Monday, December 14, 2009

Save the humans – disavow all violence

"It seems that the deeds I have complained of have been done in an organized manner. There seems to be a definite design about them, and I am sure that there must be some educated and clever man or men behind them. They may be educated, but their education has not enlightened them. You have been misled into doing these deeds by such people."

--Mahatma Ghandi, from "Ahmedabad Speech", April 14, 1919

As United Nations negotiators continued to discuss climate change at the Copenhagen Climate Conference this weekend, protestors worldwide expressed their impatience with the pace of change on environmental issues. For the most part, the protests were peaceful and, in some cases, wildly creative. Some examples included:

- a group of activists dressed as penguins holding signs emblazoned with "Save the Humans!",

- curtains in an office tower in Nantes, France arranged on all four sides to read "WE CAN ACT NOW", and

- in London's Trafalgar Square a polar bear carved in ice that will slowly melt as the conference proceeds, which of course is designed to represent the plight of animals in a region where the effects of global warming are (for now) being felt more directly than anywhere else.

All three of the above are evidence of deeply passionate people looking to advance their cause in ways that are by turns silly, artistic and deeply haunting. Even for those who may disagree with the message, this type of expression should be celebrated and encouraged.

As with any large enough party, however, a few knuckleheads marred the spirit of the protest with violence and vandalism. As reported by Reuters:

"Riot police detained more than 900 people around the Danish capital after black-clad activists threw bottles and smashed windows. A police spokeswoman said the number had climbed to 968 shortly after 10 p.m.

"Police said four cars were set on fire during the evening. One policeman was hurt by a stone and a Swedish man injured by a firework."

At best, this sort of mob activity prevents the climate change debate from rising above a moronic "us versus them" simplicity. The worst case scenario, and the more likely one to me, is that violence in and of itself is its own message, and it is this message that overtakes the public's perception of the protests. That's the problem with these lunatic fringe groups -- they prevent the intellectual and creative aspect of the environmental and anti-globalization movements from resonating with the public at large. The narrative is lost to burning cars, smashed windows and injured bystanders.

Any movement claiming to work for the betterment of humanity and the environment should disavow all violence and vandalism supposedly committed in their name. Otherwise, silence implies consent.

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