Saturday, 3 March 2007

occupation of carbon neutral company

Dear tide-turners,

I thought the description of occupying the carbon neutral company's offices was highly interesting...playing the blues on the harmonica? messing around with stressballs? what on earth did they think they were doing? The fact that the employees didn't seem to get the point that a protest was going on, and then the police turned up and left without even bothering to evict them indicates to me that they were not protesting effectively: they might have done better to go and make some cogent and cutting-edge points about the uselessness of carbon offsetting at the house of commons after all.

On Feb 10th I had interesting discussions about what non-violent protest actually achieves: some are cynical. I am not cynical and I continue to go on demos and support various protests because I think at the very least there is a healthy, spirited, communal support-building and consensus-building function to public demonstrations. They build common strength of feeling and conviction among those of us who participate, and this is useful in the strengthening effects it has on the rest of our lives and the conversations we have with others and the way we can change our lives. If they pass vital messages about public opinion to policy-makers, then that's great, but it's probably marginal and secondary.

So, to what extent might the three harmonica-players who occupied the carbon neutral company have strengthened consensus and support among others? the other two of them, perhaps. Did they influence policy-makers? not a sausage, I suspect. Did they make a valid point? Yes, perhaps, via indymedia and email lists. To those who already agree, such as myself.

Tideturners, your thoughts? Are they brilliant political satirists? Useless funsters? Is their protest still a protest because they reckon it was, while others clearly didn't give a toss? Is the internet replacing the need for 'real' direct action on the grounds that news travels better on the internet and makes more people think?

I can think of a better protest: send a polite jiffy bag full of coal to the next person who tells you proudly that they offset their weekend break in wherever...



kathryn said...

I agree! If we are out there to build community, have fun, or 'raise awareness', then this a good action. (I'd be very interested to know if anyone has done some research on whether such actions do actually raise awareness; I know it is a very difficult thing to measure/prove). But if we are trying to achieve strategic change... I think we need to be a bit braver and talk, on their ground, to our opponents. Over the weekend I suggested hypothetically that we should do more of phoning up the Sun or the Telegraph and offering to write articles. We don't know if it would work unless we tried, but I'm sure it wouldn't give the same 'action-buzz'. It might change more minds though.

Carl Reynolds said...

I think that you raise some interesting points about impact, but I think there's also something about the communities we create. I think this can be seen as part of an accretion of many activities. But we should consider what we can learn from making things more impactful. Maybe we should organise the coal sending idea into something that has an impact beyond our flying friends?

Zaria said...

I like the idea of creative protest, and I liked the idea the carbon protesters had about symbolically sweeping coal under the carpet, etc. just that perhaps they publicised it a bit weakly.
There is something about the well-aimed symbolic political action which can have huge emotional impact, have shock-value, and make a point in a very succinct way. I was on a protest at Gleneagles at the G8 summit in 2005 when a guy stood on a podium dressed as the famous picture taken in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where the US soldiers had hooded people and attached electrodes to them. This simple piece of protest theatre in the Scottish countryside had immense impact on those of us who were there. We filed past silently. It made us all realise what we were doing this for, and how serious, actually, our protest was.

I think phoning up the Sun, etc, is a great idea. Who knows if it would work. I know someone who works for the daily mail, i could ask him...

Thank you for your comments, anyone else got an idea?