An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 113-115.
Nine percent of the radioactive cargo doing its chicken run to the disposal plant in Gorleben comes from Sellafield in Cumbria. For this reason, six eco-louts from Brighton decided to represent the nuclear waste from our own power stations.
Gorleben is a small town about 50 miles southeast of Hamburg. It had been a relatively peaceful and politically inactive place until recent years. Over 20 years ago plans were released for a nuclear waste disposal plant on the outskirts of the town. The plant was to be used as a giant European dumping ground. As plans became public knowledge, local residents began a campaign against the plan and swiftly gained support from Germany's enormous environmental movement. The resistance grew steadily until the point where the plant was opened, around three years ago. Local peace and anti-nuclear campaigners initiated a campaign of civil disobedience and direct action which involved people from all around Germany and much of Europe.
Protests occured against each transport of waste to Gorleben. This year, for the third convoy, between fifteen and twenty thousand people gathered to ensure that if the German state were to succeed in using the rural town as a radioactive dumping ground, then it would cost them as much as possible. The intention was to make the cost of policing the event so high as to render future transportations unprofitable.
The waste was first transported across Germany by rail to a town near Gorleben called Dannenberg. Here it was transfered on to trucks and driven the last 15 km down country roads through small villages and woodland. In the few days before the convoy arrived in Dannenberg, 30,000 police had been mobilised, the biggest mobilisation of police in post - war Europe. The police had also recruited several armoured personnel carriers, numerous water cannons and up to fifty helicopters. However, unfortunately for them, they were up against opposition from all sections of the community. Children and teachers occupied school halls to prevent them being used as accomodation for the drafted in police, the fire service refused to provide water for the water cannons that were to be used on protestors, and activists felled train power cables, removed sections of railway track and even cemented themselves to the railway. Once these obstacles had been overcome and the transport had reached Dannenberg station, the biggest obstacle of all still remained for the convoy: the road between Dannenberg and Gorleben was fully blockaded.
The lengthy process of moving the dangerous waste from rail to road meant that there was a day spare to allow people to relax after the previous days' actions, and for more activists to arrive from around the country and from much of Northern Europe. There were two possible routes that the convoy could take. Defences had, unfortunately, been concentrated so heavily on one route that the other had seemingly been forgotten about.
The main gates of Dannenberg station were sealed by the many thousands of protestors who had blockaded it with an enormous sit down protest. Whichever route was selected for the convoy this would need to be cleared and would take some time. After this, however, the cargo would still have to face an array of burning barricades, blockades of about 70 intertwined tractors, tunnels under the road, pre-felled trees across roads, and "liberated" girders from railway track sunk into the road in the shape of a giant "X". This was both a symbol of defiance from the people and also the campaign logo. The route was covered with people from all around Europe, from peace, anti-nuclear and environmental backgrounds, all clearly holding different political views.
At around 5:30 in the morning, police began moving people out of the path of the transport route, armed with water cannons, and accompanied by ex-East German border guards, who had been drafted in especially for the occasion. The peace protestors, proving difficult to move, became subject to constant spraying by high-powered water cannons and to baton charges as the police worked their way through the blockade.
The water cannons were being used in a desperate attempt to speed up the process of clearing the road as much as possible. The ingenuity of the protestors, however, thwarted their efforts, as they covered themselves with huge tarpaulin sheeting to prevent themselves being soaked by the cannons on the freezing March morning. It was only direct hits from the water cannons which posed a threat at this point.
Other actions and blockades were happening at each of the seven camps, with individual tactics set up along the route. The countryside around Dannenberg became an autonomous zone, a virtual no-go area for the police, who were nowhere to be seen apart from those lining the route - and even they only moved around in large numbers (for their own protection). The first camp was the showplace for the mass blockade of peace campaigners holding strict pacifist policies; this camp was the largest, and not unlike Glastonbury festival. The next camps were Gusborn and Quickborn, where you would find the Autonomes (German anarchists), burning barricades of tyres and hay. The Autonomes mask up, which is illegal in Germany, and charge in lines with red, black or green flags chanting "Kronstad, Kronstad, Oi, Oi, Oi!". These camps were not unlike Castle Morton. Other camps further down the route included the biker's field, the FrauenLesben (anarchafeminists') camp, and a family camp with tipis. Every camp had an efficient internal communication network, an office, tool lock-ups, and a donation-based kitchen (much of the equipment donated by the glorious Rampenplan).
Our lift took us to the camp of hundreds of German bikers after we had left the blockade. Meanwhile, a group of climbers from the Thuringen anti-road site in Germany had lowered themselves from the trees in climbing harnesses to prevent the convoy passing, with one woman alighting onto the roof of a truck when the police ignored dangerous exposure levels and let the Castors pass under the climbers. And further up the route, two families announced - just as the convoy was nearly on their doorstep - that they had dug a secret tunnel system from their garden and under the road.
We received word over the radio that Castor was approaching. About 300 of us, peace campaigners, bikers and a few Autonomes (who had just finished rioting on the other side of the forest) crossed the battlefield. We were only able to get within 50 metres of the road, as we were outnumbered by riot cops, mounted police and St. Bernards police dogs (?!) keeping us in line. Groups split into numbers of about 50, mainly sitting in wait and complying with the new legislation - brought in specially for the Castor transport - which forbids processions of groups within 50 metres of this road. Others, more adventurous, edged their way slowly closer. Our small affinity group got right up to the police line on the road; just in time to see the procession of six cargo lorries - flanked by at least a mile of anti-riot vehicles, police vans and water canonns, and overlooked by about 20 helicopters - emerge out of the forest. My English companion and I got ready to charge. When we could see the whites of the lorry driver's eyes, we leapt at the police line, only to be nudged back to see everyone else behind us waving fists and taking pictures. It was then we remembered we were on a peace action.
Feeling the extremities of disempowerment we stormed off along the field. The police, eager to disperse us, tried to funnel us back. A line of masked up activists retaliated by throwing stones, the riot cops formed ranks and charged. The activists pulled back, formed a line and advanced with an artillery of rocks. Large numbers of the police under attack broke ranks and hand to hand combat followed.
A group of seven riot cops, having felled a masked anarchist, proceeded to punch and kick his head, groin and stomach repeatedly. My attempt to come to his aid was greeted by a full punch to the face. Police tactics on this day seemed to be focused more on clearing the way using any force they considered necessary than on arrest.
Meanwhile, our side had retreated to the FrauenLesben Camp, where rail sleepers and hay carts acted as barricades. The police vehicles pulled out under a hail of bottles, one platoon of about 30 cops became isolated and surrounded by activists chanting and rock-throwing, until the peace campaigners pleaded with us to let them go. In the end, they were air-lifted out to safety, and the deadly cargo reached its final resting place two miles into the heart of an ancient pine forest. We picked puffball mushrooms and went off on our tour of Belgian squats.
On reflection, we realised there was no love lost between anarchist Autonomes and long-term peace campaigners. A lot of tolerance was exercised and (very efficient) pre-organisation to include a spectrum of radicalism in that week. But they seem to have just as many internal squabblings as we do, though I don't think they would stoop to public slag-offs as our more liberal organisations have done in the past. They perhaps realised that having a no-compromise fraction in their ranks ups the ante in their opposition, and helps in costing the authorities a cool £52 million to execute the shipment.
Though Gorleben reached a critical mass, it was still a single issue symbolic gesture. 2000 people could stop the cargo, hold it to ransom (four hours contact is dangerous levels of radiation), and make demands. But with an overruling of non-violent reformists who do the job of the state, we didn't stand a chance!