Clive Hamilton discusses the actions of Rising Tide:
As alarm among scientists about runaway global warming intensifies so do efforts by the coal industry and its backers in government to stifle citizen protests.
This week in Newcastle campaigners from the Rising Tide group face prosecution for a protest last September that shut down for a day the city’s two coal export terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services. PWCS is a company owned by mining giants Rio Tinto and Xstrata.
Those who engage in civil disobedience expect to face the legal consequences. But PWCS has upped the ante by asking the police to prosecute seven activists under victims-of-crime laws, demanding they hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In an Orwellian inversion of the meaning of words, corporate goliaths whose activities threaten the conditions of life on earth – whose daily business is already, according to the World Health Organisation, contributing to tens of thousands of deaths around the world each year – claim they are being victimised.
The coal industry’s action is designed to have a chilling effect on protests against burning and exporting coal. PWCS’s action has all the hallmarks of a SLAPP, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
The purpose of a SLAPP is to frighten citizens with the loss of their houses and get them bogged down for years in court proceedings. Legal costs can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, chickenfeed for a big corporation but bankruptcy for ordinary citizens.
For me the question is:
“Are the tactics of Rising Tide constructive?”
Australia is a democracy – we all have the right of assembly and to express our political views (though not formally recognised in a “Bill of Rights”).
So I would never deny people the right to protest.
Heck if a group of deniers wanted to picket CSIRO, I’d call them mad but still acknowledge their right to protest.
“What do we want!”
“No climate change!”
“When do we want it?”
“Now… errr… never.. we mean, no change!”
Rising Tide’s campaign to “name and shame” ANZ’s support for “dirty coal” is designed to provoke and create media attention:
Coal was dumped and banner dropped at the doors of the Hamilton ANZ branch today. Citizens dressed in black came together to stand up against Australia’s four big banks, demanding they stop financing the dirty coal industry. ANZ is the highest invester, hurling $1.6 billion of its customer’s money at the climate crisis, and investing over six times more cash in coal power than renewable energy over the last five years.
Protesters chalked the pavement with the dirty facts concerning the big banks current involvement in the industry, causing many pedestrians to ask questions. One customer was shocked to find her bank was a major offender, insisting she would arrange a meeting with her local bank manager as soon as possible.
Again, I’m in two minds.
In some respects I feel for the branch staff.
I worked for a large bank, and I was just another drone. I had no control or say over the direction of the organisation. And I was working with parts of the executive!
Most of the front line troops are middle-to-lower class, kids or people who have been tellers all their life. These are not the decision makers.
But then, civil disobedience has a proud history.
When I reflect on the last 100 years, who are the people we regard as “the good guys”?
Who is our generations King I wonder?
While we lionize Gandhi and King today, in their day they were seen as dangerous to the status quo.
Said Winston Churchill, a historical figure I greatly admire, of Gandhi:
“…It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer of the type well-known in the East, now posing as a fakir, striding half naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”
And while we remember Churchill for his courage and leadership during WW2, above all else he wanted to preserve the Empire.
King and Gandhi didn’t just make the powerful uncomfortable.
They provoked everyone comfortable with the idea that civil rights could be denied to the “other”.
And remember the fate of both King and Gandhi: killed by assasians bullets.
Even those who advocate peaceful change, find themseleves the targets of hate.