FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course

I don’t know any of the 13 activists who lowered themselves from the St. John ’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon, nor any of the dozens of kayakers paddling in the Willamette River below them, but they succeeded in a temporary blockade of the Shell-leased Arctic-bound icebreaker MSV Fennica. I know that the activists participated in our democracy—they were nonviolent and far more civil than many members of Congress. The ship was in Portland for repairs of damage to the hull, which ironically occurred when it was scheduled to leave for the Arctic as part of the safety conditions Royal Dutch Shell Oil needed to fulfill for federal approval to drill for oil after a series of accidents in 2013.

The fragile ecosystem, accelerated climate change, and the missing infrastructure and technology to mitigate disasters in the Arctic are the major arguments against drilling. Scientists in Nature Magazine tell us that “all Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable”.  Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley considered the Fennica’s departure from Portland a “make-or-break moment for our environment and our future climate.” One would assume that such arguments are high on President Obama’s environmental and climate priorities. I suspect President Obama does not need to be reminded, but he might need the political space to act.

Public activist campaigns are crucial elements to open media, social and political space for climate protection and to the challenge of corporate-driven extraction of resources. Even though many agree with the causes activists support, they tend to dismiss them for a variety of reasons – they’re naïve, breaking the law, they’re hypocrites, they curtail the rights of others, or it’s none of their business. Over the last years I have studied the lives of nonviolent activists extensively. I can attest that such critique is far off. We should look at the activists as individuals who might be very ordinary people whose extraordinary actions contribute to positive change based on a vision of a better future for everyone.

On the group level, social movements and specific activist campaigns have proven to be successful. One might look at nuclear disarmament, framed as a result of cooperation between former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former General Secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. But historian Lawrence Wittner documented that cooperation was both driven and made possible by the efforts of worldwide activist campaigns.

More recently, President Obama vetoed a bill authorizing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and there is speculation that he will reject the Keystone XL pipeline in the next month. If that happens, the primary reason might have been the sustained effort by modern grassroots environmental movements which have kept the project and its consequences in the public imagination long enough to open the political space for Obama.

On the more personal level, individuals who adopt an activist identity tend to develop worldviews with concerns that go beyond themselves. In my year-long study of nonviolent activists some common themes were: a sense of community; perspectives beyond the local; the interconnection of personal, social and environmental issues; a long-term commitment; and a positive sense of self. These factors become important when we examine the larger struggle they are involved in. Conflict transformation scholar Tom Hastings described the #ShellNo protest in Portland as follows: “So many Portlanders turned out over two days. Yes, they brought down the airborne activists and cleared the kayakivists out of the way and bullied their oil rig through. But they lost, big time, in the view of Portlanders. I saw entire families just out to support for hours on end. So many kids! And spirits were so good, so sweet, so positive. Big oil lost; they just don’t know it yet.”

Of course there are those of us who say that activists and their supporters are hypocrites. The ropes they used to hang bellow the bridges, their puffy coats to keep warm, their kayaks, their life vests, etc. all are petroleum-based products. Should those of us who drive cars and have many of the privileges of Western societies be excluded from challenging dangerous oil drilling? If purity is required, virtually no one will ever qualify and we should thus never hear disagreement from our citizenry to corporate or governmental policy, i.e., the end of democracy.

While the protest in Portland got worldwide attention, the reality of our news cycle is that another mass shooting or announcement of a new presidential candidate will take over the headlines momentarily. At the same time it is clear that these acts of nonviolent civil disobedience gave a boost to the sustained effort of preventing Shell and any other corporation from drilling for oil in the Arctic. The activists very well knew that they ultimately would not prevent the ship from passing. The stated goal of this action by Greenpeace was to get President Obama to reject Arctic drilling. Just like the ship when it first turned around, the Obama administration now has an opportunity to change its course. Thanks to the activists, any attempts at Arctic drilling from now on will be under far more scrutiny and political leaders now have more space to act.

More articles by:

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoiceis a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoiceis a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Arshad Khan
India and China Tussle on the Roof of the World
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail