter etc. Most occupations so far have used wordpress and run websites in a blog format as it’s free and easy to use. (See appendix B for activist-run blog services, and other online resources)
Do not let a single person control all of the online presence. Instead they should be collectively run.
Someone should have a decent camera to take print-quality photographs as newspapers will avoid sending photographers if they can. Remember to bring the connector cable for your camera!
It’s important to put out press releases at the beginning and throughout the occupation. These should be sent to local and national press, posted on your website, reddit, twitter, etc. Don’t forget to send to alternative press too (like Freedom News, Strike, Occupied Times)
Set up an email list for people who want to get updates on what has been happening in the occupation. Make sure you use it relatively regularly (an update email once a day while you’re in occupation is good, detailing news, and requesting things like food or blankets).
If possible, have a phone where you can be contacted. A new sim card with a number just for this means that you can share round the responsibility. Put this number on all your leaflets and posters
Assign people in a rota to respond to incoming communications. You will be bombarded, but people should be responded to, and all incoming emails must be read. It is a hard job, but you must keep on top of it.
Be aware though, that journalists are not always your friends. Many occupations will have a “no journalists” policy, and generally it is better if you have as much control over the outgoing media as possible. Be aware that so-called “activist-journalists” can be a total liability if they do not understand the boundaries between being an activist as part of a consensual group and being an observer trying to write a story. Also, student newspapers can really dick on you. Press should be made aware of what is off limits (i.e. meetings or the whole occupation). Three things to remember:
No-one should be photographed if they don’t want to be. People have many reasons for not wanting to be photographed and these should always be respected.
People should use pseudonyms when talking to press.
Unless you have absolute consensus, no meetings should be filmed or recorded other than for internal minutes.
Have a rota of people on “security” duty at doors 24 hours a day. It’s tiresome, yes, but necessary for the occupation to keep going
You will need a minimum two people at night. Best is to have two four-hour night shifts, and a few day shifts if necessary
Write up a procedure on the door saying who to let in (e.g. no bailiffs, security, or zombies), and what to do (eg if uni security say it’s an emergency, only let one in and make sure they are alone before you open the door)
Security will need a megaphone or something so they can wake people up if there’s an eviction attempt.
When you are on shift, you should never acknowledge you can hear any police or court officer if they’re attempting to read something (eg a statement telling occupiers to leave), or agree to pass on any messages. No court papers should be accepted.
It’s good for security to have a camera. If they record themselves telling a cop “we can’t see your injunction and we won’t pass it on the occupiers because that’s your job”, then that could prevent people in the occupation getting convicted later
Make sure it’s not always left to the same people to do the boring work (security, emails, etc.) just as the politics and press shouldn’t be taken over by a clique.
You might consider making your occupation a drug-free space. It’s not always great to get done for smoking a doobie when you’re making serious political points. Eat fruit instead.
Although hopefully not used, it’s sensible for someone to have a first aid kit.
Make a ‘safe space’ agreement so that it is clear what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
Where possible, at the end of the occupation leave buildings as you found them. You do not want to get arrested for criminal damage. Photograph all rooms before you leave them as evidence in case you are accused of damage.
That said, be aware of where CCTV cameras are and cover them where possible.
And if you are going to do something illegal, cover your face.
Have fun! We’ve seen everything from Christmas Dinner at Canterbury Christchurch, to socialist magic at the Mansion House at Middlesex. Do everything you can conceive of. Make trouble
Pace yourself – get lots of regular sleep. If you do guard duty, try to always do the same shift so that your sleeping-patterns adjust. Make sure everyone takes breaks and gets some nights away from the occupation
Sleep is important – try to have some of the building where lights are out and there’s no noise after 10. Let people have a lie-in if they’re knackered, too. Everyone has different sleeping patterns, especially if some people are doing security
Good food and plenty of it is vital! Have a catering group
Many a protest camp has been ruined because everyone got sick. Have one or two people do all the washing up for a meal, rather than each person doing their own – this stops disease spreading. If you’re ill, go home and rest
Encourage supporters with regular updates – but don’t stretch them too far with lot’s of “omg we will be evicted tomorrow!” messages. Panic wears people down
2.5 Occupation as an Open Space
Having your occupation as an open space can be great. If possible, put on public meetings and events. This will help people understand what you are doing, and may attract sympathetic students to join your cause. More people getting involved also reduces the risks faced by the original occupiers. That being said, watch out for tories coming in to cause trouble, and keep all security staff and management out.
Flyer the local area with information about the occupation. Say on the flyers what it is and what it’s about. Getting local support and support from students who don’t personally want to occupy can be crucial to keeping an occupation going.
One good way to help people to support you is to get a phone for the occupation. Put the number on all your flyers, etc, so people who want info or who want to join can contact you. The phone can also be used to send out texts asking for support if there’s an eviction. Big protest camps usuallu also have a separate phone for their media contact so that roles (welcoming, media) can be shared out better.
2.6 Working with Trade Unions
Universities are as much workplaces as they are places of learning. Trade unions active on campus (normally UNISON and UCU, but also sometimes UNITE) will often be sympathetic to occupations and you should get in touch with them. Ask them what you can help them with and they may be able to help you. Occupations also present an opportunity to highlight bad working conditions that often exist on British campuses, where Vice-Chancellors may earn £400,000 a year, while cleaners will work on the minimum wage.
2.7 Supporting Other Occupations
If you’re lucky there will be a whole load of occupations going on at once. Here are some tips on what you can do to support each other, and keep the movement going.
When you hear of another occupation starting, email them or phone them to send your support. Everyone loves this shit.
If you can, send a speaker to other newer occupations to tell them about your experiences and offer support and guidance.
Keep other occupations up-to-date with concrete changes in your conditions (i.e. what management and the courts are doing, how you have responded.)
2.8 Legal Advice
There is legal advice linked to in Appendix B (resources), and various organisations you may find useful are listed in Appendix A (contacts). If you are threatened with eviction the best people to contact for practical advice are the ‘Advisory Service for Squatters’ as they really know what they are doing! They have published a book called the ‘squatters handbook’, which has an excellent section on opposing evictions in court.
Many occupiers are understandably worried about the university claiming legal costs from them, if they attend court or else are named on an injunction. The issue of costs isn’t simple so it is strongly recommended to get advice from people with experience of challenging evictions in court. However, squatters regularly attend court hearings and it’s rare that they have to pay costs - mainly because they need your real name to be able to claim any!
3 The End
3.1 Ending the Occupation
Decide together when to leave. Organise a rally, have a demonstration, make a whole lot of noise. Contact all your supporters and ask them to greet you outside the building when the time comes. If you are being threatened with disciplinary or legal actions people must be allowed to make their own choices on whether they want to stay or leave.
If management take out injunctions on occupiers, do not panic! Contact a good lawyer (if you can find someone who specialises in property law, this is very useful). Often solicitors will be over-cautious (it’s their job). There is normally no need to leave until the bailiffs arrive and manage to gain entry. Police may be on the scene of any eviction. Do everything you can to avoid arrest. Consider leaving as a big group and linking arms to prevent police picking people off. If people do want to get arrested, then this is a personal decision that they must judge themselves.
3.2 Why resist eviction
Resisting eviction will mean you get to keep the space you have occupied longer – if they think you will resist then it takes a lot longer to plan and prepare for an eviction. Just preparing to resist doesn’t mean you will have to – making it clear that you can is often enough to deter bailiffs. Barricades, etc all need to be assessed before an eviction attempt is made, which takes time. That’s not the only reason to resist though, resisting eviction also…
Costs university management more money (furthering the aim of the occupation)
Means you leave on your own terms, rather than theirs
Note that this section is about physically resisting an eviction of an occupation. There are other ways to resist – through the courts, for example. And there’s no harm in retreating to fight again elsewhere! This section does not discuss what is legal or acceptable. The most effective ways to resist eviction are not necessarily the best thing for your campaign, or what you are comfortable with personally.
3.3 How an ordinary eviction happens
A normal eviction roughly follows the pattern below. Not always – sometimes security will just bust in on your first day, sometimes the first eviction attempt will be massive – but on average, this is what happens:
Papers – The university will give you papers, telling you to leave by a certain date or that there is a court date you can attend to defend your right to be there (exactly what they say depends on the legal route the university is taking). There is almost always a chance to go to court either to appeal or to challenge the university’s right to evict you, even if they get an injunction. It’s worth going in order to slow the process down – though sometimes university lawyers will screw up and you will be able to use a technical defence. At the end of any court process, you will be given a date you have to leave by – an eviction can happen any time after this date!
First attempt – Don’t count on it, but the first attempt at eviction probably won’t be all that big, and will usually be on the date you were told to leave by (but once again, don’t count on it). The reason for this is that it is cheaper for bailiffs to turn up with small numbers at a reasonable hour on the off chance that this is enough to make you leave. If they do this, a decent crowd and a bit of resistance from inside should be enough to see them off. If your occupation is very high profile, they may just skip this first attempt entirely and start big….
Second attempt – If you manage to resist the first attempt, the next one will be far greater. For one thing, they will almost certainly come at first light or just before (night-time evictions happen but are a bit of a health and safety nightmare, so it isn’t common). They will come with a well prepared force of bailiffs and police, which will be even harder to resist because your supporters are all asleep and far away. If it doesn’t look like you will be able to stop them getting in, it’s probably best to either escape out the back or let them take you out peacefully. By and large they will just let people walk out if they’ve stopped resisting (once again, don’t count on it!). Getting your stuff back may be a problem, so keep anything expensive/important with you when you go, to make sure it doesn’t get lost or seized by the police. These attempts can happen on any day and at any time – but are more likely to be during week days (weekends can mean overtime pay, and more people around to resist), and as it was said above – tend to not be during evenings and the dead of night.
3.4 What works…
There are three things that will convince the university management not to evict you:
Image – some management teams are afraid that a violent eviction will cause ‘brand damage’ to their university, and will avoid it for this reason. This may help you up to a point, but if your occupation becomes enough of a threat to them, then this concern is unlikely to hold them back. At the end of the day, hurting a few students will not really concern them, and definitely will not bother any bailiffs or police carrying out the eviction
Cost – if it looks like it will cost too much to evict you, then sometimes management will not bother. HOWEVER, once they have committed to an eviction, it isn’t normal for them to pull out even if it will cost lots of money. This is because backing down will make them look weak, and encourage more occupations everywhere. What costing them money does do is make them more likely to accept your demands beforehand, and listen to students more generally, in order to avoid an occupation in the first place. For example, during the road protest movement of the 90’s, corporations and the police would spend millions evicting protest camps, because even if the cost was not worth it in the short term, the danger of backing down was too great. However, the threat of protest camps did scare them away from starting projects in the first place – that was their main effect.
Physical Force – ultimately, it normally comes down to this. Physical force can be passive, like a barricade that is hard to move, or a person chained to something. It can also be active, like a person holding a door shut, or a crowd of angry people stood outside the occupation. All passive barriers can be removed in the end – barricades can be dismantled, and lock-ons cut. HOWEVER, when combined with active resistance, it isn’t always possible to remove them. It’s one thing for a calm bailiff with plenty of time to break down a door, but very different if that bailiff is getting pushed and shouted at by a crowd, or if that bailiff has to worry that someone inside will jab him with a snooker cue. Squatters throughout Europe have successfully used active resistance to defend spaces from the police for long periods of time. Note that with active resistance it isn’t what you actually do that is important – it is what the police think you are prepared to do. If they think that you are prepared to resist vigorously, then they won’t even try to evict without a clear advantage in numbers.
The key to active resistance is time – your barricades and security need to be good enough that people in the occupation will have a chance to get themselves together and start defending before bailiffs/police get through. If the people inside can force the bailiffs to retreat then that’s all well and good, but if not – the key now becomes getting a crowd of people outside. This will make the police less likely to break the law, and they will normally retreat when the crowd outnumbers them. So, the people inside need to hold the bailiffs off long enough to get a crowd of people outside.
There seems to be some kind of health and safety regulation in place that means police without climbing training do not climb anything above six foot in height – at least, they’re hesitant about it. Use this to your advantage!
Bailiffs hate having to get people down from roofs. If you can get people onto one, you will probably be able to stay up there for ages! (the reason is that roofs are easy to fall through – and bailiffs have been seriously hurt trying to get people off of them in the past)
An eviction can happen at any time, be prepared! However, the big ones are most likely to happen towards the end of the night/at first light, so be ready to get woken up early
Have an escape plan – sometimes it’s best to get out once resistance has been worn down
Get together phone numbers of supporters so you can text them as soon as an eviction starts and get them to help as soon as possible. Many phones have an option to set up ‘distribution lists’ to do mass-texts quickly – so try and get one of these for your occupation, and keep enough credit to text everyone in an emergency
Be careful of sending too many call-outs for help to supporters – it will wear them down and then they won’t come to the real thing (remember the story about the boy who cried wolf?). If you must send texts out, try to be accurate, like “there’s lots of police outside and we think it’s an eviction, it may not be but please come down asap anyway!”
Make sure all doors are at least a bit barricaded. Even if your barricades can be broken without much effort, you’ll know something is happening, and it stops security just wandering in at night and getting you to leave
Be careful what people take pictures of – for example pictures of barricades or people making them! Images on social media can be used to work out the weakest points when planning an eviction, and anything that police think is criminal damage could get someone arrested. If there is an eviction resistance, anyone the university can identify being involved will risk getting in trouble
If there’s an illegal eviction, consider calling the police – even if it is the police doing it! The legal system is stacked against us, but police sometimes help when they are obviously in the wrong. Police must also log all calls, so calling the police on the police could help in any court cases later
Beware of panic – police and bailiffs want to wear you down so you have less energy to resist when eviction really happens
Lock-ons (where people lock or chain themselves to things) can help resist eviction – for a time – but there are a few things worth noting. First off: they are effective at making the eviction take ages and cost more money, so used at the right place and time they are good. However, there is a lot of bad. For one thing, being in a lock-on is risky – the point of lock-ons is to make it unsafe to move you, but by definition this means you take the risk of them trying anyway and seriously hurting you. So it is EXTREMELY important that anyone in a lock-on has supporters with cameras on them at all times, and that there are clear signs posted up (like ‘if you open this gate the person chained to it will die!’). Some bailiff firms (for example, Constant and Co) will still happily break your legs in order to evict you. The other problem with passive resistance involving people is that it actually blocks people taking active resistance. For example, if there is someone chained to a door of your occupation, the police know they can enter that way safely, without anything getting chucked at them or anyone fighting them – because to do so would endanger the person chained to the door. So in some circumstances, lock-ons can make you easier to evict, rather than harder. Finally, if you are in a lock-on there is no way for you to get away – so if it is breaking the law, you will almost certainly be arrested and prosecuted. The court process may then take away a lot of your time and energy, long after the occupation is over.
That said, here are some tactics that protesters have used in the past:
Nets – nets suspended from a high ceiling are hard to remove, and need bailiffs with specialist climbing equipment
Tripods – a tripod is made of either three big pieces of scaffolding or three lengths of bamboo. When set up with someone at the top of one, they are hard to move without hurting the person at the top. Police sometimes need a cherry-picker to get someone down. These are more useful for blocking roads, but could be used inside of a big building.
D-Locks – bike ‘d-locks’ fit snugly around your neck, and can be attached to doors and other people. There is a tool that can remove a d-lock in seconds, but if police did not expect to need it, then it will take them a while to get hold of one
Arm-tubes – since handcuffs are easy to get off, most people link themselves together these days by attaching their hands inside of an ‘arm tube’, made of metal. To remove one of these either means the police must use a special tool to get inside the tube and release the locking mechanism (normally a caribena), or else use a tool to cut through the tube without also cutting the arms inside.
Barrels – like the arm tube, but instead of having one person at each side, one end of the tube is immersed in a barrel of concrete. Once again, police must either get a tool into the tube and release the locking mechanism, or cut through the barrel
See “Delia Smith’s Guide to Basic Blockading”, for more information on making these (link in appendix B)
3.6 Know your enemy
There are four groups of people that could be involved in your eviction – Uni Security, Police, Bailiffs, and Vigilantes.
Have crowbars and bolt-croppers at most, and so rely on physical strength to get you out
Can respond the quickest
Are (mostly) inexperienced with evictions and the law
Are VERY unlikely to climb to evict you
Work with students a lot so may be sympathetic (for this reason, universities will often bring in private security from outside to deal with protests)
Have limited numbers
Need a pretext to evict – a possession order or ordinary trespass isn’t enough for them to be involved – there needs to be a crime (such as ‘aggravated trespass’ or ‘criminal damage’), or an ‘interim possession order’ (IPO) in place
BUT they will often ‘assist’ evictions – hitting occupiers for the smallest thing and turning a blind eye whenever the bailiffs break the law
It is worth filming the police as they often do more than they are allowed to
Sometimes have experience of evictions, but also sometimes the police that get sent won’t have a clue what they’re doing
Police can gather HUGE numbers – but it will take a long time for them to mobilise and they will be reluctant to do this, as it means paying overtime
Are not supposed to climb above six feet without climbing training, and may not even have a climbing team present
Have special tools (eg for d-locks), battering rams, circular saws, angle grinders, and more. BUT it will take time to get these if they weren’t expecting to need them
May have cherry pickers and rope teams if they plan to enter via the roof or upper windows
Don’t always follow the law – sometimes they’re far-right or other “wrong-uns”. If you find out which firm will be evicting you, ask local squatters for advice about them
Legally, tend to need a court order and will be employed by the university
Are VERY experienced in evictions – it’s their job
If it’s a serious attempt at eviction, are likely to have all of the tools
May have cherry pickers
May have a climb team – but they don’t normally like it, as bailiffs have been injured falling through roofs in the past
Will normally make at least two attempts – one at a reasonable hour with few bailiffs to try their luck and get a feel for the place, then a serious one at 5am with large numbers and police backup
There have not been any recent cases of this at UK student occupations, but very rarely it has happened at other protest camps and squats
Can be very dangerous – willing to break the law and injure people
Tend to be haphazard, and often drunk
Best dealt with by, ironically, vigilance and robust self-defence. DO NOT rely on police help
No barricade will last forever on its own – it needs someone to defend it. So, the point of barricades is to buy you time – to wake up and get ready, or to gather a crowd of supporters to help you resist.
Doors opening into the occupied space are the easiest to secure because you can barricade them closed. Unfortunately doors in newer buildings tend to open outwards, which is a pain as you have to secure the door independently of the barricade. Different doors have different types of handles and are thus secured in different ways. Be creative! When you plan your barricading, remember to think about whether each door can be a potential escape route, a covert entry, or a fire escape. Doors which you’ll want to use later need barricades that can be easily dismantled from inside!
Some tips for all kinds of doors …
With all doors, make sure that once they are secured, they cannot be opened even an inch – any opening can be used by bailiffs to get cutting tools inside and break locks. For doors that you need to be able to open again, D-locks or even carabiners can be used to make it easy to un-lock from the inside.
One good way to stop a door being opened inwards is to use ‘bracing’, where a strong, short length of wood is placed between the middle of the door and the floor, to make a triangle. This only works if it is tight against both surfaces, so it’s hard to do unless you have the exact right length of wood. It also needs to be against something fixed on the door and something solid on the floor. Many squatters do this by fastening one block of wood to the floor, and one to the door, measured to fit the length of wood exactly (see Figure 4.1)
If you are willing to damage doors, it is possible to use a hand drill to add bolts, etc. Local squatters may be able to show you how to change locks. But be careful, as this could get you in trouble with the law!
Speaking of damage, think about how likely it is that management will be willing to damage doors to get in. If the doors are old or historic, they may not want to let bailiffs run a circular saw through the middle! Use this to your advantage
To make something hard to cut through, use a mix of materials. A wood door is easy to get through with a circular saw, but not if it has a layer of something else behind it (eg metal). Angle-grinders are not supposed to cut plastic, especially polystyrene as it can melt onto the disc
External screws attached to barricades can be ground down or covered up, as bailiffs will go for them when trying to dismantle the barricade. (Beware that this will make it harder for you to dismantle when you leave, though!) The best bolts for securing a barricade to a wall are ‘anchor bolts’ - these expand when they are tightened and are very strong
“Weighted barricades” are good, so long as you have enough junk and don’t want to use the door/opening again. The idea is to pile things against a door so that they will fall onto anyone who forces it open. Stairs can be secured in a similar way, if you have something big to lean from the steps to the ceiling
Finally, remember that there are two ways to force a door open – battering it from outside, obviously, but also by crowbarring it. So you can’t rely on it only opening in one direction forever. A lock is only as strong as the door it’s on, a door is only as strong as it’s frame.
Here are some examples …
Windows are a nightmare to secure – they can be smashed open and the locks are often weak. Ground floor windows are the worst – if you can avoid these or simply isolate them, then you should (eg by securing the door to the room the window is in instead, or securing the stairs to the first floor). Upper-floor windows aren’t safe, though they are much harder for bailiffs to get through. However a serious eviction attempt will have a cherry-picker, and may even have “climb-teams”, so watch out.
The good news about windows is that whoever is evicting you cannot get lots of people through at once, and may be hesitant about breaking them. If you are not in a “siege” situation (eg you aren’t expecting a big eviction attempt), you may be safe to just ignore them, so long as they are kept CLOSED. Windows do gain an occupation a lot as well – visibility, and a way to get supplies and people inside. So there’s something to be said for just accepting the risk.
Roofs are good points for defence (it’s hard to get people down), but are a risk too. Check if any of the roofs around you have access to the occupation. Doors from the roof may need to be secured. Windows next to a lower-level roof are also a risk. The key with a roof is to take it first – and they can be a good look-out point for anyone on night watch if they are safe. The danger from falling is so great (bailiffs and police have been injured by falling through roofs in squat evictions), that just having people up there can be enough to deter an eviction. Climbing teams need to move slowly at heights, so a group of people free to move around and evade them can last as long as someone “locked-on” to a barrel of concrete in this situation. So long as you look dangerous, police and bailiffs will not want to try and get you down from a roof. Especially if there are things up there that could be thrown down – even if you know that they will never be used that way, police don’t!
3.8 The Aftermath
A big mistake is to just assume after an occupation that momentum will keep going and things will keep happening – but it doesn’t. Once there is no longer a central location where people are together a lot and where meetings take place, it takes a lot more work to make anything happen. So have some idea about what you want to do next before you leave.
At the least, you should organise a ‘debrief’ for everyone who was active in the occupation, especially if you got kicked out. This can be used to assess what you did well/badly, but the main purpose is to help people think through their feelings and to get the group together. In the aftermath of a massive effort a lot of people will be burnt out and need support, and if you had a violent eviction some people will be at risk of trauma. Taking care of each other and working out a sustainable pace is vital if you want to carry the energy from your occupation forward to something else.