Shannon - Direct Action against the War - Activists on the runway!

Mass direct action always grabs attention, energising those involved and provoking those who observe or hear of it to think about the reasons for it. On October 12th a big protest at Shannon airport against the landing and refueling of American war planes finally provoked some media attention. Though there had been many protests at Shannon this was the biggest yet.

Throughout the broad movement against the US war drive there had been a consistent demand that the Shannon facility to US warplanes be ended and that this should be a major target of the movement itself. The Irish Anti War Movement eventually responded to the pressure and organised a march there. Hundreds attended with buses from Galway, Cork and Dublin and people travelling from as far afield as Sligo and Derry.

An attempt to have a mass democratic meeting at the start to discuss tactics, as had happened at the previous protest, was prevented by Socialist Workers Party stewards instructing marchers onto the road. Bad feeling resulted but everyone marched on to the airport. A vain attempt was made to enter the terminal building by charging the only door the Security had left open, which was jammed with dozens of Gardai. After this calmed down a bit we were into the speeches. A die in was held (where people lie down on the ground in silence in a scene reminiscent of those pictures of the by-product of war) a minute's silence and there was lots of silly arguments between the TDs, MEPs, etc. present and the senior Garda.

In the meantime a group of us interested in militant direct action of some sort met on the edge of the demo. Having been prevented from putting our ideas before the rest of the demonstrators to create a clear block for those interested in direct action we felt we had no choice but to act with those we could muster as we met them. An action was decided on. On the way out we would detach ourselves from the march and shake the wire fence guarding the airport hangars, runways and other buildings. Hopefully more people would join in and we would give a dramatic finish to the days events which some felt were after becoming rather sterile.

However, once the fence was shaken, it collapsed (this we knew was a possibility and would open up more possibilities). Loads of people rushed forward to join in and as one woman took the initiative and ran onto the grass suddenly people started streaming through. With hundreds now on the runway margin the gardai brought up horses, dogs, fire tenders (with hoses pointed at the sitting, singing protestors), garda vans and squad cars. 10 people were arrested. There were road blockings and sit-downs to demand their release. Protesters gathered outside Shannon Garda Station until the 10 were released. The protest made the news locally and nationally.

Instead of pleading with the government to not allow the US to use Shannon, people had acted directly to show there would be a price to pay and to inspire others to realise that with numbers we could make it impossible for the government to continue this action. The means that will stop the US use of Shannon will be direct action. Direct Action is when people collectively act to achieve their objectives by their own hands, it does not consist of appealing to some higher authority. The first step in Shannon was to protest and gather information, the second step is to demonstrate the feasibility of mass action by showing the weakness of the facility when faced with big numbers, the third is to succeed in mobilising enough like-minded people to simply physically stop US warplanes using the airport. Thousands of peaceful protesters simply surrounding US warplanes on the runways at Shannon would make it very clear just how hard it could become for them to use the airport, it would also send out a huge rallying cry to the world.

James McBarron

See also


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This edition is No73 published in November 2002

WS 73 front cover