Direct action praxis and the threshold of toleration.

datePosted on 23:17, February 11th, 2009 by Pablo

The 2007 police raids on an assortment of activists sparked heated debate amongst progressives throughout the country about the merits of direct action. Some, whom I shall unfairly label the “soft” Left, argue that under  no circumstances should violence be used in pursuit of political ideals. Others, who I shall flatter with the label “hard” Left, argue that under certain circumstances the resort to violence is justified. How do we reconcile these views?

Please note that I shall not be referring here to issues of right wing praxis. Besides the fact that I think that the ultra-Right are beneath contempt, I do not want to offer any pointers they might not already have. I will note, however, that it is curious that the Police and SIS focus their attention on Left activists and appear singularly uninterested in according the same treatment to neo-nazis, skinheads, anti-Semites and Aryan survivalists even though these losers openly advocate violence against people on their websites and in their communiques, and have a history of violence against those they hate. Perhaps it is a bias on the part of the Police and SIS; perhaps it is because the ultra-Right are inept, but either way, the double standard seems weird.

Getting back to the point, what constitutes legitimate direct action in Aotearoa? Let us begin with two simple definitions. Direct action is the use of non-institutionalised (to include illegal), highly symbolic methods of resistance, protest, grievance or voice in pursuit of political objectives. Praxis is the melding of theory and practice into a coherent strategy of action. From a praxis standpoint, the nature of the cause matters less than the nature of the action (although the people involved may disagree). The resort to extra-institutional forms of redress is designed to highlight the cause or issue that is the focus of the action. But to be successful, direct action has to follow some simple rules: 1) it must raise public consciousness about the issue in a way that institutionalised channels and agencies can or do not; 2) it must force a government and/or private agent’s reaction that otherwise would not obtain; 3) it must elicit majority sympathy for the action or empathy for the cause. This last point is important because it brings up the issue of the threshold of toleration, which is the point at which favourable public reaction tips over into rejection. The key for direct action adherents is to get as close to that threshold of toleration without stepping over it and producing a negative backlash against both the activists and their cause. So long as they stay within the threshold of toleration, their actions will be successful (whether or not they are arrested or charged for violating criminal or civil statutes). Finally, direct action adherents must accept the legal consequences of their actions and be prepared to use the judicial system as an echo chamber and bully pulpit in which to reiterate the justice of their cause.

The main issue confronting the direct action advocate is to ascertain the limits of the permissible. In  New Zealand, it appears that regardless of cause, violence against people is not acceptable to the majority. The irony of NZ government-ordered  brutality against protestors notwithstanding (say, during the 1954 dockworkers strike or Springbok tour), it is clear that the majority of New Zealanders abhor political violence against persons. Hence, “terrorists” will find little fertile ground here, and anything that results in physical harm or the threat of harm to people is likely to elicit a negative reaction from the pubic. But what about things such as spitting or throwing excrement or blood on others? Is that within the threshold of toleration? In NZ, I would think not.

On the other hand, violence against property, be it public or private, is more open to discussion.  With sedition laws no longer in force, where are the limits to physical assaults on property? Is throwing a brick through a bank window an acceptable protest against corporate greed? Is painting a statue or monument in blood legitimate? Is setting fire to a mosque or synagogue acceptable protest against the perceived transgressions of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or Israel? Is trying to occupy NZDF headquarters acceptable protest against NZ involvement in foreign conflicts? Is destroying animal testing facilities OK? Is sabotaging rail lines to impede coal shipments within the threshold of toleration? Is tree-spiking a legitimate tactic? Is running around the bush throwing molotovs while talking trash about race wars and traitorous politicians a valid direct action precursor (or sidebar)?  Although the specific answers to these questions may or may not be easily found, the broader issue is finding the appropriate threshold of toleration for a given type of direct action given the context in which it is engaged.

By the rules I outlined above, the Waihopai Plowshares direct action was a success. Some may think it ineffectual since the Echelon eavesdropping stations remain operative, but the point was never to physically stop the operation (which is why the activists did not damage equipment once inside the dome). It was done in order to raise public awareness and questions about NZ’s participation in the Echelon network, and the action most certainly did that. On the other hand, threatening the spouses and children of pharmaceutical company executives over the latter’s role in animal testing is an example of crossing the threshold of toleration. Whatever the justice of the cause, threatening to harm people not directly involved in animal testing–especially children–is bound to elicit a negative reaction from the public majority. It is therefore counter-productive, even if many believe that executives need to be held directly and physically accountable for the corporate logics of profit that justify the exploitation and torture of animals for human benefit.

I could go on but the thrust of my argument should by now be clear. Direct action is an effective political tactic if it follows certain guidelines. It must differentiate between the target of the action (let’s say, the US embassy, which has been chosen to be flour-bombed ), the object of the action (to raise awareness of, lets say, extraordinary rendition and secret detention centres in which torture is practiced as an interrogation technique), and the subject of the action (the NZ government and public, so as to put pressure from both on US diplomats that NZ does not condone or accept such practices).  The purpose of the hypothetical illustration is not be polemical but instead to chart the ends-means sequence that needs to inform direct action for it to be successful.

The bottom line is this. Direct action is a legitimate political tactic when institutional channels fail. The nature of the action depends on the cause espoused and the society involved, since the threshold of toleration varies from culture to culture and political society to political society. What might be an acceptable form of direct action in Nigeria may not be so acceptable in NZ. Thus the main “problem set” for activists is to determine the toleration threshold for a given form of direct action in a particular socio-political context, Having done that, it is on to the barricades, comrades, y hasta la victoria, siempre, companeros!

32 Responses to “Direct action praxis and the threshold of toleration.”

  1. Lee - MWT on February 12th, 2009 at 06:17

    wow, pablo insert the right pauses for canned laughter, and that would read a bit like a Bob Newhart sketch. You could title it “The Fucking Obvious Handbook For Wannabee Armchair Terrorists Who Live in Safe Democratic Societies”
    Put it in Spanish for an redundant, but apparently sophisticated post-modernist slant.

    C – See me…

    Read the comments posting policy Lee. Would you really come into someone’s lounge and say that? If you can honestly answer yes to that, i’ll have to make an exception for you and your severe case of Asperger syndrome. We do believe in an inclusive society here after all. (RN)

  2. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 07:47

    I’ve struggled with the way you’ve linked direct action with violence. I think there are many forms of direct action which are radically pacifist.

    I part of my discomfort is because much of what you have described as “violence against property” meets my criteria for non-violent action. The Plowshares action at Waihopai, for example, meets my definition of non-violent action, although it involved property damage. I think it was more successful because of its framing as radical non-violence, and its clear symbolic and religious form.

    Pacifism can be at least as radical as violent action. I would argue that it is in fact more radical because it challenges the core of a society which has at its foundation the implicit threat of violence.

  3. Carrier on February 12th, 2009 at 08:15

    You judge fairly accurately the NZ “threshold of toleration” in respect of violence or threats against people (while leaving a worrying question mark about violence towards pharmaceutical executives). But you accord a relatively high notional threshold to “violence against property” that goes beyond the point at which the criminal law would (or could) cut in.

    For myself, I look to NZ to be an environment governed by the democratically-determined rule of law – despite all its faults. My hope is that most NZers take a similar approach.

  4. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 08:23

    Direct action is a legitimate political tactic when institutional channels fail.

    One of the challenges for radical action is that part of the message of the action may be to reject the remaining institutional channels. For example in countries which have had a non-military opt-out for people who were not prepared to perform compulsory military service some objectors have refused to do the non-military service because their protest was against the system as a whole, not purely the wearing-a-uniform part of it.

    It is much harder to be seen as legitimate when the public see that there is a possible institutional action as one needs to argue not only the justification of the explicit action, but also the implicit rejection of institutional process.

  5. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 10:23

    Lee, do you have any actual objections to the post, other than that it’s gone over your head?

    L

  6. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 10:47

    Carrier,

    For myself, I look to NZ to be an environment governed by the democratically-determined rule of law – despite all its faults.

    and Anita,

    It is much harder to be seen as legitimate when the public see that there is a possible institutional action as one needs to argue not only the justification of the explicit action, but also the implicit rejection of institutional process.

    These two observations are very closely linked, and I don’t think Pablo’s argument contradicts either of them. When rule of law exists and is robust (as it is in NZ), there seems little cause to resort to direct extra-institutional action. To be considered legitimate, any such action under those circumstances must successfully argue that institutional forms of action are categorically insufficient for the task – and the more robust the institutional processes in a state, the harder that task is. (I think that’s Lee’s point, though it’s hard to make out.)

    It can happen, though – in response to Landcorp’s putting Whenuakite Station (the subject of a pending Treaty settlement) on the market, in 2007 the māori party called on tangata whenua to occupy any ancestral lands also subject to settlements, which resulted in the government placing a moratorium on such sales. This was a clear case of the institutional remedies being insufficient to achieve the goal, and the goal and action were carefully couched in measured terms of justice and access to due process. No violence was committed; in fact, many occupations didn’t even need to go ahead because the few which did were so clearly framed as being in the right. That’s what the threshold of toleration is about – reading the mood of a polity and charting courses of direct action with that mood in mind.

    L

  7. Neil on February 12th, 2009 at 10:57

    “Thus the main “problem set” for activists is to determine the toleration threshold for a given form of direct action in a particular socio-political context…”

    yes but one of the defining features of the extremes of the political spectrum is that they believe their beliefs give them unlimited justification for any action.

    If they thought the way you argued Pablo, they would not be “extreme”.

    What characterises the extreme Left and Right is zealotry and self-rightiousness, not intelectual rigore.

  8. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 11:00

    Neil,

    If they thought the way you argued Pablo, they would not be “extreme”.

    Are `activists’ necessarily `extremists’?

    This is a fundamental question of civil society, and one which has come under close scrutiny here in recent times.

    L

  9. Neil on February 12th, 2009 at 11:29

    Are `activists’ necessarily `extremists’?

    not necesssarily but some high profile Left-wing activists show enormous amounts of self-rightious anger and I would classify them as extremists.

    I think that because left-wing extremists often agitate, superficially at least, on issues that moderates support – land rights etc – it’s harder to see them as just as much a danger to liberal democracy as their equivalents on the extreme Right.

  10. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 11:35

    Neil writes,

    If they thought the way you argued Pablo, they would not be “extreme”.

    I think you are interpreting Pablo’s piece to be a moral code for activism, I read it as a conceptual discussion of the pragmatic decisions of activism.

    Sure I may believe that a particular action is fully justified, but to know whether or not it will be effective in bringing about genuine change I need to consider the public perception of the action. There are times where I may choose to cross Pablo’s “toleration threshold” either because I want to challenge the threshold itself, or because I believe crossing it will be interpreted in a way that will help my cause (e.g. if I want to ramp up the perceived level of conflict), or because I think it’s the morally right thing to do and it’s worth the downside. But to cross it without considering the consequence risks pointlessly decreasing the effectiveness of an action or even damaging my cause.

  11. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 13:26

    Neil,

    not necesssarily but some high profile Left-wing activists show enormous amounts of self-rightious anger and I would classify them as extremists.

    So that’s a `no’, then. The point of my question was to draw attention to the fact that Pablo’s post is about `activists’ (defined here as `people potentially involved in direct action’), while you’re talking about a whole other group – `extremists’.

    L

  12. Pablo on February 12th, 2009 at 13:27

    Monkey Lee: You seem a wee bit grumpy.

    Let me stir a bit more. For revolutionary types, one objective in a “so-called war of position” (as opposed to “war of maneuver” approaches involving armed struggle) is to raise the threshold of toleration to previously unthinkable levels in the pursuit of radical socio-economic and political change. This can occur via an incremental gains approach by which successive actions increasingly, yet in small ways push the limits of toleration upwards. What might be considered outrageous in past years becomes acceptable the more that limit is pushed. The point is to shift the ideological boundaries of debate in a counter-hegemonic direction, juxtaposing its “good” sense against the “common” sense advocated by the elites and protected by their laws.

    Or, more drastically, activists might launch a series of “sucker ploys” by which they commit an act that generates a government over reaction in response. The over-reaction is what sticks in public consciousness, not the original action, and the accumulation of over-reactions generates ill-will towards the authorities and sympathies for the activists (assuming these are couching their actions in counter-hegemonic language). I am sure that you can identify variations on this theme occurring overseas in recent times.

    In NZ a revolutionary praxis is unlikely to be successful because the conditions do not exist for a revolutionary agenda to prosper. But reformists–and by that I include the full spectrum of NZ Left activism–can utilise variations of the above to pursue their agendas. Think of it this way: Tama Iti’s cause was marginal to most Kiwis until the police raids. Then it became a central focus of debate about land rights, Tuhoe, Police-maori relations, relations between maori leaders and their constituents, the Labour Party’s approach to dissidents etc. If Iti and company deliberately provoked the police into staging the raids by being so obvious in their para-military activities, then it was a deliberate sucker ploy used to good effect. Now, I do not think that this is in fact what occurred given who was involved, but even unintentionally, the Urewera 18 prompted a flurry of discussion about their cause(s), discussion that will eventually move into courtrooms and turn into a legal debate about what is permissable and the boundaries of institutional redress. Even if in a small way, the political landscape shifted as a result of this affair.

    The more likely course for NZ reformist/activists (who of course do not have to be “violent”) is to play variations of the incremental gains approach, which is precisely why they need to be closely attuned to what is permissable given the threshold of toleration. But if we consider what was thought to be acceptable and permissable 30 years ago versus today, it is clear that the threshold of toleration has shifted upwards, in part aided by cultural factors unrelated to politics.

    Anita’s discomfort with the concept of “violence” is precisely one of the things that I was getting at in the post. You may see the Waihopai action as peaceful civil disobedience, but many others would see cutting through security fences and deflating the dome as politically motivated vandalism. On that perceptual tension wire stands the toleration threshold.

  13. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 13:51

    Re the October 15 raids.

    One of the interesting conversations I had at the time was that it would be a reasonable act of civil disobedience for Tūhoe to form an army. Not that this is what they were doing, but forming an army as part of asserting their independent identity and defining themselves as a nation would be an effective symbolic action.

    Would it have crossed the “threshold of tolerance”? Damned straight! Might it have been worth the downside? Perhaps.

  14. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 14:23

    Anita,

    Would it have crossed the “threshold of tolerance”? Damned straight! Might it have been worth the downside? Perhaps.

    Ngāi Tūhoe were not signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, and this fact has formed the basis of an argument that since they never ceded anything (kawanatanga, etc.) to the Crown, they retain by default complete sovereignty over their resources (`lands and possessions’, etc.). However they have (under the ambit of Te Kotahi ā Tūhoe) decided to relinquish those claims to sovereignty and participate in the Treaty of Waitangi process along the same lines as other iwi. This being so, the formation of an army to assert sovereignty (whether symbolic or real) would be highly detrimental to that cause, not at all a reasonable act of civil disobedience. Direct action is a matter of signalling as much as it is about the effects of the action itself.

    L

  15. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 14:31

    As a complete aside, one of the things that makes me very happy about Kiwipolitico is the use of macrons :)

  16. Pablo on February 12th, 2009 at 14:37

    What on earth is a macron?

  17. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 14:46

    The horizontal thing showing vowel length on the a in Māori and the u in Tūhoe.

    It makes me very happy that they’re regularly used in posts and comments here because it’s a marker of respectful civil discussion (using other languages’ words properly) as well as having writers who’ve thought about the issue.

  18. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 15:10

    Anita,

    it’s a marker of respectful civil discussion (using other languages’ words properly) as well as having writers who’ve thought about the issue.

    I prefer `know how to spell’ :) (though I admit I sometimes have to look them up!)

    L

  19. Quoth the Raven on February 12th, 2009 at 15:36

    Good post Pablo. New Zealand, to me, has no real protest tradition (and I know a lot of people will absolutely disagree with me and cite this and that example) certainly not like that as in Europe. Exhibit. Property damage can be very effective. For example the protests against the WTO meeting in Seatle 1999 – The Battle of Seatle, did so much property damage that I doubt they’ll ever hold a meeting like that again in Seatle and they make any city officials think twice about holding such meetings in their city.

  20. Pablo on February 12th, 2009 at 15:59

    Shoot–and here I thought that they were accent marks. Macrons, indeed.

  21. George Darroch on February 12th, 2009 at 16:16

    Hi Pablo,

    I think you’re absolutely right about raising thresholds of toleration. I think that tactically, failing to recognise this and provoke the kinds of response needed was one of the huge failures of the “Urewera 17″ (there are certainly others).

    There wasn’t enough support for the kinds of action and rhetoric they wanted, and they didn’t do enough to destroy the middle-ground. The enemy of a radical isn’t just the person opposed to them, it’s also the moderate.

    Thankfully we do have such a space here, but at various times in the past it has narrowed.

  22. Pablo on February 12th, 2009 at 16:38

    George D.: Your point about the moderate middle ground is excellent. From the radical’s point of view, moderates can be considered “fence-straddlers” who need to be pushed one way or another so as to clear the field for war of maneuver approaches. For reformist activists the idea is to pull the fence straddlers onto their side of the fence.

  23. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 17:16

    The October 15 raids show that the same considerations apply to state actions and violence. The Police’s actions cross the line for what the general public thought was appropriate. While the public didn’t revolt against the state, their respect for the Police was diminished, and the Police didn’t win their support for the “terrorists in the bush” concept.

    I’m not sure which bit of their action was the tipping point, perhaps it was different for different communities. The blockade at the aukati line (confiscation line) hurt them with some, the masked gun-toting cops were not a very acceptable image and upset some peope, the stories about school buses upset others, the tv interview with the brave but clearly terrified child did damage, the coverage of them breaking down the door at 128 wasn’t great for them, the avocado confiscation was not a good move either :)

    As I wrote that list I thought about the way the more the Police can control/limit media coverage the more they can get away with.

  24. Neil on February 12th, 2009 at 18:06

    The point of my question was to draw attention to the fact that Pablo’s post is about `activists’ (defined here as `people potentially involved in direct action’), while you’re talking about a whole other group – `extremists’.

    And and all those Left-wing “activists” who decided to hang out with a bunch of right-wing sociopaths in the Ureweras, all because they shared a hatred of the Police and authority in general, I would say deserve to be called “extremists”.

    Would it have crossed the “threshold of tolerance”? Damned straight! Might it have been worth the downside? Perhaps.

    Perrhaps you might to read Doris Lessing’s “The Good Terrorist”

    Good post Pablo. New Zealand, to me, has no real protest tradition

    Perhaps you might like to read about Archibald Baxter -who’s protests in extreme conditions had enormous dignity and didn’t consist purely of trying to provoke the Police into confrontation and then to endlessly engage in bouts of self-pity while yelling “Police State”.

    Which all is all most self-proclaimed activists these days are interested in doing.

    which is probaly an example of 3) above.

  25. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 18:36

    Neil,

    And and all those Left-wing “activists” who decided to hang out with a bunch of right-wing sociopaths in the Ureweras, all because they shared a hatred of the Police and authority in general, I would say deserve to be called “extremists”.

    In the words of another well-known New Zealander who spent a lot of time in the bush: hang on a minute, mate.

    First, why are you quoting the word `activitsts’? Are you trying to imply that they’re not really activists?

    Second, to which `right-wing sociopaths’ do you refer? If you’re looking to frame various Māori sovereignty groups as such then you’re drawing an absurdly long bow.

    Third, extremists don’t come into Pablo’s post at all, except implictly, inasmuch as refusal to recognise and play to a threshold of tolerance might cause people to view them as such.

    Which all is all most self-proclaimed activists these days are interested in doing.

    This statement could only be made by someone not very familiar with modern activism. That being so, why are you opining about it on the interwebs?

    L

  26. imperial zeppelin on February 12th, 2009 at 18:45

    So nobody here has any experience of a non-radical/non- extremist person engaging in direct action?

    Strange. Very strange.

  27. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 19:56

    IZ,

    So nobody here has any experience of a non-radical/non- extremist person engaging in direct action?

    WTF is the obsession with extremism? How is the distinction between `activist’, (someone potentially involved in direct action) and `extremist’, (someone who believes that if a little bit is good, a lot must necessarily be better) at all unclear?

    L

  28. imperial zeppelin on February 12th, 2009 at 20:47

    Sorry Lew. What obsession with extremism? I was merely signposting that many people who do not consider themselves as activists and who are not really political at all will, on occasion, engage in direct action.

    Why did I do that?

    Because the comments seemed to be peppered with references to activists and or extremists as though they were a special breed who enjoyed exclusive rights to engage in direct action.

    Don’t know that I agree with the distinction you offer between an activist on the one hand and an extremist on the other btw.

    One persons activist is another persons extremist just as one persons freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.

  29. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:29

    IZ,

    Sorry Lew. What obsession with extremism? I was merely signposting that many people who do not consider themselves as activists and who are not really political at all will, on occasion, engage in direct action.

    I apologise, I seem to have understood the precise opposite of what you meant.

    Mostly I’m just reacting to peoples’ imprecise use of terminology, which blurs the distinctions between these quite different groups.

    One persons activist is another persons extremist just as one persons freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.

    Well, my definitions in this case are linguistic more than anything. Self- and other-definition is a much more complex matter, which isn’t really usefully discussed in the abstract, since (as you rightly point out) it’s a matter of context.

    L

  30. BLiP on February 13th, 2009 at 00:36

    Great post. The only thing I would take issue with is your third point:

    ” . . . it must elicit majority sympathy for the action or empathy for the cause . . . ”

    I believe that the praxis can elicit sympathy/empathy, but this is not necessary. There are many examples of how a direct action has resulted in the opposite of empathy for the cause but, because the action has crossed over the tolerance threshold, been splashed into the media and entered into the public’s social dialogue, those who have initially opposed the action have had to think about the wider issue.

    My example in support of this comes from my workplace. After Father Burns splashed blood on Rabin’s memorial, the water cooler crowd couldn’t express enough disdain for the action. Yet, over the course of about a week, most (not all) of those who had been pro-Isreal had come around. Suddenly more interested in the situation they had ducked onto the internet and informed themselves about the issue and come to the conclusion that Isreal was as much a part of the problem as Hamas. They still abhorred the action of defacing the memorial, yet the cause of the Palestinians had been advanced.

    I would say that for protest action to be successful, it must, repeatedly, cross the tolerance threshold. It must “rattle the cage” of the majority and awaken them.

  31. Anita on February 13th, 2009 at 11:43

    BLiP writes,

    After Father Burns splashed blood on Rabin’s memorial, the water cooler crowd couldn’t express enough disdain for the action. Yet, over the course of about a week, most (not all) of those who had been pro-Isreal had come around. Suddenly more interested in the situation they had ducked onto the internet and informed themselves about the issue and come to the conclusion that Isreal was as much a part of the problem as Hamas. They still abhorred the action of defacing the memorial, yet the cause of the Palestinians had been advanced.

    There is a theory about social movements that says that they derive their influence in lagre part from public displays of WUNC: worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment.

    Father Burns’s actions were successful in shifting people’s opinions because he demonstrated high values of worthiness (being a priest) and commitment (it was a relatively high risk and contentious action for which he paid a price). It asked the question “why would someone like him do something as big as that?” If he had been an 18 year old anarchist with piercings and dyed hair it would have been less effective (lower perceived worthiness), if he has written his message on a post-it and stuck it to the memorial it would have been less effective (lower perceived commitment).

    Crossing the line, as a tactic, is partly effective because it usually demonstrates high levels of commitment which makes people think about why the issue was that important to the people who took action.

    Yet crossing the line can backfire and be seen as an extreme over-reaction. Displays of worthiness, unity and numbers all raise the perceived legitimacy and mitigate against that backlash. If one unknown blocked a motorway in protest against poor public transport funding, people would react much worse than if it was a high status group.

    I’m ranging so far off topic I’m gonna stop now :)

  32. George Darroch on February 13th, 2009 at 12:38

    Yet crossing the line can backfire and be seen as an extreme over-reaction. Displays of worthiness, unity and numbers all raise the perceived legitimacy and mitigate against that backlash. If one unknown blocked a motorway in protest against poor public transport funding, people would react much worse than if it was a high status group.

    Absolutely Anita, I think you’ve put things very well there.

    It’s that space in-between that’s always so hard to define. Greenpeace have made a career out of it. They’ve got the moral credence, particularly in NZ after their whaling and anti-nuclear campaigns, but their protests have become less effective as it is seen that their activities don’t invoke such high personal costs. They can’t afford/don’t want to up their actions for risk of losing that worthiness.

    The truck protest last year was one of the largest direct actions in NZ’s recent history- can you imagine the reaction to thousands of environmentalists driving slow and snarling Auckland and Wellington? But they got away with it because they were the right people with the right moral status, given to them by the perceived (manufactured) status of people whose livelihoods were under threat.

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