Les Leyne: Remarkable organizing prowess fuels protests

The motives and validity of the protest shutdowns are up for debate, but the organizational prowess is beyond dispute. It’s a remarkable achievement to co-ordinate thousands of people in massive civil disobedience across Canada.

And it confirms what’s already obvious — the B.C. and federal governments are dealing with something significant and ongoing.

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Two years ago, there was a brief glimpse of the strategic thinking that’s going into the demonstrations. It was a small political story that passed quickly, but this week suggests the concepts that came to light then are still in play.

It was about “the hive.”

The reference was in a planning document that leaked after Environment Minister George Heyman attended a meeting at a Bowen Island retreat with some people who were dedicated to blocking the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline proposal.

The opposition Liberals landed on the outline and accused Heyman of consorting with activists and agitators.

He said he was just doing his job, meeting everyone. The rest of the cabinet just rolled their eyes and laughed off the opposition’s dark suspicions.

But nobody’s laughing today. Because the hive looks to be alive and well, and buzzing around the NDP government’s head.

It was described at the time as a lift-off for “ongoing coordination of organizational support for mass action.” The outline described a coalition of grassroots groups that would support and share information about mass, creative and non-violent direct actions.

“The Hive brings resources, money, action experience and technical know-how, capacity and co-ordination experience.”

It described regular meetings where decisions are made by consensus, but groups are free to act independently as their work requires.

Flowing from that was “the Swarm.” It brings energy, creative, hard-hitting plans and momentum,” said the outline.

It gave various examples of how an opportunity for mass action might be identified and how sponsors of specific protest actions could tap into the hive and get support to make it a success.

“This group is about inspiring and supporting action on a mass scale … This group is an organizing structure, not a brand. We will not have a brand or presence in public beyond what is necessary to achieve our goals.”

It committed to non-violent direct action and avoid harm to individuals and “unnecessary damage to property.”

It also recommended digital security protocols to maintain a low profile — discuss tactics in person wherever possible, prevent documents from being publicly viewable, use encrypted message apps and ensure phone calls are private.

It’s not known if the specific hive referred to is still functional.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline project collapsed before mass protests were called.

But the outline is a perfect model for how to accomplish exactly what unfolded this week — coordinated, mass action on a grand scale.

It doesn’t just happen spontaneously. It needs a lot of careful thinking, and big pool of volunteers.

Just So You Know: Another document from even further back came to light this week. It is much more obviously in play today and it’s more than a little ironic.

A message circulating widely refers to how “legal observers” were trained by the protesters to monitor the response of police and authorities to the disruptions.

The co-author of the handbook being used?

It was David Eby, now B.C.’s attorney general, who wrote it for protesters active during the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics while he was with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The same Eby whose Vancouver-Point Grey constituency office was occupied this week by protesters who traumatized office staff.

Legal observers following the Eby handbook were on hand at the legislature blockades.

He described their role in the guide as “calm, independent objective witnesses to the activities of security forces.”

They are considered separate from protesters and their main job is to collect evidence that protesters later pursuing complaints against police might use.

He recommended against providing legal advice, interfering, or speaking to the media.

The tactics are bewildering. How antagonizing tens of thousands of taxpayers by shutting down Metro Vancouver transportation links constitutes a win is hard to figure.

But demonstrators are following a comprehensive and thorough game plan as they raise the stakes.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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