On November 13, demonstrators in southern California blockaded a defense contractor facility in solidarity with the Palestinians on the receiving end of the bombs that it produces. This report explores how they managed to do so.
At 7 am on November 13, dozens of people converged on the sprawling southern California campus of the defense contractor Raytheon in response to a call from Workers in Palestine to take direct action to block the flow of arms to the Israeli military. They blockaded the facility for more than seven hours, during which a couple hundred more demonstrators joined the action in waves, drawn by social media announcements. Together, they succeeded in shutting down operations at the facility for the day.
Located just south of Los Angeles International Airport and across from the controversial Chevron oil refinery, Raytheon is one of several weapons manufacturers headquartered in southern California. Like Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Elbit Systems, and General Dynamics, Raytheon profits from contracts with the United States Department of Defense. These contracts enable Raytheon and other weapons manufacturers to profit from providing military technology such as Sidewinder missiles, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Tamir interceptor missiles, and joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs) to the Israeli military.
Such contracts have enabled the Israeli military to kill over 11,000 Palestinians since the Hamas attack on October 7. The Israeli military has intentionally targeted hospitals, housing, and educational facilities; almost half of the Palestinian dead are children. Approximately one out of every two hundred people in Gaza has been killed and there is no indication that the Israeli government has any intention of stopping. Elements of the Israeli government have explicitly proposed to force every single Palestinian that they do not kill to flee to the Sinai peninsula, killing or displacing 2.3 million people.
This is genocide. The Israeli military is intentionally killing Palestinians by the thousand, solely on the basis of their ethnicity. Direct action against the arms industry that makes this possible is one of the only things that could mitigate the disaster.
People called for and coordinated this action autonomously, without the formal involvement of any organization or group. On Saturday morning, November 11, a save-the-date flier circulated on social media directing people to a link to join a dedicated Telegram channel. This announcement provided less than two days’ notice of the action. Exactly an hour before the start of the action, at 6 am, a message appeared on the Telegram channel announcing the exact location and target.
An hour later, groups gathered at four locations around the facility, since it was necessary to block all three of the main entrances in order to shut down work for the day. The meeting points included the main driving entrance to the facility at the intersection of El Segundo Boulevard and Continental Boulevard, the first walk in/key card entrance on Continental Boulevard, the walk in/key card entrance in the nearby plaza with restaurants, and the back entrance on South Hughes Way and South Allied Way.
First, people barricaded the main entrance and the walking entrances. Employees were redirected to the back entrance, which was over a mile away—a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk. This was the most isolated of all the entrances and the last one to be barricaded.
When participants arrived at the back entrance at Hughes/Allied Way at approximately 7:20 am, it only took three people to begin establishing a barricade and turning cars away. Shortly after the arrival of more people at that location, a large Raytheon truck pulled out of the gate. People stopped the truck at the barricade and the driver turned around, despairing of leaving the facility. In this area, participants used nearby construction materials to create three layers of barricades stretching from the back entrance out to the cross street.
At two of the three entrances, people smashed the key pads like piñatas. A highly trafficked four-lane road was filled with rocks from nearby commercial landscaping along with various construction, roadwork, and traffic control materials. The atmosphere was lively, with music provided by a mobile sound system and the occasional use of smoke bombs. Some people displayed banners; others added messages to Raytheon signs. The participants did not police each other, but communicated respectfully.
The organizers’ decision not to share the location of the action until the last moment may have limited the number of participants, but it also succeeded in delaying the police response. Police arrived at the back entrance at 9:25 am, over two hours after the blockade began. This included El Segundo police (ESPD), Culver City police (CCPD), and Hermosa Beach police (HBPD). Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) joined them there later.
El Segundo police arrived at the front entrance at 10:53 am, but eventually left. Torrance and Inglewood police showed up at front entrance with support from other agencies at 12:04 pm.
It took police many hours to establish control of the situation. The various police departments called in struggled to coordinate with one another. The officers seemed confused. Those from one department would give an order from one direction and officers from another department would interrupt them with another order from a different direction. It wasn’t clear what they were telling people to do; often, their orders were completely unintelligible.
It did not appear that the local police were experienced doing crowd control in this kind of situation. They prioritized getting into the Raytheon campus in order to protect it from the inside rather than interacting with demonstrators.
When the first barricade appeared at the more isolated back entrance, police got out of their vehicles and laboriously moved the barriers, traffic cones, and fencing out of their way. After the back barricade was cleared, demonstrators there established a roving picket, moving further out into the two streets that led to the back entrance. This enabled them to continue blocking access to the facility.
This roving picket was eventually displaced by the large numbers of police that began driving into the site in order to position officers inside of the barricade at the main entrance. After a number of routine police cars entered this way, multiple SWAT Humvees and emergency vehicles began to barrel through.
In the end, the police response included officers from El Segundo, Torrance, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Culver City, Gardena, Hawthorne, and Inglewood, as well as the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and police from Los Angeles International Airport. Four helicopters hovered above the site for hours. Nonetheless, protestors strategically shifted between the three entrance sites, reinforcing numbers as needed and effectively protecting each other from arrest. The action concluded without any arrests or injuries, despite the fact that by the time the participants decided to disperse, the numbers of protesters and police were roughly even.
This was not the first action against Raytheon since the latest chapter of the tragedy in Palestine began. On November 1, over 100 Jewish and Palestinian solidarity activists staged a die-in to block an entrance to a Raytheon office in Tucson, Arizona. On November 8, activists in Arlington, Virginia staged a die-in and issued Raytheon a “subpoena” for a Merchants of Death Tribunal. The following day, 150 people disrupted Raytheon’s site in Goleta, California to demand that the United States government call for a cease-fire, an end to private military contracts between Raytheon and the Department of Defense, and for the United States to stop arming Israel. They blocked the main entrance to the site, forcing workers to enter from another entrance. All of these actions drew attention to the role of Raytheon, but it remained to be seen how a smaller number of people could completely shut down a Raytheon facility, even only for a single day.
Los Angeles can be a challenging context in which to organize direct action. Almost 13 million people live in the vicinity of the metropolitan area, but this population is spread out across a vast space. While public transportation is available, it is rarely accessible or rapid; this makes gathering difficult, whether for organizing or for actions. Most of the more radical political networks are more or less isolated, owing to geography, ideological conflicts, and the complications of identity politics.
Consequently, turnout at demonstrations in this city has often been much smaller than what you would expect in a place with such a large population. Many of those who do show up are leftists and liberals who, at best, are absorbed into organizations that focus on actions involving a high degree of top-down control and deliberately limited impact. Such organizations often use rhetoric about safety to justify cooperating with the police.
This sort of horizontally organized action is rare in the political terrain of Los Angeles. The method via which this action was announced did not draw massive numbers of people, but it minimized the danger that police or counterprotestors would mobilize in response. Once the action got underway, the news about it drew out more people, who were integral to its success.
It’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) did not respond to the action, and this was a factor in how it played out. LAPD is one of the largest police forces in the United States; they have a lot of practice using crowd control and counterinsurgency tactics, and they train with the Israeli occupation forces. At the same time, they have a more established protocol for engaging with protests, so they can be somewhat more predictable. In some cases, they choose a more hands-off approach in responding to occupations. Arguably, it is easier to overwhelm smaller police departments from neighboring towns, but this can result in them taking a heavy-handed approach. In this particular case, the absence of LAPD worked out for the best, as the small-town cops were overextended and did not frontally attack the crowd.
Participating in direct action always involves a leap of faith, placing one’s trust in the value of solidarity and setting out to discover what is possible in the course of acting. This is something that demands practice: we must act, reflect and try again. This particular experiment succeeded in bridging several communities, bringing people together across different strategies, experiences, skillsets, backgrounds, and degrees of risk tolerance. Prioritizing security, diversity of tactics, and concrete impact over symbolism set the stage for an effective intervention relative to the number of people who participated in it and the time it took to plan.