North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

No such thing as peaceful intimidation

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Reap what you sow

I am no fan of protests, peaceful or otherwise, so I found this story about some Greenpeacers being “actively resisted” both amusing and interesting (tip: Bill’s Comment’s).

A short summary is that they entered a London trading floor for petroleum, planning to disrupt trading in an effort to voice concern over air quality. The traders would have none of it and beat the heck out them. I’m inclined to back the traders on this one, with a few caveats thrown in.

I am willing to overlook protests that really are peaceful. Blocking access to property that is not yours is not peaceful. This is obvious in cases of private property, but it applies to public property as well, since public property does not belong to protestors alone. I don’t actually care if I like your cause or not. Being right about the ends does not give one carte blanche on the means.

I have only taken part in one such protest and I’m sure it’ll surprise no one that it was a pro life event. We held signs on a busy public street, making no attempt to block anyone’s use of the street or the sidewalk. The signs were not rude or threatening, not unless you consider “abortion hurts women” to be menacing (there were no pictures involved, only simple text). It took some convincing to get me even to do that, not that I had any doubts about the cause.

Now, I think the people from Greenpeace were clearly in the wrong here. They had no business interrupting business on the trading floor in London. If they had a point to make, it is up to them to find a way to make it, without interrupting the lives of others. The trouble with the folks from Greenpeace is that they assume they are right, and that being right justifies anything they do. They remind me of tourists who think the locals will understand them better if they talk louder. No, the solution here is to communicate better, so that people will want to hear you out and may even be convinced of your cause.

The traders were right to be offended, and I don’t have much quarrel with them forcing the intruders out. On whether or not excessive violence was used, I’m not in a position to say. It is easy to say that the traders went too far, hitting people who were down. The problem is that flopping on the ground like a sack of potatoes it is such a common tactic among certain types of protestor. Were the people from Greenpeace down, signaling submission, or were they up to their usual “peaceful sack of potatoes in a place they have no right to be in” routine? That tactic may have worked years ago, when it was new. It made skillful use of television cameras, creating the appearance that the attacker was in fact a victim. To put it subtly, however, this is a new generation and a much more media savvy one. We’ve seen it before and we know more than the camera shows, making the potato tactic yesterday’s news.

I also note that the protestors entered illegally, while “blowing whistles and sounding fog horns … Rape alarms were tied to helium balloons to float to the ceiling and create noise out of reach.” Tactics like these emphasize that what is happening is a soft form of war, or of terrorism. It is intended to disrupt the opposition and make it difficult for them to respond. It is a form of intimidation.

The whole stupid exercise was one large act of intimidation.

If, however, the protestors were backing off, then they should not have been beaten. Restraining them so that they could be arrested for trespass would also be fair. Perhaps in the future Greenpeace can either conduct a more peaceful protest, or find another way to get the camera’s attention. After all, you bright things are future, right? I’m sure you’ll think of something.


Written by Curt

February 24, 2005 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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