Direct Action, Protest, Lobbying and Non Compliance

7k. Direct Action and Protest

Protesting is a well-established form of resistance and the advent of social media has helped to make protests more effective and easier to organise. Unfortunately the police develop new, and sometimes dangerous practices to limit their effectiveness, such as ‘kettling’– cramming protesters into a small area. At the ‘Water Protectors’ camp in Dakota, protestors endured not only freezing winter temperatures but also rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and actions to cut off their food, information and other supplies.

Protest can also take the form of contacting people, businesses, government departments, the ombudsman, supermarket chains and so on to try and change their attitude or practice. It is often surprising how cooperative they can be. Sometimes like they are just waiting to be asked.

Direct Action and Civil Disobedience are a step on from protesting. In a landmark court case in the US, “The jury recognized the integrity, honor, and patriotism of Ken Ward, and recognized that what he did was done for all of us,” said fellow valve-turner Leonard Higgins. Many of the judiciary are also recognising these qualities in those arrested on behalf of Extinction Rebellion protesters.

Offering some hope that ‘reality’ will prevail in a political climate seemingly bent on climate destruction, a Washington state jury on Wednesday failed to convict activist Ken Ward on two felony counts stemming from an act of civil disobedience against the fossil fuel industry.

The Climate Disobedience Center, which Ward co-founded, declared the mistrial ‘a resounding recognition of the threat of climate change,’ noting that one or more jurors refused to convict Ward on charges of sabotage and burglary for breaking into and shutting down a Kinder Morgan pipeline near Anacortes, Washington last year. Alternately, they were persuaded by his argument that he had acted out of necessity, in defense of the planet.

According to the centre, Ward’s defense consisted exclusively of his motivation to confront the threat of climate change, and the defense did not contest a single piece of evidence brought by the prosecution. Several exhibits demonstrating climate science and impacts and the role of civil disobedience in societal change were permitted as evidence. Ward himself was the only witness called by the defense. The jury deliberated while looking at charts demonstrating the dramatic increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the impacts of sea-level rise to Skagit County.

This trial was about climate change,” said Emily Johnston, who also took part in the October 2016 coordinated action that shut down tar sands pipelines along the U.S.-Canada border.

The prosecution presented only information about what Ken did on October 11, and Ken and the defense presented only information about climate change, so the only decision that the jury was making was which story mattered more. And the story of the climate crisis won.”

…Ward was the first of the ‘valve turners’ to appear in court and the trial was said to have “far-reaching implications for the widening pipeline protest movement and the intensifying crackdown against it,” particularly in light of the fierce mobilizations of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders advancing the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines.

As Ward himself explained after the decision,

In five hours, the jury was unable to decide that with all of the evidence against me, including the video of me closing the valve, that this was a crime. I didn’t contest a single piece of the evidence, only presented my story and evidence of catastrophic climate change. This is a tremendous outcome.”

As it stands, there will be a conference  to determine if a new trial will be scheduled. But as Steve Kent with the Climate Disobedience Center explained to Common Dreams, the fact of the mistrial gives:

an indication that one or more jurors accepted the argument that the actions were taken to prevent climate harm, and so weren’t culpable. That’s important legally and will have ramifications.”

Not only does this ruling bode well for the future ‘valve turner’ trials, but it also could impact other activists who plan to confront the Trump administration with increasingly direct civil disobedience.

The failure of the prosecution’s case shows that public opinion is shifting about the need for direct action to solve the climate crisis,” said Kelsey Skaggs, an attorney with the Climate Defense Project, which provided legal support to Ward alongside the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “With our political leadership failing us, we need more courageous activists like Ken to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and set an example of how normal people can effect change.”

In the UK, direct actions about fracking have also led to arrests, including that of M.P. Caroline Lucas. Mostly they are thrown out of court by magistrates who think that the police and private security firms have overstepped legal boundaries.

Direct action works quite often as it can focus the ‘new’ media spotlight on things the ‘controllers’ don’t want you to see, for example the DAPL protest in Dakota USA. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The route begins in the Bakken shale oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, terminating at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.

The pipeline has been controversial regarding its necessity, and potential impact on the environment, especially considering the amount of pipeline spills that occur already. A number of Native Americans in Iowa and the Dakotas have opposed the pipeline, including the Meskwaki and several Sioux tribal nations.

In August 2016, ‘ReZpect Our Water’, a group organized on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, brought a petition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. and the tribe sued for an injunction. A protest at the pipeline site in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation has drawn international attention. Thousands of people have been protesting the pipeline construction, with confrontations between some groups of protesters and law enforcement, along with disputes over the facts.

Again, multiple arrests and raids by government-employed private security firms are operating in the interests of big business at the taxpayers expense. Although this longstanding protest is infrequently seen on mainstream news, interested Facebook members and other groups have access to reports on what is happening from the source, and even the live stream for these often ‘cut’ using modern army technologies.

This wasn’t just a battle between protestors and corporate power, but one in which the main sources of our news providers collude with government and corporate power in a process of disinformation and misinformation. As in many wars, truth is the first victim.

Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion is a campaign by the RisingUp network. It aims to promote a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. It is a massive, counter cultural, global movement whose time has come. Extinction Rebellion demands:

  1. That the Government must tell the truth about how deadly our situation is, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.
  2. Good intentions and guidelines won’t save the ice caps. The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions in the UK to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.
  3. By necessity these demands require initiatives and mobilisation of similar size and scope to those enacted in times of war. We do not however, trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve this and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

A commentary from Dr. Claire Wordley: “If that is what we are facing, why are we all carrying on as normal? Well, some people aren’t. Extinction Rebellion is a UK-born group committing civil disobedience to protest catastrophic climate breakdown and species extinctions. Springing apparently from nowhere, in November 2018 the group mobilized thousands of people to block bridges, roads, and government departments in London — trying to cause enough disruption to make the British government act on climate. Extinction Rebellion demands that the UK government declare a climate emergency, that the UK go carbon neutral by 2025, and that the decisions on how to go carbon neutral are taken by a citizen’s assembly.

With their use of stark hourglass and human skull imagery, their emotive wording, strong demands, and tactics of civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion activists have raised hackles in many quarters.”

Which means Extinction Rebellion is about: Preparing for national non-violent direct actions and civil disobedience to peacefully force the government to take climate change seriously:

  • The government to tell the truth and act as if the truth was real
  • Climate mobilisation, as if in war
  • Aiming for Zero Carbon Britain by 2025
  • Demand reduction
  • Ecosystem restoration, regenerative agriculture
  • Rebuild transport, energy, production infrastructure as carbon neutral
  • Citizen Assemblies to plan the transition to a survivable future

At time of writing many groups are setting-up, planning and undertaking actions of civil disobedience to promote the above aims. Unfortunately these have been shut down by the pandemic. See

Lobbying government online is now an established practice, although one wonders quite how effective it is when there are so many vested interests in play and such a lack of honesty. There are now many online setups to request that a topic is ‘debated in Parliament’ once it reaches 100,000 votes (for all the good that seems to do!)

A vote to ‘Prevent Donald Trump from making a state visit to the United Kingdom’ went viral and very quickly gained nearly two million votes for a scheduled discussion in Parliament. According to one online article I read, the thought of the Queen having to meet Donald Trump is enough to make her consider abdication, leaving the throne empty for his visit. Sometimes fake news is amusing.

The pressures delayed his visit to the UK. Pictures taken of Theresa May holding hands with Trump very early in his Presidency leave little to the imagination with regards to her intended direction after the red herring of Brexit distracting people from climate emergency for ages. The process of online lobbying however, seems to have little effect on government policy. Big business lobbying government with bags of money seems to have the edge on this one. It seems Theresa May liked the look of Trump so much that we have our own blondie, mop-top.

Non-compliance. I wrote earlier ‘when laws are made to be unjust, civil disobedience is not only justified, it is necessary’. I am someone who has walked out of a successful lecturing career over a disagreement of new conditions imposed by government legislation. This non-compliance wasn’t easy but was the only option I had to avoid literal wage slavery. The legislation they imposed left me with £11 a week to cover £25 a week travel expenses to get to work – with nothing left over for even food!

There are many forms of non-compliance bound up within the idea of the ‘straw man identity’ – worthy of research at:

Also very interesting in terms of non-compliance with banks and debt collection agencies:

Stand upright, make eye contact and say: “I do not comply.” It feels powerful doesn’t it?

From Extinction Rebellion UK update on Barclays Action 30.01.2023:

At 4:30pm this afternoon, 7 women were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London for carefully cracking windows at Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf, to draw attention to Barclays financing of fossil fuels and to call on the bank to stop accelerating the climate emergency. All 7 women were given two years unconditional suspended sentences.
The 7 women have to pay £500 each towards prosecution costs to be paid within 1 year – support them by donating to their crowdfunder here:
Sophie Cowen said: “Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, and sometimes we have to go beyond what we see as the norm. I certainly did when I took this action. The decisions we make today will shape our tomorrow. The climate crisis isn’t ‘our belief’ or ‘our opinion’. It’s the truth. And it’s here. We can only solve the climate crisis if we, together, question what we’re told can’t change, and together, write a new history.”
This morning more than 100 women dressed as suffragettes marched from the Bank of England to the court with banners and placards saying ‘Barclays are the Real Criminals’ and ‘Barclays Profit while the World Burns’ to show their support and read speeches in solidarity. When there, the defendants were joined by Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst; actor Juliet Stevenson; campaigners Phoebe Plummer, an activist with Just Stop Oil who recently threw soup over a painting; Pragna Patel, the founder of Southall Black Sisters, and Clare Farrell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion.
Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst: “It takes courage to challenge the status quo, to risk prison for a cause and to speak truth to power. I’m here in support of the Climate Activists being sentenced today, and in memory of my grandmother and great-grandmother and all the suffragettes who did likewise, over a century ago.”

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