These, then, are the tactics or methods of activism, and as you can see there are a lot at our disposal. All that we really require is more people, more activists, for their implementation. But, is this really the case? Perhaps it gets even more complicated than this. These are the basics of activism, but there are some advanced issues as well – issues that we will have to consider if we are to achieve our goals.

The first of these, which is of supreme importance, given the degree of resistance that people and institutions usually have to change, to becoming more ethical, is the subject of nonviolence. Said another way, when does activism become open rebellion? We are attempting to construct a better social order, and this means confronting minor, localized and containable problems, to ones that extend worldwide and which cause vast destruction; and also problems that make minor impositions on our freedom, all the way through to those which are responsible for full blown repression and extermination. At some point activism is not enough. Armed rebellion becomes necessary. (An exposition of this subject, including of where the transition takes place, is given in the Activist Ethics chapter.) Further, another way to look at this is to consider our goal. Is it reform, or revolution, or evolution, and if the last what, precisely, is required for social evolution to occur?

Also, there is the issue, mentioned earlier, of the violence that is directed at activists themselves.

Always the same trend emerges: where environmentalists are effective in bringing world attention to an issue, they are met with increased violence. Government authorities either turn a blind eye or actively participate by labeling the protester ‘violent’ to sanction the use of violence against them.”

- Extract of the review by Cindy Baxter of the book, Green Backlash, The Global Subversion of the Environmental Movement, Andrew Rowell, Earth First! Journal, June-July 1999, page 32

How should activists respond to this? Should you accept violence against your person? Isn’t this appeasement, and “unnatural”? It is not only Dr. Martin Luther King and Gypsy Chain (see Chapter 3) who have died in the fight for social justice and environmental conservation. There have been many other cases:

- Karen Silkwood was murdered after reporting safety violations at a Kerr-McGee nuclear plant in Oklahoma.
- Dian Fossey was murdered while working to save the highland gorillas of Central Africa.
- Chico Mendes and now Dorothy Strang were murdered trying to protect the Amazon rainforest.
- Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were executed by the former Nigerian dictatorship.
- Indigenous rights activists Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Lahe’ena’e Gay were murdered while helping Columbia’s U’wa tribe defend their homelands from exploitation by Occidental Petroleum.
-And, of course, many, many other individuals, from all manner of cultures, have been killed in similar struggles. (The issue of violence against activists is reviewed in more detail in the Activism and the Law chapter.)

Lastly, we must never forget that we want to change, not only protest. We therefore need to expend a lot of thought and energy on “exit strategies” and “follow-through,” the precise series of steps by which social and environmental harms will be reversed and then not allowed to recur. For instance, it is not enough to support the fight to change a dictatorship to a democracy; there are a number of practical issues that have to be considered as well. These include: the rapid installation of a peace-keeping force, to halt the commission of atrocities in the residual disorder; the resolution of conflicts between different competing or adversarial groups within the nation; the holding of elections, which requires independent oversight and verification, and the guarantee of safety for the voters; and the drafting of a constitution and a body of law guaranteeing personal freedoms, and enabling government structures and political parties and processes.

Then there is the question of the dictators: what do you do with them (and their cronies, and the current corrupt infrastructure including government officials and the army and the police)? Should you kill them outright, as in Romania, or via a trial, as at Nuremberg; imprison them and confiscate their assets; put them in internal exile – restrict their movements; or banish them from the country?

These are crucial decisions, and they also lead to some of the most difficult judgments of all. If you treat the dictators leniently, they may go more easily, but this is not justice. They have not paid the consequences of their actions, and it increases the likelihood that they, or their children, will return to power. Alternatively, if you pursue the objective that they must be held accountable, they will fight that much stronger to stay in power, quite possibly by increasing their repression. (A recent example of this was seen with the Serbian dictator Milosevic, and his ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians.)

Similarly, if you want to change modern society, where corporations and the media have gained such great power, how do you alter their structure, or people’s relationship to them, to achieve this change? In summary, our overall goal, as activists, is to propagate a new set of values, based on reason, such that the world attains a real equilibrium. But, again, how do we change the system’s set of values, and even if we can design such a process, and implement such a change, what new set of values should we have as our goal?

© Roland O. Watson 2005