8. ADVANCED ACTIVIST ISSUES
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
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? Isnt 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
- 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
- Chico Mendes and now Dorothy Strang were murdered trying to protect the Amazon
- Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were executed by the former Nigerian dictatorship.
- Indigenous rights activists Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Laheenae
Gay were murdered while helping Columbias Uwa 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 peoples
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 systems
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