New climate for direct action developing in Canada and U.S.
Talk of direct action puts some people into a tizzy. They conjure up images of masked vandals rampaging through the streets, breaking storefront windows, and hurling firebombs at police cars.
Nonetheless, with a growing sense of urgency about climate change and rising frustration that energy corporations and governments don’t care about the planet, there’s bound to be more actual direct action than talk.
“When corporations aren’t listening to the people, when governments aren’t listening to the people, we have to put matters back into our own hands,” Maryam Adrangi told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Adrangi is a member of Rising Tide: Vancouver Coast Salish Territories, a group organizing a direct-action training session this Thursday (March 28). According to Rising Tide’s website, topics to be discussed from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Burnaby Public Library’s McGill branch (4595 Albert Street) include “simple techniques for holding space”, “diversity of tactics”, and the difference between “passive” and “active” resistance.
American academic Sean Parson observes that environmental and Native groups are increasingly being pushed toward extralegal protest actions. This comes as a response to the determined drive by governments and corporations in North America to exploit fossil-fuel reserves, including the tar sands in Alberta and natural gas in B.C.
“It shows how serious the issue of climate change is,” Parson told the Straight by phone, “It shows the failure of the current political environment, the failure of the market, and the turn towards more radical activism.”
The Northern Arizona University associate professor of politics and international affairs also sees stronger “cross-national solidarity” among groups in the U.S. and Canada. The opposition to the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian bitumen to Texas oil refineries could be a focal point.
“I believe that we’re going to see a pretty strong move toward things like direct action and civil disobedience,” Parson said. He explained that the line between direct action and civil disobedience is often blurry because they “blend” together. According to him, civil disobedience is simply nonviolent direct action.
Langara College’s Peter Prontzos notes that for many people concerned about the planet’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels and its impact on global warming, time is running out.
“There’s a feeling that we have to do something now, and that might include…extending that to civil disobedience,” Prontzos, a political-science instructor, told the Straight by phone.
Over in Ottawa, Sierra Club Canada appears on the verge of turning its back on its long-standing tradition of not engaging in civil disobedience. In January, the 50-year-old environmental group announced that it was assessing its rules regarding civil disobedience following a move by the Sierra Club in the U.S. to go this route.
While Sierra Club Canada executive director John Bennett stressed that he has nothing new to report, it isn’t because the group is dragging its feet. It’s just that the group hasn’t received any requests to participate in a particular action, so it hasn’t made a decision yet, according to him.
“Why should we stand by and say, ‘This is fine. We’ll go and wait four years for the next election’? ” Bennett told the Straight by phone, about the urgency of action on climate change.
“We’ve been through five, six, 10 [federal] elections since this has been up,” Bennett continued. “And it doesn’t seem to make any difference which party wins. There’s no action. And they’ve decided to abandon science as the basis of environmental protection, and that basically violates the rights of future generations.”
On Saturday (March 30), Rising Tide will participate in a “day of action” The protest is being held in opposition to the Pacific Trail Pipelines project. This would see natural gas produced through fracking carried by a 463-kilometre pipeline from Summit Lake, north of Prince George, to a plant in Kitimat.