Protestors and Activists

TV news tells us what we need to know:

• “Protestors block logging operation for six months.”

• “Climate activists shut down bridge.”

• “Protestors blockade pipeline construction.

But the news does NOT always tell us what we WANT to know.

For instance, one of the things I would like to know and the news media never tell us is: Who are these protestors and activists? Another is: How do they have all that free time to do what they are doing?

They obviously don’t have jobs. Can you imagine telling your employer: “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to work today. I need to go and block traffic” or “I won’t be here for the next six months. I need to blockade a logging road”? I am sure that your employer would be understanding. In fact, he is likely to give you even more time off work to continue your protests. Like, permanently.

Yet these protestors and activists don’t seem to be starving. Somebody must be providing them with food. Somebody must also be giving them money for travel and transportation, clothes and accommodation, signs and other protest materials.

I suppose I could do what the news media don’t do—engage in some investigative journalism and find out who these people are. But that would be an invasion of privacy. They seem to be all about getting into somebody else’s business, but they don’t want anybody poking around in their business. If we actually found out who they were, I wonder how they would feel about someone else blockading their driveway. Or having a sit-in in their living room. Or preventing them from doing whatever it is they want to do. I suppose we could do all of that, but I for one don’t have enough spare time.  

Instead of research, I think I will do what they often seem to do, speculate and make bold claims without offering any evidence. Based on my observations of what I have seen on TV, this is what I have concluded.

I considered the possibility that they are all rich. But frankly they don’t look rich. They don’t dress well enough.

I noticed that some of them are old. These protestors are likely on pensions, so they no longer need to work.

But most of them are not old. Most of them are young.

Some of them say that they are students, although what they are supposed to be studying is not clear. Nor is it clear how they can afford to skip class. I was a student once and earned a few degrees along the way. It is a long, hard grind requiring dedication and work.        

I suspect that some of them are rich kids, or rather the children of rich parents. That would make some of them the sons and daughters of the industrialists who own the logging companies and oil companies and automobile companies. In that case, they would really be protesting their own parents, perhaps out of guilt for their privileged social status or perhaps because they are angry that their parents were too busy making money to devote time to them. But how is that anyone else’s problem?

A few might be politicians or university professors, people with secure government incomes, being paid by the public to disrupt the public. If all of the logging companies and oil companies shut down, they expect to continue to be paid.

Some of them claim to be professional activists. That is, they are paid by social action groups. That begs the question of who is funding the social action groups. Some of the donors are no doubt well-meaning, ordinary people. Some of the donors are likely wealthy people with inherited money whose livelihoods do not depend on economic activity. And some of the donors do not bear scrutiny. There is evidence that American oil companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian oil companies and American forestry companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian forestry companies.

Another thing I don’t understand is why the police and governments allow protestors to disrupt traffic and businesses. If I piled some debris on the highway, the police and highways department would remove it, and I would likely be fined or arrested. If I tried to stop other people from doing their jobs, I would quickly be taken away. But protestors are allowed to inconvenience and harm other people because, well, because they are protestors. It is another example of their privileged position. 

It is not so much that I question the values they are standing up for as the free time that they have to devote to it.

Perhaps most of all I object to the media calling these protestors activists. It is a misnomer. The fact is that these protestors aren’t actually active. They don’t do anything. They don’t discover more efficient and less damaging ways to produce energy. They don’t abstain from using fossil fuels, plastics, wood, and other environmentally unfriendly items. They don’t run for election so they can engage in public debates and attempt to change public opinion, gain power, and change the laws. Their blockades don’t save energy, just waste more of it as vehicles idle for hours in traffic jams. The recent image of protestors campaigning against logging on Vancouver Island while burning wood to keep warm comes to mind.

No, activists don’t act. They protest in an effort to get somebody else to act. Often their goal is to force governments to force other people to act. They don’t work, just prevent other people from working. They don’t personally fund green projects, just block other projects.

I don’t personally know any activists. But I know a lot of active people. I know people who work two jobs to support their families. I know single mothers who raise their own children, work full-time, and further their education, all at the same time. I know people who have worked full-time for 45 years or more. I know a lot of productive people like that. But they are all far too busy to be activists.

6 comments on “Protestors and Activists

  1. James, you say (inaccurately) the news media never tells us the identity of the protestors. The Globe and Mail May 23 article on logging protests at Fairy Creek clearly identifies the participants as “land defenders” who have the support of local Indigenous residents. The article clearly identifies this group as the Pacheedaht. It also tells us Fairy Creek logging has been approved by this First Nation band as a source of revenue, but the situation is complicated because not all members of the band support the official band position. Is your article tongue-in-cheek to poke fun at all environmentalists rather than a generalization of the media at large, everywhere, all over the world? You paint sloppily with a broad brush. Don’t forget to wash up before supper.


  2. “Land defenders” is no more precise than “activists.” Some of the protestors at Fairy Creek are Indigenous. Others are not. One is from Quebec. I would really like to know who the protestors are, what their expertise is, who is funding them, etc.

  3. You seized on “land defenders”, as I knew you would, that’s why I put it there, but you glossed over my main point: your overgeneralization of activists with a broad brush. The “land defenders” are supporters of the Pacheedaht. If you “really” want to know further, go and ask them. Do the research and then blog about it so we all know. But don’t be surprised if they don’t bother with you. BTW. you’ve got a spot of paint on the tip of your nose.

    Still concerned

  4. My comment was more about the inadequacy of modern journalism and its failure to ask questions. I offered three examples, but the problem is quite widespread. The media does sometimes dig deeper. For instance, journalists did identify quite a number of the Capital rioters, which was helpful.

  5. I’m not particularly impressed by this listless effort, JRC. You’ve done a lot better.
    You offered 3 examples, I chose one at random to put to the smell test: “The media never tells us” proved a queasy overstatement which crumpled easily under closer examination. It’s only now you clearly state concern about “the inadequacy of modern journalism” — not in the body of your article, but in your replies to a reader. Where was that grist in your writing? Go the record. Say that from the outset, instead of flinging hackneyed grievances. Shake off the lethargy of such lazy rants and show us the true face of journalism. Don’t ape those very scribes you decry, the ones who never tell us what we want to know — that would deem you a hypocrite. Now go get those names!

    Even further concerned

  6. I am looking at a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. from a well-documented civil rights protest march. The media identifies Dr. King, but fails to name many of his supporters in these photographs. Also, they appear to be blockading the street at that moment. Did they have jobs? Did they tell their employer they weren’t coming in that day? How did they have all that free time to do what they were doing? Why did police and the US government allow them to disrupt traffic flow? What are their names? Who are they?

    Some of them are young. If they were students, how did they skip class to march with Dr. King? Did they personally fund this protest march? You’re right, JRC: activists don’t act. They protest in an effort to get someone else to act. They don’t work, they prevent others from working. What could have Dr. King been thinking that day? I have a dream?

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