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Protesting is Cool This Summer

Protesting – an activity long-dismissed as something belonging to (to quote some of the less complementary phrases) “the tree-hugging, sandal wearing hippy types” – is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and with that resurgence is a dramatic increase in effectiveness.

The great demonstration of this resurgence will be in the environmentally linked protests over the summer. Environmental Protest Groups (EPGs) are not new. The ubiquitous EPG brand is Greenpeace; certainly the most effective EPG and arguably the protest group with the most innovative and effective media machine on the planet. Their actions are imaginative, create brand and issue awareness, and are very often successful over the medium term or shorter. They have members who are prepared to act illegally to make their point, which is effective in emphasizing the seriousness of the issue to the media and public.

The other key movement today that will affect the environmental protests is the Occupy Movement. This is because, like a number of other organizations (such as the SEIU and MoveOn.org), Greenpeace has been very effective in using the “distribution network” that Occupy has created for other issue groups to connect with Occupy members. This raises the critical point:

Protesting is cool again. Direct actions are not only cool, they’re seen by many young people as something that is not only legitimate, it’s required.

Greenpeace has already taken advantage of this to get Occupy to target businesses for environmental reasons. EPGs have been active at a lot of unrelated events, getting their message out to people that may be interested and gaining additional support and/or members.

Greenpeace has already shifted focus onto the financial industry, using secondary and tertiary targeting to affect the flow of funds to companies that they are targeting for their support to the energy sector. Offering Occupy members another reason to target the financial companies that are already the focus of their ire and that have been thoroughly demonized anyway is simply sound strategy on Greenpeace’s part. The message is simple – “the banks have wrecked the global economy, they’re responsible for taking away people’s homes, and now they’re responsible for wrecking the planet too.” From a communications standpoint, it’s elegant in its efficiency.

The indicators for direct actions growth are certainly there:

  • There are an increased number of EPG events that are also offering training in protest organizing, civil disobedience and direct action. These include the gathering at the Ohio State House in Columbus last weekend, the Round River Rendezvous and West by North West.
  • EPG groups calling for protests at the RNC and DNC in September.
  • The publicity surrounding the gulf oil disaster is still having an effect on those seeking a cause.
  • Greenpeace has imported their occupation tactics for power stations to the United States.
  • Fracking is becoming a real focus for EPGs. It has gained significantly more attention and seems to be attracting even more young people than long running campaigns against mountain top removal, coal, logging and oil.

Taken together, the conclusion can only be that there is likely to be an increase in direct action this summer. Particular targets with be financial institutions with noteworthy clients in energy and extractives, and companies involved in fracking. Protesting is back, protesting is cool, and protesting is becoming very focused on the environment this summer.

Update: Hours after this blog was posted, the Bank of America Headquarters in Charlotte, NC, was the target of a direct action. Although the media attribute the action to Occupy, the vast majority of coal-related protests in Charlotte have occurred since Greenpeace opened their office in the city last summer.

Sam Rosenfeld blogs on protestor management, security sector reform, and the intersection of security and financial issues. Chairman of The Densus Group, Rosenfeld is a former British Army infantry officer who served for eleven years in many of the world’s more contentious environments. He holds an MBA from Wharton Business School, a MSc in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management, and a BA(Hons) in International Relations and Strategic Studies. Read More