The Heathrow 13 are victims of state repression – and a culture of passive resistance

On July 13th last year, environmental activists from Plane Stupid occupied the north runway at Heathrow – chaining themselves to a metal fence and each other to form a blockade. On January 30th all thirteen activists were convicted of aggravated trespass at Willesden Magistrates Court with implications from the judge that they should expect prison. Sentencing has been scheduled for February 24th.

The group was founded to oppose the planned fourth runway at Heathrow and has done various blockades and lock-ons at airports including Southampton and London City. It is focussed on ‘bringing the aviation industry back to earth’ with non-violent direct action – in an anti-aviation movement that, including the ZAD in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, has increasing power and popularity in both militant and community circles.

From economic sabotage to squat free-shops, the anti-aviation movement is a point of immense conflict with capitalist and state power. In many cases, anti-aviation struggle has shown that community politics does not have to be passive politics: the sites of barricades at the ZAD or Grow Heathrow included locals or small farmers and have solid roots in the communities around them.

The Heathrow 13 convictions are another case of state repression against those who dissent – especially those whose dissent is costly for ruling property owners and politicians. However they also show how costly the tactics of passive resistance have become for those who enact them. At every “direct action workshop” and in every “direct action manual” we are presented with a series of lock-ons or sit-downs that prevent escape, de-arrest and any attempt at physical self-defence against the security services or coppers who will arrive soon after.

Just as much as it places dissenters in dangerous and vulnerable situations, the tactics of passive resistance separate us from the possibilities of combative action. Not only are we in a vulnerable position, we present ourselves as vulnerable – or at best martyrs for a radical cause. This dynamic is not only damaging to the power of dissent, it is dishonest. Our power and security are in mass, agility or anonymity. Passive resistance separates us from all of these.

Like the actions of the Heathrow 13, radical political action must come at huge costs for the ruling class of CEOs and top Tories. However in the light of their convictions and possible incarceration – in addition to the recent incarceration of two anti-fascists after Cricklewood – we must criticise our tactics so that they become effective and secure to the greatest extent. Old tactics of bodily blockading must be questioned. Where found to be ineffective or insecure, they must be replaced with new forms of attack.