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Activism, Uncensored: On Winning and Losing Strategies of Climate Change Protest
As News2Share coverage shows, protest message matters, but so does execution
“From history we’ve seen that civil disobedience, doing disruption, it works…”
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE RO-A-A-A-D!!!”
In another taut piece of narrative journalism, Ford Fischer and the News2Share crew follow over a period of weeks the travails of Declare Emergency and Scientist Rebellion, a small group of star-crossed climate change activists from Minnesota who have an up-and-down protest sojourn to the nation’s capital.
Any reporter who’s covered street activism knows there are rules of successful demonstrations. One, numbers matter. More is usually better, and much more even better than that (although even one individual can make a powerful statement). Two, have a clear message. Three, have just one message. Four, logistics matter. Five, only annoy the right people.
Declare Emergency runs the gamut in Washington. The chaining-ourselves-to-the-White-House gambit seems to go well, but highway-blocking exercises, not so much. A few scenes stick out. When one stalled motorist standing in his sunroof yells, “You’re angering people! This ain’t shit!” one of the protesters responds with, “Hey, we’re brown too, they don’t listen to us!”, which doesn’t seem to lower the temperature.
On April 12th, an attempted protest ends in disaster. The group’s converted School Bus, with its esprit de corps-signaling nickname “Cool Bus,” not only breaks down en route to the demonstration, but ends up parked illegally, giving local police room to run wild on them. I’d be interested to hear from lawyers on the $1000 ticket scene, particularly the part where a cop tries to reassure them in perfect deadpan that a breakdown is an affirmative defense in court. It felt like he could have just not written the ticket, but wanted to mess with the group and jelly their knees via the massive fine as a boredom-killing exercise.
It all feels like a karmic warning, of course ignored. The next day, protesters again go with the highway gambit. A last aside: if a road is blocked because ten million antiwar marchers are filling the streets of the world’s capitals, or because miles of trucks are shutting the door between the U.S. and Canada, people may seethe, but their homicidal thoughts will at least be broadened temporarily. If it’s ten activists and a guy in a walker, someone gets out of a car.
“You guys are raising awareness,” shouts one man. “I’ve got to get to my wife. She’s pregnant! What the fuck!”
More above from the cameras of News2Share.