Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What form of protest? Who listens?

December 16, 2009. The first thing I heard on this morning's 6:00 a.m. news was that police and protesters were 'clashing' outside and inside the site of the Copenhagen talks. Lying in bed, unable to move for the shock of it, I tried to imagine an action that would be a true show of strength by climate change activists ... something that not sucker them into the societal norm of violent protest and anger. Some way they and their cause would not become just another news clip of angry voices and police drag-aways. I worried whether there was any co-ordination amongst the NGOs outside the gates. Had they trained their people in non-violent resistance methods? Did they have people ready to keep their own people determined in the face of police? Did they have a strategy of joining with other groups if trouble started? Strategies for this are as important as joint e-mail petitions, it seems to me.

Was it the late 1970s or 1980s when the idea of 'reweaving the web of life' came about? There's a photo I recall seeing, from a British peace protest. The women had all brought balls of yarn and they wove themselves into place, during a silent protest of nuclear arms - a witnessing against a force they saw as so bad and so overwhelming that there were no words they could use to protest or explain just how bad it was (although no doubt they had participated in letter-writing campaigns for a long time before arriving at that protest locale). At least, that was always my interpretation of it. The photo was black and white, but I imagine that this silent protest glowed with colours from the yarns ... that the women created something beautiful while witnessing silently the overwhelming evil of nuclear weaponry. There's something in this combination of horror against atrocity, need to protest and need to make beauty - all at the same time - that I understand, that touches me in tender places I seldom show when writing a cynical or factual letter of protest about something or other.

I've always been stressed by - well, probably frightened by and in - noisy crowds. When those crowds are protesting and shouting, I feel overwhelmed. I've been in protests and rallies, and marches too, but I'm not one of the shouters. I'm one of the quiet ones. Skipping any deep psychological explanations, I always figure there has to be a better way of protesting than shouting and fist waving; after all, aren't those the behaviours of the federal politicians we see on the late news ... you know, those men and women we criticize for making spectacle instead of solutions?

Would it make the late news if 5000 people outside the gates of the Copenhagen talks all sat down, quietly, in the dark evening, with candles lit, holding up photographs of their children and grandchildren, their neighbours' children? What if they all sang together? What if they all sat there, wrote out letters - pleas - to their governments, to the leaders inside - and affixed those letters to the gates around the building ... like the roadside memorials to traffic fatalities?

I respect the commitment and bravery of everyone who, at her or his own expense, is in Denmark in hopes that the big guys (and I bet 90% of them are men) will pay attention and do the right thing. These people will all go home and continue to work for change in their communities and countries. And their practical efforts will bring about a new order with our without the big guys.

And I hope there are no major injuries or fatalities if 'clashes' continue.

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