I went last night to a presentation by two women from Deep Green Resistance. It was an interesting presentation focusing on the question of how we make change in our world. The two presenters critiqued the myth that if we just bring enough awareness out there we can create a mass movement that will bring about change through solely nonviolent means. The presenters talked about how historians and story-tellers get to choose from a huge variety of details which ones they present, and so by focusing on Gandhi we ignore Bhagat Singh (and, for that matter, the fact that Gandhi called for systematic destruction of British property and considered that to be nonviolent!) Focusing on Martin Luther King Jr, we ignore that there were many other people calling for civil rights including those who rejected nonviolence.
In a time when even tree-sits are being labelled “eco-terrorist” actions, the distinction between violent and nonviolent gets really blurred. How is sitting in a tree and refusing to allow it to be cut a terrorist action? What about tearing up of GMO beet crops? Is that terrorism? Is it violence? It doesn’t make sense to say that destroying beets is violence towards plants, so I guess it would be considered violence towards the owners of the beets, but if the owners is a large multinational corporation…. can corporations feel pain? Is it violence? It is destruction of property, but is it violence?
Then there’s the question of legal or not legal. Wearing a mask at an “unlawful protest” is illegal in Canada. Does that make it wrong? If protests were outlawed altogether, would that make them wrong? I’ve been on ‘legal’ protests where the organizers have purchased permits beforehand, and I have been on illegal protests where the people just go ahead and do it. I reject the idea that we need to ask permission to do a protest or that it really is a protest is we have to ask permission!
We can think about actions as being direct or symbolic. Blocking the building of a pipeline is a direct action. Protesting about it in a different city is a symbolic action. Will symbolic actions bring change? Can enough of them? Or do we need to recognize that there are times for direct action? The basic plea in the presentation was that people recognize there is a need for a diversity of tactics, and help to build the social acceptance of them. There will be times when we need to really inconvenience people. There will be times when people cross barriers we are not comfortable with in order to stop greater harms. I’d like to believe everyone could do everything legal and within the system, but when the system is set up to allow the accumulation of profits with wanton disregard for the environment and poverty, what choice do we really have? Will we be content in the end to say “we failed, but we did everything legal”?
I speak hypothetically. I speak of my support for others who may make choices I know I cannot right now make. I speak because I read about people complaining that the police didn’t act quicker against the Occupy Movement or against Swampline Nine. I speak because legal is not the bar for right and wrong. I wish it could be. I wish that legal and righteous matched up, but they don’t so we have to stop holding people to the one bar and stand in solidarity with those who are working to save our ecosystems and bring justice for all.
Oh, and the discussion at the end of the meeting was funny, but what sticks out and makes me smile even now is when someone started talking about ‘technological unemployment’ (unemployment caused by all our technological advances) and one of the speakers brushed the comment aside with a comment about how she’s not concerned about unemployment as much as she is about the systems we have built that require people to sell their labour in order to survive. Employment is the problem, not unemployment. I smile and laugh because I know she’s not advocating that people sit around and do nothing and be supported by others. She’s arguing for us to think outside of that dichotomy of employment good/unemployment bad, which is used to try to force us all to accept bad policies and keep us in our places.