with modifications by the editor
Tree-sitting has been a popular form of protest for some time now, but what is the urban activist to do when all around is nothing but gray, ugly oppressive buildings?
The answer: take one!
Taking over a building roof nonviolently is a simple and effective form of protest. It's safe, fun, and almost always leads to media coverage of the event. This document describes in as much detail as possible how to do this.
Planning What to Do Once you Have the Building
Before you take over a building roof, first decide what you're going to do once you successfully have control of it. Will you hang banners on the sides? Will you have a hunger strike? Will you have a "street party" complete with music and fire-breathing? If you're doing this for the first time, I'd recommend sticking with just banners and expanding from there.
It's also important to keep your "eye on the ball". What is your ultimate goal in taking over the roof? Likely it will be raising awareness of your issue and gaining visibility, but be clear on your goals ahead of time, as with every decision you make you will want to make sure it is compatible with this goal.
Once you have your goal in mind, start working towards it. If you plan on hanging banners from the sides, make those banners now. If you plan on having a rooftop "street party", begin the necessary networking now.
Finding a Building to Take Over
There are different strategies for doing this. You may find the building, or the building may find you.
* Unlocked Doors or Easy Access
First, methodically go into every 8 story or higher building in the downtown area of your city and check for easy roof access. Start with your local city government buildings as they are less likely to press charges against you once the standoff is over, whereas a private owner is more likely to throw the book at you due to capital interests.
Find the elevator, go to the top floor, find the stairwell, then start climbing. If you see signs that say "NO ROOF ACCESS" ignore them -- these are sometimes there only to discourage people and often just mean that the roof is (or is supposed to be) locked.
It's also a good idea to dress appropriately as per that building. A dress shirt and tie for men or a nice business skirt for women works wonders in blending in. You should also have a quick "story" should security catch you checking the door to the roof -- usually just acting dumb and saying "I'm lost" is sufficient.
Finding a building with an unlocked door or easy roof access will make your life 100% easier than otherwise.
It's also a good idea to check newer buildings or buildings still under construction, as the roof doors are more likely to be unlocked because they have so many contractors and workers accessing it that they don't bother locking it.
A final "easy access" route is checking fire escapes on the side, but I don't recommend this because then "authority" has an easy way to get to you as well.
* Padlocks and Locked Doors
Some buildings have just padlocks on the door to the roof, or it may have a "hatch" style door. Malls particularly tend to be locked in this manner. Padlocked roof doors are your friend.
If the door is genuinely locked, there's still some easy ways to get in without needing special skills or equipment.
* Special Targets
You may choose a building for a specific reason, be it a mall to protest anti-consumerism or perhaps city hall to protest a certain policy. If that's the case, then your challenge will be to get roof access no matter how entry is secured.
With all buildings, however, stick to one in a high-trafficked area (i.e. downtown) and one that's at least 8 stories high for maximum visibility.
Gaining Roof Access
Once you've found the building, you'll have to crack it open. If the building has open or easy roof access you can skip this section.
Make note of the size, type, and brand of the lock and go to your local hardware store and purchase a similar-looking lock (or go to a corporate store and shoplift one). Pick up a pair of bolt cutters as well.
Now enter the building with the cutters hidden under a trench-coat (again dressing as a businessperson so as not to arouse attention) and cut the lock off replacing it with the identical one for later use.
If it's not a "new" or "under construction" building, nobody will notice the change for at least a week, if at all!
* Locked Doors
These present much greater of a challenge, but with some patience and ingenuity can be tackled as well.
One method would be social engineering.
For example, you could bring a camera, tripod, and light meter and say that you are a photographer for the local paper (or a student photographer) and need a picture of the city's skyline from the rooftop for a story you're doing. Once you're up there, you can say that it'll take about an hour or so (this is professional photographic equipment after all) and that there's no need for them to stay up there with you, and that you'll let them know when you're done.
While up there, you could call your co-conspirators on a cell phone (or give them a signal from the roof) and they could tromp up the stairwell and you'd begin the action right then and there.
There are plenty of more ways to manipulate your way to an open roof door or key -- use your imagination.
Securing the Roof Door
This is absolutely the most essential step! The only leverage you have is a secure door -- as long as they can't open the door, they can't do anything about your presence short of sending a police helicopter out or doing major damage to the door in attempting to open it, which are both options they won't pursue as long as they know you are peaceful, nonviolent, and are not committing any crimes such as property destruction while you are up there.
So, how does one secure the door with confidence? Answer: weld the fucker!
Anything short of welding the thing shut and you risk having your action be cut short. Now, when I say welding, I do mean welding and not just your standard sold-in-grocery-stores propane torch. You'll need to go to a hardware store to get one. I'm not going to go into detail on how to do the welding as most of you won't go to this extreme and those of you that will can get a book or instruction from the salesperson, but I do want to emphasize safety here. Make sure you're not in a "no smoking -- flammable tanks" area of the roof, and make sure there's no chance of someone opening the door while you're welding it, catching you by surprise and causing injury or death.
Also note that if you weld the door you'll probably be causing damage to the property, so be prepared to deal with that when you come down.
* Wire, Bars, and Duct Tape
Every roof door situation is unique, so again, I recommend tons of planning before execution. Take a picture of the inside and outside views of the roof door so you can examine them at home and plan how to shut it.
If you can somehow bar the door shut, do that. Be sure to use an extremely strong bar, one that if you put over your knee and tried to bend would not give even a bit. Anything weaker than that will surely break.
Wiring the door shut can also be effective, especially if in tandem with a bar. You can put wire around the door handle and secure it to something above and below the handle so that the handle will not turn up or down. If it's a round handle, you can put wire around the handle and wire it to something on the building on the handle side of the door, preventing the door from swinging open. You can also try to wire the hinges shut if the hinges are on your side (the outside). Wiring the door handle to the bar blocking the door from opening can add further reinforcement.
If there's a window on the door, put duct tape over the window so that they cannot see how you are keeping the door shut.
One thing to be aware of if using wire is that if they are able to open the door even slightly, once they see the wire they will freak out and think you might have a bomb. It might not be a bad idea to leave a note on the door (or your cell phone number for them to call) to make sure they understand you are an activist and not a terrorist and that you are committed to nonviolence (don't mention that you don't have a bomb unless they specifically ask you).
* Jamming the Lock
If the door was locked, you can put "crazy glue" style adhesive to jam up the barrels inside the lock, which will keep them from being able to open it (if you can lock it beforehand). However, this has the disadvantage of you not being able to let yourself out at the end of your protest, plus causing definite damage to the property, plus not being able to maintain a stronghold as a locksmith could have it off within a matter of hours.
No matter which method you use to secure the door, remember that as soon as they get the door open, it's game over. Also, be sure to check to see if there's more than one door to the roof -- often there's a second door that's used for entry to a heating/air-conditioning area that they could use to come up.
You'll also have to be clever in how to get these materials (as well as your banners, if you're doing it all in one step) into the building and on the roof without arousing attention. Plain boxes work good, but "business-related" boxes work best. For example, a box from a computer monitor would receive no attention at all as it looks like you're moving things or perhaps making a delivery.
Execution of Protest
Once you're up there and the door is secure, your work has only begun. Familiarize yourself with the roof and decide where to set up. Hang your banners using generous amounts of duct tape and/or rope and wire. Be certain your banners won't fall -- if they are lost, so is your action!
Roofs are usually filthy, and as tape does not adhere to dirty surfaces as well as clean surfaces, keep this in mind as a factor.
If you brought a sleeping bag or blanket, break down the box you used to carry the materials onto the roof and use it as a "floor" to put your stuff on -- you can always re-tape it into a box later.
Timing is important as well. Find out ahead of time if security is there 24/7 or if they leave at a certain time. If they're 24/7, then any weekday around noon or so is good as you'll have lots of pedestrians and traffic below. If they leave at a certain time or are gone for the weekend, use that to your advantage to delay their response.
If you live in a city with "rush hour" news helicopters, use that to your advantage as well. Hang all but one of the signs up, put the last sign on the ground of the roof, and call up all the news stations from your cell phone (or have a friend do it from the ground at a predetermined time) so that the media will be all the more likely to cover your action since they're up there and in the air anyway, and it's no extra effort to come out there on their part.
Speaking of the media, if you do contact them be sure to use terms like "holding the building hostage", "giant 100 square foot banners with red letters", "bolted the door completely shut" etc. You want to exaggerate slightly (i.e. truthfully) and play up the "excitement" aspect of it as much as possible. The media loves blood, not nice and quiet peaceful protests.
Dealing with the Police
The police will come. If you have a cell phone, I recommend giving them your number, or even calling them yourself. If you can absolutely assure them that you are committed to nonviolence, that you have nothing up there but a sleeping bag, a book, and the signs, that you are not a danger to yourself or anyone else, and that you will peacefully come down after x number of days, they'll likely let you be. If you plan on being up there indefinitely, at least tell them you'll only be up there for three days or so as they'll be less likely to act (as 3 days is less of a threat than 30 or indefinitely). On that token, Friday night is a good time to go up (with claiming Sunday night as your "coming down" day) because the weekend is less likely to interfere with any legitimate need for the building owner to access the roof, as any contractors will typically be there only on weekdays.
I also recommend giving the police your real name, address, and date of birth. This further communicates to them that you're willing to cooperate and are peaceful, and lets them know that you have nothing to hide and are doing nothing really wrong (outside of trespassing).
If you need to remain anonymous, have a friend on the ground to talk to them to try to affirm the same sentiments. Even here, I do not recommend even wearing a face mask, as that is just one more reason to place doubt in the police's minds that you have something to hide and are therefore doing something illegal (outside of trespassing).
Again, do not mention the fact that you do not have weapons or a bomb up there! If you initiate the subject they will think you are being defensive and are therefore lying -- keep the conversation on the fact that you only want to hang some banners and spend x number of nights there and answer the weapon/bomb question if they bring it up. They'll also ask you if there's anyone up there with you -- if there is, be upfront about it, because if a helicopter discovers evidence to the contrary, again they'll become immediately distrustful and intent on getting you down from there ("If they're lying about that, they're probably lying about other things").
If things go well the police will likely just leave you alone. Don't be surprised if this happens! Also, don't be cocky if this happens. If you make the police (or the city's) response look weak in the eyes of the media, they'll most certainly respond by "throwing the book" at the next person that does this.
Dealing with the Building Owner
Once the police are gone it's not clear sailing from there. The police's interest is in the public safety, but the owner's interest is purely in money.
As long as you're up there, you're a liability to the owner, and you therefore need to be removed.
They might insist that the police break open the door, or they might have their own security staff do it. Whatever happens, you need to make sure the building owner knows what the police do: that you're not doing anything bad up there, etc.
They might not rest as easily with this knowledge as the police; again, if you fell, or injured yourself while up there, since it's on their property (even if it's city property!) you pose a financial liability to them (especially if they left the door open or were easily tricked into opening it for you).
Ultimately, the solution to this problem is what was stated earlier: make sure that door is fucking absolutely shut! As long as it's shut -- and if you state that if they try to open it it'll be costing them money, whereas if they let you be you'll come down peacefully and having caused no damage -- you're safe to stay.
Often there's running water (though brown and dirty) and electrical outlets (plug in a TV and watch yourself on the news!) as well as some form of shelter from the elements. But be prepared.
Bring: clean drinking water (and plenty of it), a container to piss in (you don't want your privates on the news), something to do while you're up there (books, radio, video games), plenty of warm clothing and blankets/sleeping bag (you'd be surprised how cold it is at night on a roof, especially with the wind that's up there), an umbrella if there's no place for shelter, hat/sun screen for the daytime if sunny, a hand-towel (again, it's very filthy on roof tops), nonperishable food (granola bars), plenty of extra wire/weld/duct tape/rope for adapting to unexpected door or banner conditions, and a cell phone (borrow one if you don't have one).
Don't bring: anything not essential, alcohol, weapons or anything that could be construed as a weapon in the event of a bust, or pot. Remember you're on the top of a building with no railing, and you don't want to get drunk or high and end up falling over the edge. Save it to celebrate at home when you get down.
When you're ready to come down, gather up your things, take down the banners (which can be reused), call the media again if they came the first time, remove all traces that you were there (so they can't claim property damage), and come down.
If you're trying to remain anonymous, then come down on a different day than you said you would so it'll catch them by surprise and you can escape.
If you're taking responsibility for your actions (again, which I recommend if you did this peacefully and without damage), give interviews to the media, pose for pictures, then go home, take a shower, and get some sleep!
Finally, even after all this work, don't be surprised if the media ignores your protest completely -- even if they came out to cover it, it doesn't mean they're going to air it, especially if you live in a mid-sized city of 500,000+.
Whether it gets mainstream coverage or not, be sure to have someone take pictures (and/or take pictures yourself) and write up a story or start a website and post the URL on sites that are protesting the same issue. Check http://www.indymedia.org to see if you have a local IMC, go to the local IMC site, and post your article there (being sure to email the editors for possible inclusion as a "front page" story).
Well, that's it. The worst you'll get will be a trespassing charge and/or minor property damage. The best you'll get is widespread coverage on the evening news and newspaper and local notoriety. What you'll get no matter what is an evening of fun and excitement.