If you are no stranger to the internet, emails requesting that you sign some form of petition, campaign or ban, are probably not foreign to you. One of the derogatory nicknames this practice has managed to pick up is ‘l-activism’, and maybe, in some cases, it is well earned. But, whether we call it l-activism or e-activism, it seems to be here to stay. It now seems to be an inalienable fact, of campaigning and the internet, that one of the most vital ways of getting people to register their support is by the click of a few buttons as they work their way through their inbox folder. I’m not sure whether this approach to campaigns is really sufficient on its own, but recently, Greenpeace seem to have been testing the limits of social network campaigning, and finding it to be a huge power that they can harness for their aims.
Greenpeace’s widely followed, well networked campaigns have recently involved the spread of barbie dolls across the UK, storm troopers crossing London, and Polar bears occupying Carin Energy HQ in Edinburgh. Most successful thus far though, was the John West campaign. Within a year, Greenpeace pressure helped Princes, Tescos, Asda and Morrisons decide to change their tuna fishing policies. When all these major competitors had fallen, it was only a matter of time until John West had to step in line – and just recently, they did. Greenpeace might capture peoples attention with clever stunts, but they won the war with people power. Online activism kept emails of protest being sent to John West HQ, while conscientious fish eaters boycotted John West tins. The food giant had no choice, once Greenpeace had got the UK on their side.
So, ‘l-activism’ is a powerful thing, but it wouldn’t work at all without the more impassioned people out there, who really take action. In SharkWater, Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd, says he thinks the world needs 7% of people who are willing to take action. People change things, he states, not governments. Watson changes things by what is classed as illegal activity – for instance, the cutting of tuna nets owned by ‘Fish and Fish’, as well as ramming and sinking other ships. When Greenpeace activists dressed as polar bears and illegally barricaded themselves into Carin’s HQ, they were breaking the law, just as they are when their climbers dropped huge banners off the side of Barbie maker, Mattel’s building. Some people will go to great lengths and put themselves in great jeopardy to protect the things they think really matter – like the American who has just received a two year sentence for placing a fake bid on land that was going to be drilled for oil, or the team featured in The Cove who risked jail, torture, or possibly death while they tried to capture evidence of the Japanese dolphin slaughter.
E-activism may receive some criticism, but, especially when a group takes on governments, e-activsm shows the publics’ will. We donate and click for causes when we are fully aware of the illegal means that might be taken to get the message heard, because we believe in the value of what we are clicking for. If you would argue that there is a good way to break the law, then this must be it. Meanwhile, topically, Britain has erupted riots. Which causes are they marching for? What beliefs are they trying to protect by looting? There are good types of civil disobedience, and there are bad types. I don’t think I need to suggest which ones are which.
So, keep clicking, emailing, supporting, and doing whatever you do to take action. Paul Watson may think it only takes 7%, but the more of us, the better.