In this week’s news, environmentalists’ British adiabatic campaign, which repeatedly blocked M25 and parts of Dover’s harbor, certainly fueled debate. The right wing press has his arms crossed. Fragments of angry comments target “half a dozen madmen in bright orange vests” and their “crazy self-satisfying carnival.” Good Morning Britain host, Richard Madley asks “What do we think of their intellectual vanity?”
The imminent climate catastrophe has been reduced to the issue of personal irritation, and much of this debate has focused on whether protests should ever be devastating. BBC Radio 4 host Evan Davis quizzes one of the protesters when he quizzes “you’re in the way of others’ lives” and “it’s very frustrating for many.” Said.
But the protest seems destructive. And research suggests that direct action is more effective than “non-destructive” methods such as petitions and demonstrations, as seen in British insulation tactics.
This may include tactics such as occupying buildings and factories, blocking entrances to roads and facilities, blocking evictions by court officials, and damaging dangerous weapons and machinery. In fact, it is often destructive protests that routinely bring about positive social change. Many of our rights today have been won by destructive protests. Women’s rights, black rights, LGBTQ rights.
In Flint’s sit-in strike in the United States in the 1930s, workers simply sat down and confused the factory in protest of working conditions. This has led to one of the greatest expansions of worker rights in US history.
Most recently, in 2019, there was a devastating protest against Chile’s public transport fare increases. It saw protesters organize mass denials of fare payments and disruptions to the fare system, forcing stations to open and allowing people to travel without payment. The protest eventually led to the drafting of a new, more democratic constitution.
With the destructive Yellow Vest movement in France, including road blockages and roundabout occupations, the president has launched a series of public consultations, promising tax cuts for low-income earners.
Countries with high levels of destructive protest tend to have low levels of austerity and welfare reductions. And in the UK, destructive hydraulic fracturing protests have succeeded in ending hydraulic fracturing in the UK (at least for now). If it works, protests can frustrate some people. Claiming that the protest is non-stop is equivalent to accepting and accepting that things should go “normal.”
Does this mean that “freedom for all” is needed for all kinds of protests, no matter how destructive? of course not. Protesters should clearly focus their efforts on the people and processes that are causing the social harm being addressed. Protests should also endeavor to increase the influence and voice of those who have been weakened by harmful processes. Don’t make things worse.
But the call to simply avoid the “irritability” of the imaginary “ordinary citizens” does not lead us anywhere in dealing with the climate catastrophe we are facing. Perhaps that’s why people at the more conservative edge of the political spectrum are so enthusiastic about claiming the importance of avoiding irritation.
Focusing on the stimulus also raises the question of who is being stimulated. In the last 12 months, the climate crisis has caused wildfires in California and catastrophic floods in Germany. About a quarter of UK children attend schools at risk of dangerous levels of pollution, asthma, obesity and mental illness. According to the IPCC report, the most optimistic scenarios we can expect are record floods, heat waves, droughts, monsoon collapses, glacier melting, and sea level rise around the world.
In a “normal business” scenario where we all live a “normal” life, it is very likely that humanity will be wiped out. Now it certainly will be more than just frustration.
David J. Bailey is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on protest politics.