Civil disobedience was a major component of the protest at Clayoquot and as result a lot of people were arrested for blocking roads and access to the forests. The major difference between the civil disobedience of 1993 and that of 2015 was in the consequences of the protestors’ actions. What a lot of the current generation of protestors seem not to recognize is that there is no “right” to commit civil disobedience. I listen with decreasing interest to protestors who argue about their “rights” since most appear to have no clue what a “right” actually means under the law/constitution. Most activists these days appear to believe that they should be allowed to block roads and break the law with impunity. One feature of the protests in 1993 that has apparently been forgotten by our current generation of activists, was that back then the protestors did not simply get to walk away after being picked up by the police. These protestors were arrested, charged, and had to face the consequencces of their actions in a court of law. As described in the Wikipedia article on the subject (ref) “of the 932 people arrested, 860 were prosecuted in eight trials with all those prosecuted for criminal intent found guilty”. As recounted, many of protestors ended up spending time in jail. Can you imagine a modern environmentalist discovering that their actions would get them sent to jail?
By 1994, the time of my writing, there were two significantly differing views on how to progress within the environmentalist community, 1) the “activist” route of civil disobedience and direct action and 2) what I called the “pragmatic” approach. At the time, I was strongly influenced by the writings of Alan Borovoy whose book “Uncivil Obedience” I had taken to heart. For those of you not familiar with either, Alan Borovoy was something of a hero of mine. He was a champion of civil liberties and spent a considerable amount of time as the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. In his book he talked of how activists can work within the system to foment change. He talked of forming alliances, making life challenging for the people on the other side but emphasized the importance of remaining within the letter of the law. My “Rules of Engagement” were drawn from the ideas expressed in his book. The pragmatic approach involved making allies, fighting within the system and making structural changes.
As I describe in my previous post Modern Environmentalism: Trying to replicate the Clayoquot, we all know who won out on that schism in the 1990s. The activists built on their successes and used those successes to purge the moderates from their ranks. Since that time moderate environmentalists have been efficiently and effectively shown the door and the movement is run by the purveyors of the big, loud protests. As a consequence, in the modern environmental movement a moderate or pragmatic environmentalist is about as common as a spotted owl. We are told they exist and one or two are photographed every year, but they are now more noted by their absence than their presence.
This brings me back to the Ensia article quoted above. You see the premise of the Ensia article is that we need both “good cops” and “bad cops” to move ourselves forward. 1994-me would absolutely concur with that sentiment but 2015-me has a question for the author of the Ensia piece (a shorter version of which I have asked online and will append if it arrives):
In this hypothetical scenario of the “good cop” and “bad cop” we all know the bad cops are but I cannot for the life of me find any “good cops”. Can you name any “good cops” that can serve in the role you argue they need to occupy?
So where do we go from here? Well, there is a lost generation of potential allies out there wandering in the metaphorical wilderness. These people, like myself, want to be a part of the solution but are tired of being treated, at best, like unwanted pets and, at worst, as the enemy. As I have mentioned previously, we live in a democracy and in order to advance your cause in a democracy you need at least a plurality of the population on your side. Modern environmentalists have become very good at making enemies and alienating potential allies and very bad at building consensus and creating coalitions. Until they can do the latter they will remain on the outside looking in; all the time complaining bitterly when the people they abuse and mistreat don’t go out of their way to make their lives easier. Until they are willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt they aren’t going to be able to convince the working stiffs, stuck in traffic because of their illegal protests, to support them with their causes.