By Matt Eaton
Is annoying thousands of people who may or may not sympathise with your cause actually a worthwhile tactic?
The answer is a firm “no” from the Brisbane Lord Mayor and the Queensland Premier when it comes to the actions of climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion.
After the group’s supporters shut down parts of the Brisbane CBD and caused commuter chaos yesterday, Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner told them “you should be ashamed of yourselves”.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for the protests to stop.
“Look, honestly, people have the right to protest peacefully in our state but when you stop people going to and from their workplace, I don’t think people like that. I don’t like that and I don’t think other people like that,” she said.
But can politicians afford just to dismiss these protesters as irresponsible?
If comments to the ABC’s Facebook page are a guide, the actions of Extinction Rebellion pretty much split opinions down the middle.
For every comment to “taser them all” and “bring back Joh” there was someone saying “well done” and someone else branding the protesters “heroes”.
Sentiment to ABC Radio Brisbane was similar, including people who supported their cause but disliked the tactics, to angry drivers who just wanted to get to work.
Some who supported the call for stronger action on climate change suggested the protesters would be better off safely corralled to a park where they were out of the way.
Which missed the point entirely.
Disruption ‘conveys urgency’
QUT political scientist Erin O’Brien said Extinction Rebellion was ramping up the notion of civil disobedience.
“Traditionally, acts of civil disobedience have been focused on disobeying the law being protested,” she said.
“What Extinction Rebellion is doing isn’t civil disobedience in that traditional sense, but the disruption element of the protest is still highly symbolic, it is aiming for that symbolism, if you will, in the tactics that they’re using.
“Using a tactic of disrupting people’s daily lives, getting in their faces, conveys urgency.
“It’s not necessarily new, what it is that they’re doing, it’s just more physical and it’s an evolution from a traditional protest march.”
Extinction Rebellion spokesman Tom Howell said yesterday they had been forced to use more extreme forms of protest because other tactics had failed.
“People are uncomfortable with disrupting other people’s lives but it is the best option we have left,” he said.
Dr O’Brien said there was little chance of undermining public support for stronger action on climate change.
“There’s no policy process that’s going to be derailed. Governments are essentially apathetic or even antagonistic to taking action on climate change, so it’s a reasonable point to make that there’s not likely to be any harm done by this particular tactic,” she said.
One Brisbane protester yesterday summed it up thus: “We declare ourselves in rebellion against our government.”
It is a message Dr O’Brien said politicians ignored at their peril.
“I think the symbolism of the protest itself highlights the way a lot of people are feeling about this issue — they are seeing climate change as an urgent problem,” she said.
“Those people might not be showing up at protests, they might not be trying to stop traffic, but they might be thinking about climate change come the next election and demanding that some urgent action is actually taken.
“People might be annoyed that they’ve been disrupted, but that extra time in the traffic jam doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe climate change is a problem anymore.
“They still, when they get over that irritation, will want governments to take action on it.”
Source:: ABC News Australia