Why Bail Out Those Using Stupid Tactics?

(Note: When I first wrote the following, I was unsure if I should post it as-is; at first I thought it was too extreme and blunt. But a friend said "No, I think you should, it's how most grown-ups think." So, here it is.)

Last week there was a big protest in Florida against a natural gas facility being built that was conveniently located near the site of a big Earth First! semiannual meeting. After each of these meetings, which move around the country every time, organizers pick an environmentally-bad thing to go do a protest against when the meeting concludes - a coal mine, a factory, whatever is handy.

This time it was Palm Beach County's under-construction West County Energy Center. Ten or twelve activists locked down in a circle to prevent trucks carrying rock from getting out. Police came, riot gear, yada yada, hundreds moved aside but 27 were arrested. What did it accomplish? The construction was halted for 6 hours, traffic was blocked, and a couple local papers ran short articles.

Now we, the general, caring activist public around the world, are being asked to finance the bail bond for these brave folks.

Maybe I sound a little curmudgeonly, but frankly I think the whole action was ineffective, ill-advised, and wasteful of time and energy. It didn't have any real effect, it pissed off motorists and workers in the area, and it didn't even have much of a symbolic effect since national media didn't pick up on it. It's also just boring and old and tired, except to the couple dozen young traveller-kid adrenaline junkies that sat out there and got high from the excitement of "sticking it to the man".

And now I'm being asked to waste my money on its aftermath? On an action I never approved or even knew would happen (well, actually, of course I did, in general, because like i said, it happens every 6 months like clockwork).

Think of what else the money could have gone for.
The bond, to bail out 27 white gringos (at least from the photos they all looked pretty gabacho) from jail, was $13,500. That could feed about 22 Bolivian families for a year. Just as one example. Or another example closer to home - that's almost exactly the entire (minus in-kind donations) budget of the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm working on.

Agreed, we could debate about what is more or most effective. But that's not my point. I'm just asking you to think about it. Tactics and strategy matter, and the reasons, and aftereffects, and costs, behind their execution matter.

Another example of this kind of vain and foolish "action" is the upcoming "un-welcoming" of the RNC and DNC in Minneapolis and Denver. More useless mobilising, activists flying or bussing or driving or hoppin' freights in from all over the nation for a week, running around in the streets taunting cops, tipping over dumpsters and shouting at limos that might have delegates (and let's not even address for now that the candidates are already decided by then - the Conventions are just elaborate theater put on for show) in them, all so the kids can later retire to the convergence center each night and sing songs and smoke weed with their cool hipster activist friends and maybe get laid (direct action really gets the hormones pumping, y'know). What does it really accomplish outside of those exciting, social, "coming of age" goals for these youths?

What's effective and what's not? Should one engage in a tactic just because that's what's been done every year for years? Should one support something and bear the consequences just because someone else made a foolish decision? Should one be involved with foolish decisions just to satisfy some desperate and frustrated youthful need for adventure and catharsis?

This does seem harsh, but at this point I think it's extremely important to start honestly critiqueing tactics and strategies. Social change isn't just an empty gesture for bored suburbans youngsters to inject excitement back into their middleclass lives for a few years. A lot of people are in it for the long haul, and they're in it to win. So let's honestly and carefully figure out what works, what doesn't, and why and why not.

re: Why Bail Out Those Using Stupid Tactics?

My two-more-cents worth is that these same folks look at those of us who work day-in and day-out on the issues for a paycheck as sell-outs, but we're the ones who come forward with the money when their short-sighted actions land them in jail. I think it is important for people to learn the ropes of direct action, but ultimately more effective for them to participate in legal and legislative solutions to the issues. If more radical youth were involved in NGOs, the NGOs would have to better reflect their views. Likewise for the government. Like it or not.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.