Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Too Tame

Trey Smith

The scene was striking for its dissonance. Fifty activists massed in front of the White House, some of them sitting, others tied to the iron fence, most of them smiling, all decorous looking, not a Black Blocker or Earth First!er in the viewshed. The leaders of this micro-occupation of the sidewalk held a black banner featuring Obama’s campaign logo, the one with the blue “O” and the curving red stripes that looks like a pipeline snaking across Kansas. The message read, prosaically: “Lead on Climate: Reject the KXL Pipeline.” Cameras whirred frantically, most aimed at the radiant face of Daryl Hannah, as DC police moved in to politely ask the crowd to disperse. The crowd politely declined. The Rubicon had been crossed. For the first time in 120 years, a Sierra Club official, executive director Mike Brune, was going to get arrested for an act of civil (and the emphasis here is decisively on civil) disobedience.

Brune had sought special dispensation for the arrest from the Sierra Club board, a one-day exemption to the Club’s firm policy against non-violent civil disobedience, The Board assented. One might ask, what took them so long? One might also ask, why now? Is the Keystone Pipeline a more horrific ecological crime than oil drilling in grizzly habitat on the border of Glacier National Park or the gunning down of 350 wolves a year in the outback of Idaho? Hardly. The Keystone Pipeline is one of many noxious conduits of tar sand oil from Canada, vile, certainly, but standard practice for Big Oil.

...As the cops strolled in to begin their vanity arrests, they soon confronted the inscrutable commander of these delicately chained bodies, Bill McKibben, leader of the massively funded 350.Org. McKibben had repeatedly referred to this as the environmental movement’s “lunch counter moment,” making an odious comparison to the Civil Right’s movement’s courageous occupation of the “white’s only” spaces across the landscape of the Jim Crow era, acts of genuine defiance that were often viciously suppressed by truncheons, fists and snarling dogs.

But McKibben made no attempt to stand his ground. He allowed the PlastiCuffs that tied his thin wrists to the fence to be decorously snipped. He didn’t resist arrest; instead he craved it. This was a well-orchestrated photo-op moment.
~ from Designer Protests and Vanity Arrests in DC by Jeffrey St. Clair ~
In many ways, the environmental movement has become too tame. Photo-ops and political stances have become more important than mounting a real opposition. It is bothersome to me that far too many of these "protests" have become so well choreographed. It's like all sides are "in" on the little game being played.

R-E-A-L protest is risky. When you challenge the establishment, you don't always know how they will handle it. There should be an element of danger as you get up in their faces to tell them in no uncertain terms, "We ain't moving voluntarily!"

Some of you might think it is damn easy for a person like me to sit here at my computer keyboard to urge others to take chances. I won't be out there on the front lines. I won't be the one to risk arrest...or worse.

While that's true in the present tense, I have participated in many a non-choreographed protest in the past. We didn't file our protest plans with any authorities and there were no "wink, wink" agreements. As luck would have it, I was never arrested nor brutalized by the police, but there were quite a few protests that I helped organize that easily could have gone either way.

Many of today's designer protests lack any real tension. It's like they hand out scripts before they get underway and each participant -- including the authorities -- plays their role. It really smacks of being a performance, more than anything else. These performances aren't going to make a hill of beans worth of difference...except that enviro groups can use the photo-ops to generate more donations, so they can plan even more photo-ops.


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