How to Create and Operate a Temporary Free Autonomous Zone
This how-to is intended to document a framework of protocols and techniques to organize a large, diverse group of individuals voluntarily gathered together for a shared purpose, and in a public space.
For example, a hacker carnival. Or to respond to a community crisis. It is assumed this gathering will happen in a public space without permission from authorities - but this is not a requirement. These techniques also would work for a private gathering, political protest, or a commercial event. But it is assumed that there is no hierarchy or authority, just volunteers. I use the term tents in this how-to; however, you could also use tables, rooms, or simple paper signs to gather at as your situation dictates.
Info Tent: This area should be staffed 100 percent of the time your zone is in operation. It is the place newly arriving participants can get the information they need about the agenda of your event and guidelines for behavior. This is also an important location to accept donations, or drop off equipment to be used in the event. A volunteer should always be working this tent. It is also a good place to put up a sign explaining the colors of the armbands you are using. (see "Techniques" section)
Aid Tent: Ideally, this should be next to the info tent. At a minimum, a CPR-certified volunteer should staff this tent 100 percent of the time your zone is up and running, and they should have a working cell phone. At large events, it is not uncommon to have nurses and veteran military medics volunteer. First aid supplies should be cached here and there should be a chair and place to lay down. "Self-service" first aid supplies can also be distributed here, like hand sanitizer, sunscreen, hand warmers, band aids, etc. Just put them out on a table for folks to use as they need.
Staff Support Tent: This is a minor area - think of it as a break room for volunteers. An area to secure personal items. It should be close to the Aid tent. For long events, medics and info staff may sleep in this tent.
Food and Drink Tent: If your are providing food, this is the place to collect, prepare, and distribute it. Ideally, a volunteer with food handling/prep experience and permits. If you just have a water cooler and a bag of apples, it is not so critical. But if you are serving pot luck dinner to 200 people, this is a very important area! Experience has shown that this should not be a self-serve area to control portion size and prevent people from raiding all the supplies and leaving. Keep this area very clean and provide hand sanitizer for volunteers and participants. Many cities have laws that only allow you to distribute prepackaged food.
Sanitation (Recycling and Toilets): Don't make a mess! Set up recycling containers and label them. If you don't have toilets on site, provide info on nearby public toilets. If you have "porta potties," lock them when they get full. Some businesses pay to have their garbage hauled away, so be careful not to dump your trash there. Also, be aware that this area may build up a supply of glass bottles than can create hazards. Have a plan to safely get rid of garbage.
(Optional) Library / Shared Books / Media / Press Area: If you are documenting your Zone, you might have an Internet connection here. Spiritual Sanctuary: A quiet place that all respect. School: A place for tech talks or training.
A time tested way to get things done is to divide a large group into smaller specialized committees or workgroups. Each small group focuses on a task and then reports back to the whole on results and needs. Here are some examples: governance - central group other groups report info to for planning, task specific - related to purpose of your Zone like "cook dinner for all," peace and safety - this is similar to security but should be non-authoritarian, technical - IT and A/V, media - Livestream or other documentarians, outreach - working with the public and recruiting. These are only examples!
- Colored armbands for workgroup members and sign at info tent with "key" to colors.
- Human microphone wherein persons gathered around the speaker repeat what the speaker says "amplifying" speaker's voice.
- General assembly gathering called to address issues and vote on group decisions.
- Tent city style campers should agree to work a three hour shift every day.
- Accountability by banning problem people if three group members agree and log it.
- "Manage" outside authorities by monitoring and proactively communicating with them.
- If asked if you have a permit (in USA), state: "Yes, it is a copy of the Constitution."
- Respect other person's way of "doing it."
- Listen and seek to understand before being understood.
- Use an open process for participants to endorse your common goals and contribute to them (this will create buy-in and gives everyone a reason to work together).
- Encourage natural public speakers and leaders not to dominate the discussion, facilitate shy participants joining in discussions.
- Gently use "process" to keep groups focused on agreed to goal/task; this is needed to produce "results" in a timely manner.
- If you are using a public space, be respectful of others who also want to use the space, like farmer's markets, sports teams, or even an established homeless community.
- If you need continuous "staffing," offset volunteers' start times so they don't all get tired and leave at the same time. "Many hands make light work" is an old saying that is still true today. Gathering with your friends and others to make new friends is a rewarding experience. It can be refreshing to interact with a group of people in person instead of on Xbox. And, if you have a large project, a group of volunteers may be the only way to complete it. After organizing your first free autonomous zone, you'll never see public spaces and parks in the same way!
"The TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can 'occupy' these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite a while in relative peace."
--- From an Anarchist essay in T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey (hermetic.com/bey/taz3
As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated in New York and New Jersey, communities can use these techniques to self-organize and provide mutual aid.