Strategic Noncooperation Following Arrest


Part 1.

Going Limp or Being Led Away

Part 2.

To What Extent Should We Cooperate with Legal Procedures?

Three Options in Brief

General Strategic Issues
-Ensuring Strategic Value in All Options
-Wins and Losses
-Not Avoiding Punishment
-Paying Fines or Accepting Imprisonment
-Personal Truth and Integrity of Vital Strategic Value
-Willingness to Suffer

Part 3.

Three Options in Detail:
-Full Cooperation
-Partial Cooperation (Refusing Bail)
-Full Noncooperation

Strategic Cooperation and Noncooperation in Prison
-Drug Searches
-Prison Officers and Medical Staff
-Psychiatric Issues
-Fasting/Hunger Striking
-‘Filling the Gaols’

Part 1


Any arrestable nonviolent action involves one core act of noncooperation – openly breaking a law. Being willing to be arrested publicly exposes the seriousness of the particular issue the activists are trying to resolve through their campaign, and their commitment to their cause. Once an activist has been arrested, however, many other issues arise as security personnel, police, courts and prisons go through the procedures designed to maintain the status quo. Each circumstance offers you choices of how to respond and it is not always easy to work out what is strategically or personally best to do. This article offers some options and reasoning for activists to consider.

Do we allow ourselves to be led away or ‘go limp’ to physically resist removal from a blockaded site or sit in?

The two strategic aims of a nonviolent campaign are always to gain supporters for your campaign and to change the will and therefore the behaviour of people supporting the problem through a sequence of actions and communications over time. It is not to successfully defend a physical location or physically prevent use of an object for any particular length of time, although this may be the stated goal of a specific action. Given that your opponent will nearly always have access to far greater physical resources than you do (and can therefore easily defeat you physically), the purpose of nonviolent action is to ‘change the game’ to give you a chance to achieve the aims of your campaign. The players in this game are your relatively fearless mind (with its dignified, relentless commitment in the face of adversity) versus your opponent’s fearful, delusional mind (with its compulsion to lash out violently to gain control for no functional purpose).

If the conflict becomes focused on the outcome of immediate physical issues this lessens the strategic psychological effectiveness of your arrest. Making the physical aspects of the arrest difficult and undignified (for you and for the police) by having them struggle with your limp body is likely to stimulate frustration in the arresting officers that will harden their disrespect for you. It will also present the struggle as a physical one (that you are unwillingly losing) to observers. A more psychologically powerful alternative is to introduce yourself to your arresting officer and ask them their name and how they are feeling about being here today, while allowing yourself to be led away to a police van with a wave to your fellow activists and any media present. If you are grabbed violently to begin with, remain calm and as still as possible to reassure the frightened police officer that you are not going to struggle. Your arresting officer may not feel free to talk to you, but your polite behaviour will communicate fearlessness, dignity and your willingness to suffer the consequences of your actions, while treating the police with respect as individuals, which will have a positive effect over time. The aim is to have as many police as possible struggling with their conscience around whether or not they want to arrest you, rather than struggling with your limp body, and being very happy to arrest you.

Obviously, if capsicum spray, tear gas, tasers or water cannons are used to remove activists without arresting them, this is a different issue, which needs discussion elsewhere.

Part 2

To what extent should we cooperate with legal procedures?

Nonviolent activists are most commonly charged with summary offences but you should investigate what charges are most likely to occur prior to taking action. A summary offence (such as trespass) is tried in a magistrate’s court, and can be tried in your absence. An indictable offence (such as property damage, including that which may have been accidental), must be tried in a higher level court before a judge or jury, and you are required to be at the trial.

Following your arrest, different events will unfold depending on your level of cooperation with legal procedures.

Three common possibilities are:

1. You may sign bail and be released immediately, possibly with a bail condition not to return to the site of your arrest for a specified length of time, and with an instruction to return to court at a later date where you will plead your case, most likely be found guilty and sentenced. (Although there are laws and legal precedents you can use to justify a plea of ‘not guilty’ for nonviolent actions, it is extremely rare for activists to be found not guilty, unless for arcane technical reasons that divert attention from the moral message of the campaign.)

2. You may refuse to sign bail because of an onerous bail condition, and be imprisoned for some days before being taken before a magistrate. If the bail condition (that you don’t return to the site of your arrest for 48 hours, for example) is now no longer relevant, the magistrate will give you a date to return to magistrates court, where you may plead your case, be found guilty and sentenced. If your bail condition is extremely onerous (specifying a long time frame or wide physical area), and you choose to resist it, you may be in gaol for an extended period before the condition expires, your court case occurs (often 6-8 weeks after your arrest) or a magistrate decides to drop the bail condition.

3. You may noncooperate with all legal procedures for reasons of conscience, choosing not to give personal details to the police, resisting bail and entering no plea in court. If you are charged with a summary offence, and the police are able to identify you, you may be released without signing bail, and be given a court date, which you will choose not to attend. If police cannot identify you, you may be released without charge, or be held while you continue to resist participation. If you are charged with an indictable offence and you do not sign bail (regardless of whether or not the police can identify you), you will be held until your court case, possibly many months away. At your court case you will enter no plea, and not defend yourself, but explain that your conscience will not allow you to participate in legal procedures.

If the outcome of any of the above leads to you being convicted and sentenced, you will usually have the option of paying a fine and/or accepting a good behaviour bond which may require you not to reoffend for a specified period of time, doing community service, or rejecting all of these and being imprisoned for the number of days judged equivalent to your fine.

General Strategic Principles

Ensuring Strategic Value

Whichever path you choose, the most important thing to remember is that your arrest and any imprisonment following it is only of strategic value to your campaign if you and your support team (who have not been arrested) use your arrest, court appearances and possible prison time to communicate a clear message to specific groups of people about how to act powerfully to aid your campaign. What can people do themselves that will best assist the purpose of your campaign, thus showing their solidarity with you, the arrestee? The aim of your relatively high profile action is to get as many people as possible directly active themselves, doing the things that will resolve the problem you are addressing. (It is not to ask them to lobby politicians). How will you communicate what you are asking them to do?

Wins and Losses

It is important to remember that the outcome of an arrest (for example, whether or not you are released without charge, found guilty but given no or a light punishment, held for a long or short time while resisting a bail condition, or are given an extreme fine or prison sentence) is not significant in terms of the two strategic aims of your campaign. Any of these outcomes can and should be used to your campaign’s advantage, and sometimes you will be deliberately raising the stakes by challenging your opponent in ways that may lead to them treating you more harshly. Any particular arrest outcome, therefore, should not be considered, in itself, to be a win or a loss for the campaign.

Not Avoiding Punishment

Any punishment you receive will hold strategic value only if you do not try to avoid it, thus demonstrating your courage, rather than your fear of taking responsibility for your actions. It makes sense to feel relieved if you are found guilty but receive no or light punishment, but if you have chosen to risk arrest for your cause, you should not be trying to subsequently ‘get away with it’. You should therefore plan to take personal responsibility for any fines you receive: don’t ask others to pay them for you, and be prepared to go to prison if you choose not to pay the fines.

Sometimes people may encourage you to ask others to donate money to pay your fine, to help you be less scared of getting arrested. Actually, this increases your vulnerability – what happens if you can’t find anyone else to donate and you are left with a fine you can’t pay? Also, this behaviour risks that the campaign will be seen as engineering arrests for the sake of the media, rather than arrests being genuine expressions of people’s conscience and willingness to stand up for themselves while suffering unjust punishment. It will help activist morale at a deep level if other activists are demonstrating fearlessness in the face of punishment, compared with the superficial and highly unreliable gains made by portraying arrest as having no personal cost. Being arrested is not a game without consequences – if you are not ready to face arrest, it is far better that you accept your fears and play one of the many vital non-arrestable roles in a campaign, until such time as you genuinely feel confident enough to go through with the consequences of arrest, and experience the personal power of doing so.

If absurdly high fines are imposed, it makes strategic sense to allow yourself to be imprisoned while having people nonviolently campaign for your release, rather than trying to raise the money to pay the fine or fighting the case legally. If you capitulate or fight within a system that is set up to defeat the aims of activists, you will send a message that the government’s intimidation is working, and this will disempower other activists and discourage them from taking action. Another way of responding to known extreme fines (such as $35,000 for blocking rail lines in some states) is to have as many activists as possible break that law simultaneously and noncooperate with legal procedure until released, thus not leaving it to one or two individuals to cop the burden.

Being in prison is a sure means of gaining attention for your cause – you will have a chance to interact with many police and prison officers, everyone who knows you personally will be encouraged to think differently about an issue that may have previously been on the sidelines for them, and much can be done to focus wider community attention on your imprisonment (and thus your crucial campaign messages) through a variety of media. Being imprisoned should not be seen as a way of being ‘taken out’ of the fight, therefore, but a way of encouraging even more people to become involved. Your opponents know that having you in jail is a problem for them, because they want to keep doing what they are doing in secret, without public fuss.

Paying Fines or Accepting Imprisonment

It is more powerful to do time in prison rather than pay fines. However, depending on your current circumstances and experience, you may feel it is necessary and appropriate to pay your fine. But it is good to keep in mind that by paying you are reimbursing the government for your unjust (if legal) arrest. If you go to prison instead, you do not support the system that arrested you, and your commitment to your cause is very clearly demonstrated. Clearly, you may need detailed information about what to expect in prison and listening about your fears before being ready to take this path. It is worth remembering that imprisonment as a nonviolent activist is likely to be far more empowering, and considerably safer, than the experience you would have if you were imprisoned for committing an ordinary crime.

Personal Truth and Integrity of Vital Strategic Value

In any campaign you will always have two strategic aims – to gain the support of groups who can support your cause, and to alter the will and undermine the power of those who support the problem. The fundamental way you achieve these aims is to act according to the truth as you understand it, with as much integrity as you can muster. It is empowering to face your fear of acting truthfully, knowing that you have not sacrificed those things about yourself that you value most highly just because someone else is trying to intimidate you. And other people will sense and be inspired by your personal power.

Among activists, there will be shared truths that form the basis of the campaign – the violent nature of the injustice that is occurring and the fact that there is an alternative way of doing things that meets everyone’s needs. But sometimes there are different levels of truth or ways of interpreting events that lead to activists choosing different courses of action. For example, it may feel truthful to proudly plead ‘guilty’, since you have knowingly broken a law for a good purpose. It may feel truthful to plead ‘not guilty’, since you have not committed a genuine crime. It may feel truthful not to plead at all because you trust a deeper truth to govern you than the legal system, corrupted as it is by fear, social and financial bribery and bureaucratic heartlessness.

These differences are not a problem as long as each person feels clear about what they are doing and why. Your own choices may change over time. There is often something to be gained by having a group acting together and you may choose to ‘go with the group’ or follow the lead of someone you trust in certain circumstances, but ultimately, and most powerfully, the individual (you) stands first.

Willingness to Suffer

Willingness to suffer in good conscience for a specific gain should never be confused with having an active desire to suffer, nor with having a desire to manipulate people superficially by being a ‘martyr’. Strategically powerful nonviolent suffering occurs only when you can feel that suffering is not avoidable if you are to achieve a necessary deeper and longer term gain. To not act would cause a violation against your deep self, even if this act results in temporary pain, threat or inconvenience to your physical and emotional wellbeing.

Being scared of suffering in the short term can lead to bad strategic decisions, if a person cannot see beyond the immediate ‘escape’ from pain or inconvenience, to the longer term gain. If activists have suppressed feelings from previous abuse, this may make them much more scared to take on the full consequences of arrest and imprisonment. There is no problem with this if it is consciously acknowledged, but if activists are running from consciousness of this previous abuse they may try to make others believe that their need to avoid suffering is strategically imperative. Their fear may thus become contagious and seriously weaken the commitment of the activists and the power of the campaign.

Suffering should not be undertaken unnecessarily as a form of dysfunctional self-punishment or in order to try to impress others that you are ‘hard core’. To the extent that you have a choice, only choose levels of suffering that you are ready for.

Feeling your emotional reactions to punishment, in as safe a space as you can find, before, during and after your arrest and imprisonment, will help you to maintain your capacity to resist.

Part 3

Options for Noncooperation (Examples)

I will now outline a number of options in detail, from full cooperation with legal procedures to full non –cooperation, to help you consider the issues and possibilities. What happens after arrest is never totally predictable – there is plenty of leeway built into the system, which sometimes may work in your favour, and sometimes make things more difficult than you expected. You should not expect exactly the same things to occur each time you are arrested. Whether or not you have spiritual leanings, being arrested is always, at some level, an act of faith in your own power to stand up for the truth. You will need some good listening before you decide to risk arrest, and some good debriefing afterwards.

The following examples are based on my and others’ experiences in the Australian legal context.

Full Cooperation with Legal Procedures

This will entail giving your full name, date of birth, address and occupation and probably your fingerprints to the police following your arrest. It is strategically powerful to give these details fearlessly and honestly, although you can certainly be creative about your occupation (eg. Planet Defender) if you want. You will also give the police a formal statement about what happened leading up to your arrest, which gives you an excellent chance to explain what you did and why you did it, for the benefit of that police officer, at least.

To act with integrity when signing bail, you need to be clear that you are happy with the bail conditions – you are willing to return to court to plead your case, and you are willing to accept any other bail conditions imposed. You may not wish to accept any curtailment of your right to protest when and where you want, on principle (see next section on refusing bail), or you may be aware that you have no intention of returning to the site of your arrest within the specified time frame, so you can sign honestly without acting against your own interests and those of the campaign.

Media about your court case should be organised prior to and following the case, focusing on your campaign messages – what do you want people to do in solidarity with the activists on trial?

Before attending court, you need to decide whether to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. As I have explained above, you may feel that one of these is more truthful for you. Follow this feeling, but also talk to other arrestees to see if a group defence may be organised in which you might like to participate.

If you plead ‘guilty’, you should get a short space to explain why you committed the act before you are sentenced (to help the magistrate determine the penalty). A sympathetic magistrate may allow a longer statement, a nonsympathetic one will be very dismissive.

If you plead ‘not guilty’, you need a legal basis (a relevant law or legal precedent) for doing so. It is most strategically effective to gain support from friendly lawyers to find out basic information about how to run a case, but to choose one confident person from within the arrested group to present the case in court, who clearly understands your strategic aims in being arrested. Unlike a lawyer, who will be anxious to get you off the charge and inclined to use all technicalities and specialist knowledge to do so, your aim is to get your campaign message out, wasting as few financial resources and time on legal procedures as possible. In the context of a nonviolent campaign therefore, full cooperation with legal procedures does not mean giving up nonviolent tactics and fighting the battle through the legal system. It means using unavoidable aspects of the legal system to further the campaign aims, while leaving aside aspects that will bog you down and be disempowering for activists. The system is heavily weighted against any chance of you receiving a not guilty verdict – for instance, there are lawyers permanently employed to argue why the Declaration of Human Rights should be limited in cases where activists and other individuals are using this as a defence. So you can use a ‘not guilty’ plea for your own purposes, but it is wise to not expect to win.

Pleading ‘not guilty’ should give some space for activists to explain their actions in the witness box. These speeches should be kept reasonably short, punchy and personally significant and should clearly relate to the legal defence presented. Again, sympathetic magistrates will allow more leeway, unsympathetic ones will get in the way of you presenting your story if they can.

Assuming you are found guilty, you will be sentenced to a fine, possible good behaviour bond, possible community service order and possible (unlikely in most cases) prison time. It is wise to think in advance about whether or not you will accept a good behaviour bond or community service (which will constrain your behaviour and take up your valuable activist time, respectively). It is important that you tell the magistrate immediately if you do not accept a good behaviour bond or community service, by saying something like ‘Your Worship/Honour, my conscience will not allow me accept either of those options’. The result may be an increased fine, or prison time, but if you choose to break the good behaviour bond or not turn up for community service later on, you risk being perceived as untrustworthy, as well as being up for more extreme penalties.

If you have received a fine, you are free to say nothing at this point, and later on decide to pay it, to not pay and risk imprisonment at any time if there is a warrant out for you, or to present yourself for imprisonment at a time that is more convenient to you. Again you may organise to do prison time with a group of other activists, and make the most of it in terms of communication of your campaign message. If you do your time at a local police lock-up, you may be released before you have done the full time.

If it feels important to have an immediate impact, you may tell the sentencing magistrate that you refuse to pay a fine and will not accept a good behaviour bond or community service, and this may lead to you being imprisoned immediately. You may be given considerably more prison time than would be usual in relation your fine, if the magistrate is unsympathetic and feels put out by your noncooperation. My husband Robert was once fined $160 for an anti-nuclear warships action in Brisbane, and then given 16 days gaol for declaring his refusal to pay the fine. At the time (1988) $50 of fines per day in prison was a more usual rate. (As it turned out, he was let out after one day, when the command of the US nuclear warship in port paid Robert’s fine anonymously to deprive the campaign of this particular media focus. The US Navy obviously had more political nouse than the reactive magistrate!)

For issues related to cooperation and noncooperation in prison, see section below.

Partial Noncooperation with Legal Procedures (Refusing Bail)

This will involve giving your full name, date of birth, address and occupation to police, and probably your fingerprints. You will also give a formal statement about what led up to your arrest, which gives you the opportunity to explain your action to one or two police officers. When you are presented with a bail form to sign however, it is imperative that you read it carefully, and take as long as you need to work out whether you are happy to sign it.

If there are bail conditions that interfere with your capacity to continue to take nonviolent action according to your campaign strategy, it will be most powerful to refuse to sign bail. If the bail condition is short term, resisting shows your unwillingness to cooperate with the government’s control of you, and will lead to a few extra days imprisonment at most. If your charge is a summary offence, it is quite possible that the bail condition will be dropped so that the police can get rid of you as soon as possible. If the charge is summary, but the bail condition is for an extended period, you may have to resist for a longer period, but there is still a reasonable chance that the bail condition will be dropped.

It is far more strategically effective to resist an onerous bail condition, than to accept it and be impeded by it at a later time, thus giving the government the message that you are susceptible to this threat. Resisting will provide good opportunities for the message of your campaign to be sent out.

If your charge is summary you can be released without even signing a bail condition that you will return to court, as long as you have been given a court date. This is because your presence is not required in court – you can be tried and sentenced in your absence. You may choose to attend court and make a plea (as described above), but if you don’t attend it will be your responsibility to find out the outcome of your case.

If your charge is indictable, you will be required to sign a bail condition that you will return to court at the very least, before being released prior to your court case.

If you are in police lock-up or prison while resisting bail, listen to your feelings and conscience deeply about how you feel about being there. You can discuss things with fellow imprisoned activists and any visitors you may have. If your mind changes at any time, you can choose to participate in legal procedures and leave prison. There may be a delay before your bail conditions are processed, but this should happen fairly promptly.

For issues related to cooperation and noncooperation in prison, see section below.

Full Noncooperation with Legal Procedures

Before the advent of the internet and social media, activists ‘having their day in court’ was often a significant way of getting media attention for campaigns. Speaking in court can be empowering for activists, particularly if they are not used to speaking in formal settings about their beliefs and actions. However, strategically speaking, there is no value in getting the ‘ear’ of a magistrate or judge, and there are many more possibilities now for communication with strategically significant groups of people, which don’t rely on presentation of statements in court. Through years of experience defending ourselves in courts, it is clear to Robert and myself that the legal system is fundamentally corrupt. If we noncooperate with legal procedures, including by refusing to enter a plea in court or present any defence whatsoever, we refuse to participate in the delusion that courts are genuinely concerned with justice and the meeting of human needs, and this is an important message to communicate if we wish to encourage activists to spend their time and energy most efficiently in a campaign. See ‘The Rule of Law: Unjust and Violent’.

When noncooperating with legal procedures, it is strategically imperative to continually demonstrate your willingness to listen to and speak to police/prison officers as individuals, including talking about why you are taking action on your campaign issue, while also stating that your conscience will not allow you to participate in legal procedures. You might therefore tell individual police officers your first name, but tell them you will be remaining silent in response to formal questions (where they are writing down the answers). It is important that you understand that you are not trying to keep these details secret out of fear (and it doesn’t matter if they get the information elsewhere), but because, by remaining silent, you are making a statement about your lack of faith in the legal system to address your campaign issue.

One way to turn your noncooperation with giving personal details into a powerful mini-action is for the activists involved to give the name, date of birth and occupation of their favourite inspiring nonviolent activist from somewhere else in the world (including ones that have been killed for their resistance work). This mini-action would be explained to the police prior to the event, during police liaison, to communicate the message that activists are protesting against the legal system as a whole, and its role in exacerbating violence and injustice. They are not trying to avoid the consequences of their actions by being dishonest about who they are.

If the police require your fingerprints, you might walk to where they want you to go (to maintain dignity), but tell them politely that they will have to move your hands themselves to get the fingerprints they want. Remain relaxed while they do so.

It can be a bit scary not doing things other people want. It helps to remind yourself that you are not trying to control the police in any way – they can do whatever they want to. But it is okay for you to remain calm and not actively engage with activities you feel are in contradiction with the deep truth.

By not participating in this early stage of legal procedure, you will either not be given a chance to sign bail, or police will tell you your bail conditions and you will not sign, therefore ‘refusing bail’.

You will probably be held in a local police cell until you can be taken to see a magistrate in court (the start of the next working week if you were arrested on the weekend).

You might remain silent in court, or state to the magistrate that your conscience will not allow you to participate in legal procedures. You might have the opportunity to state briefly that you do not consider it a criminal offence to take action to save life on earth (or whatever your issue is), or that you have no faith in the legal system to helpfully address your cause. It is helpful to treat the magistrate politely, but you do not need to consider him or her a ‘powerful’ person who has rightful authority over you. Generally speaking, magistrates and judges are the chief bureaucrats of the financial and governmental elite you are fighting, and are too scared to do anything other than ‘follow the rules’ as their job requires. Their sympathy may lead them to mitigate your sentence, but our long experience suggests that they are extremely unlikely to find you ‘not guilty’.

If your charge is a summary offence, and the police have managed to find out your personal details (via internet searches or finger print matching, for example), you will probably be released despite not having signed bail. You will be given a court date which you do not have to attend – you can be tried in your absence. There is no purpose in your attending court if you are noncooperating with legal procedures – you will be happy to let the legal system proceed without putting any of your energy into it, so that you can get on with other work you consider more important. You may wish to find out the outcome of the court case, so you know what to expect in terms of fines, warrants and possible prison terms. If it feels wise, you may organise to do prison time at a time that suits you, rather than being arrested for an outstanding warrant at a time that is inconvenient. You will use your prison time as a means to communicate the campaign message.

If the police could not find your personal details, they may release you without charge prior to getting to court, or the court may order you to remain on remand until you give your personal details.

If your charge is indictable, and you refuse to cooperate with legal procedures including refusing bail, you will be held on remand until your trial (possibly some months ahead), occasionally being taken to various levels of court, where you will also politely refuse to participate. If you are held for very long, you will be transferred to a prison, rather than remaining in a police lock-up.

If you are being held for refusing to give personal details or resisting bail, you can change your mind at any time, decide to cooperate and be released from lock-up/prison.

One extra point – if for some reason you are asked to take a breathalyser or drug test by the police after you have been arrested, it is probably wise to do so, since the issue of drink driving is not directly related your nonviolent action and you may lose your driver’s license for two years automatically if you resist. (If you have complied with the code of nonviolent discipline for the action, you will have no drugs or alcohol in your system!)

Strategic Cooperation and Noncooperation in Prison

Drug searches

When being transferred to and from prison, (and possibly when held at police stations and courts) you will be required to strip and bend over or squat (without being touched, unless you physically resist the procedure) so officers can see if you are concealing drugs or weapons in your anus or vagina. Women will probably be dealt with by female officers. There is no strategic advantage in noncooperating with this – doing it calmly and having a laugh with the officers about this great aspect of their job is probably the best way to deal with it. Obviously, if nudity in this context scares you or brings up feelings of humiliation, you might need to practice this with some helpful person before being arrested.

Prison officers and medical staff

There is no strategic advantage in noncooperating with prison officers and prison medical staff. Mostly, they are much more relaxed than police officers and are basically concerned with security and safety issues, rather than the legal issues of your case. Going along with what they want (unless you have some clear reason not to) will be less stressful for you, and open up chances for dialogue with them about the campaign issue.

Psychiatric issues

The initial psychiatric assessment required of you by prison regulations is probably just to ensure that you are not suicidal (prison officers are very scared of dealing with suicides which occur regularly in prison). Don’t feel you need to tell them any psychiatric history you would rather keep private, but reassure them that you are fine about being there. (Otherwise you may end up in an isolation cell, wearing a smock, with no underwear and an untearable blanket. Fine if you’re into quiet self-reflection, but not necessary if you’d rather be interacting with other imprisoned activists and prisoners!)

It is not wise for you to be arrested and imprisoned if you are taking any psychiatric drugs. If you tell the medical staff that you require them you will be opening yourself to being treated as a psychiatric case rather than a conscientious nonviolent activist, which may lead to you being placed in a locked psychiatric ward, rather than prison. This can also be nonviolently resisted, but it is easier not to have to deal with the problem.

If you are in prison long term, or engaging in fasting, for example, you may be asked to have interviews with prison psychiatrists who want to determine if you suffer supposed psychiatric ‘diseases’ such as ‘personality disorder’ or ‘oppositional defiant disorder’, or if you are a ‘vexatious litigant’ (obsessed with complaining to authorities). It is worth remembering that these so-called ‘diseases’ have no physical medical basis whatsoever – they are socially defined ‘dysfunctionalities’ that do not describe your activism in any way. It is probably best to explain that you don’t feel the need to talk to a psychiatrist, that you are in prison for reasons of conscience, and that you are not suicidal. If the psychiatrist turns out to be chatty and reasonable, you might talk about your campaign issues or the proud history of nonviolent action with them. If you are diagnosed as suffering a disorder by one of these truly abusive people, it would be wise not to willingly accept any medication for this, since you will then be recorded as having accepted your diagnosis and ‘treated for a psychiatric illness’ which may have future negative implications for you as an activist.

Fasting (not eating and drinking water only), also termed ‘Hunger Striking’

Fasting in prison is not necessary in terms of achieving the strategic aims of your campaign. It may be undertaken if activists require a specific diet that is not being supplied by the prison (such as biodynamic/organic, vegetarian wholefood), or the activists are unhappy with some other aspect of prison life, but an indefinite fast should not be undertaken to try to influence the outcome of the legal case against the activists. The consequences of individual activists failing to continue with the fast for emotional or physical reasons, and feeling they have failed the group, are likely to be very detrimental. Just being in prison is enough to demonstrate your commitment to the cause. If you are thinking you might fast in prison for any reason, it is wise to have fasted for at least one week at some time prior to being arrested, so you understand the physical and emotional implications for you in doing so. To fast safely for an extended period in moderate temperatures you will need to drink around 1.5 litres of water per day (not much more or less).

‘Filling the gaols’

If large numbers of activists are arrested at a particular action or sequence of actions, considerable pressure may be placed on the system because of so many arrestees being in the local police stations, courts and prisons at the same time. This may lead to the police being unwilling to arrest activists. However, strategic effectiveness for your campaign is only gained if the police do not wish to arrest activists because they are beginning to side with them. Simply making it logistically difficult will not change the minds of police officers, and in fact may cause them to consider more violent tactics, such as using capsicum spray, to disperse activists. Regardless of how many activists may be arrested and imprisoned at any time, the key to strategic effectiveness is always the positive demeanour of the activists towards all parties, and the clear message given about how others may support the cause. (Are there police who might form a ‘Police for Climate Safety’ group? Are there soldiers who might form a ‘Soldiers for Climate Security’ group? Are there prison [Department of Corrections] officers who might form a ‘Climate Corrections’ group?)

Anita McKone
27 March 2017