Airport actions & campaigns – lessons learned on successful strategies and tactics

by | 08 Nov 2020 | Webinar

Despite climate crisis and global pandemic, airport expansion and construction projects are being planned or continued around the world. Those projects involve new land acquisition, the destruction of ecosystems, displacement of people – sometimes including human rights violations – local pollution and health issues; all of them exacerbate climate breakdown. Airport projects therefore face resistance across the globe. What is defined as successful struggle by those opposing such projects can vary – from the stop of the project, a delay or compensation, recognition of land rights, to growing resistance.

On the 17h of November, Stay Grounded organized the webinar “Airport actions & campaigns” to hear about tactics and strategies used in anti-airport struggles from people who helped do it. Whilst the tactics and strategies always will depend on the local context, this webinar tried to identify some transferable principles for successful campaigning. Find the video recording below and the presentation here.

This webinar built on a previous Stay Grounded webinar “Airport Conflicts – Struggles for Environmental Justice”.


Struggle against German company Fraport in Vila Nazaré, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Tara Burke, from MTST – Homeless Workers Movement Rio Grande do Sul, shared lessons learned from the struggle against Fraport in Porto Alegre, Brazil. There, Vila Nazaré, a village home to more than 5,000 people, had to give way to an airport expansion pushed through by German company Fraport. A mix of approaches was used to resist from legal prosecution and scientific studies to solidarity work – following the money and holding Fraport accountable at its AGM in Germany –  as well as alternative media work. Ensuring prior and informed consent of the affected communities would have made a big difference in this struggle. Unfortunately this was not the case, instead the consultations were accompanied by intimidation and criminalization of protest leaders.

La Zad – stopping the airport of Notre-Dames-des-Landes, France

Activist and artist John Jordan shared his personal perspective on the decade-long resistance against an airport project in Notre-Dames-des-Landes, near Nantes, France. Squatters and climate justice activists, local farmers and villagers, citizen groups, trade unionists, naturalists and many others had organised together using a true diversity of complementary strategies and tactics to protect the area called La ZAD (zone to be defend). The mobilization lead to the cancellation of the project in 2018. The alliance ‘against the airport and its world’ was a true composition – without trying to convince each other but being open to transform through being together. Standing united against attempts of the government to divide the movement (at until the common enemy of the airport-project ceased to exist) was an important factor for the success. The resistance always tried to be one step ahead, eg. already planning the rebuilding during evictions. The struggle was based on strong visionary and imaginative elements, embodying the belief in the victory and not only showing the ‘no’ to the airport, but showing the ‘yes’ to what people were fighting for, inhabiting the territory under threat. The principle of following the money was also applied, challenging the multinational corporations involved in the project via their less powerful sub-contractors. Last but not least, the struggle needed persistence: it was after 178 legal challenges against it lost that project was finally cancelled.

Historic success against Bristol Airport Expansion, UK

Stephen Clarke, from Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) shared his learnings from the successful climate mobilization that lead to Councillors voting against the expansion in the local planning process. He recommended to choose carefully whom to address. In Bristol, the efforts concentrated on decision makers with tailored messages without wasting time talking to the airport or its owner directly. BAAN tried to influence decision makers through media effective actions, using civil disobedience, and making concerned voices visible – eg. collecting signatures and then printing them filling up several books. Asking potentially supportive celebrities to communicate their position helped increase the outreach. It also payed off to spend time on creating protest-props and design them in a way, that they could be used again and again.

Header image by Latuff 2017