Archive for the ‘Protest’ Category


By the Numbers

April 26, 2010

What’s 150,000 people gathering on the mall to celebrate Earth Day? I’m not really sure… but it does appear that it isn’t news, compared with the order-of-magnitude smaller numbers of tea party protesters a week earlier. Or, as Joe Romm points out, the anticipated number of protests in opposition to the Arizona immigration legislation. Hard to say why this is, though Mark Engler offers some analysis.


For My Students

March 28, 2010

Tips on outlining for an exam. Also of interest is this nice overview of San Francisco’s proposed “sit-lie” ordinance.


Sea Shepherd Splintered

January 8, 2010

Revkin had a post up a few days ago on Dot Earth about the Sea Shepherd ramming. Near the end of his post, Revkin slyly asks:

If a whale is hit by an exploding harpoon near Antarctica and the world doesn’t have a way to witness that, does it make a sound?

Apparently, Peter Singer, Philosopher and Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, responded:

Yes, it has a sound. Because the question about a tree falling in the forest assumed that there are no sentient being able to hear it fall. But whales are sentient beings, and they make sounds that can communicate through the water over a great distance. But even if the whale was alone it can hear the harpoon and feel its own agony, as studies have shown that harpooned whales often die slowly.

I’ve been heavily influenced by Singer, even though I disagree with him pretty strongly (methodologically speaking). Not only does his response to Revkin strike me as having missed the point of the question — the question, in other words, was not technically about whether whales are phenomenologically aware of their own slaughter, but about the extent to which the slaughtering of whales matters politically if no one is around to call attention to the fact that they’re being slaughtered — but it is unapologetically entrenched in his sentientist POV.

On the first point, clearly the question was political. One might also ask the same thing of a protest organization like Sea Shepherd: if they continue doing what they’re doing, and nobody is around to hear, does it make a difference?

Indeed, ever since Sea Shepherd began allowing cameramen on board to shoot Discovery Channel’s Whale Wars, critics of Sea Shepherd have accused Watson of jumping the whale shark.  My students, mostly fascinated by the extent to which Sea Shepherd walks a tricky legal line, cannot stop talking about what a pompous self-promoter Watson is. Until the show came on the air, they’d only caught wind of direct action organizations like Sea Shepherd through the twisted missives of the self-parody that is the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

But that’s just the way it should be: Whale wars is a media phenomenon. They’re in the news now, partly because they’ve been very good about getting and holding media attention.

On the second point, it’s true by definition that sentient creatures like whales are aware of pains and pleasures, and so presumably would “hear” the harpoon as it enters their body. But simply because this is true ought not to be the critical factor in determining what’s wrong with harpooning whales. Singer and many like him argue in multiple locations that sentience is what matters morally, presumably because pains are bad and pleasures are good. But many others disagree. So what if whales can feel the harpoon enter their body. Of course they can. Cows and pigs can probably also feel it when they get clobbered with a hatchet. I have to wonder if the awareness of the whale is a strong enough reason to stop harpooning whales.  To combat the shortcomings of this view, many try to argue for personhood, just as these scientists argue that dolphins should be viewed as non-human persons. Watson also argues something like this when he claims that whales are more intelligent than humans. This strategy also has its substantial shortcomings. For starters, it’s a relatively confusing, given the commonplace use of the term “person,” and the extent to which this is caught up in moral language.

A slightly better strategy, it seems to me, is to argue that the relevant features of an existing being are salient in a particular circumstance. I guess my attitude is that we can give lots of great reasons why whales ought not to be harpooned and slaughtered, and we don’t need to adopt the strong sentientist or personhood position to make these claims. There are reasons for me to not go mowing down a forest in Alaska, for instance, and those reasons don’t necessarily overlap with the forest’s intelligence, personhood, or ability to feel.

Semester begins on Monday. Should be a bit easier to hit my schedule when I’m in a routine.


How Føcked Are We?

December 15, 2009

Whee. This is clever, from Grist:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Tomorrow is likely to be a big day of demonstrations and protests. Police are clamping down pretty heavily. Naomi Klein is screeching about how American politicians shouldn’t even show up. And Christiania is being raided, only to be defended by young anarchists in black hoodies.



December 13, 2009

Yesterday began the first day of what I suspect will be a week of increasing protest and resistance in Copenhagen. I missed the protests, as I was on my return flight to the US. I did, however, have an opportunity to witness first hand what I think is a certain sign that things will soon get considerably more heated. Why would I say such a thing?

Suppose I were to devise a nefarious plan to stage an “nearly non-violent” “black-velvet” insurrection: nobody hurt, just lots and lots of property damage. If I were to do that, I would wish for a nearby staging ground to freely house the thousands who were joining me. If I were to do that, I’d hope to have hundreds of private rooms where we could all plan out our individual actions. If I were to do that, I would hope to have copious amounts of food that would benefit those who had come along. I would hope for no police presence in this area where the Copenhagen’s new (and extremely sketchy) pre-emptive protest law could come into effect. I would post guards to protect my high level planning committee from being spied upon. I would disallow cameras. I would have open markets for folks to congregate and get supplies. I would build camaraderie and friendship by living closely in tight quarters together. I would provide numerous gathering locations, for individual activists to bond and form working groups. I would ensure that I had hundreds of secret chambers for storage of equipment I planned to use. I would pump everybody up with raucous music, plenty of booze, and wild, drug-enhanced parties.

As it happens, Copenhagen has a near ideal staging ground for the sort of insurrection that I would plan, and it’s located halfway between downtown Copenhagen and the Bella Center.

I went to a section of town called “Christiania” on Thursday night, escorted by Søren, a long-time Danish philosopher friend of mine. Christiania is an independent free state, a long-standing social experiment nestled neatly inside the state borders of Denmark but “tolerated” by the government as independent. As social experiments go, it is enormous, spanning 85 acres. It has its own military barracks, several restaurants, many bars, an open market, hundreds of apartments, loud music, and plenty of drugs. On the night I went there, it was crawling with black blockers. The streets were alive with energy. There were oil drums burning openly in the streets, offering fire for warmth. There was a food tent. There was dancing and partying in the streets and in bars. There were punk bands blasting. And there was anticipation in the air. In all respects, it is an awesome compound.

If I were to plan an insurrection on the order of Seattle, Genoa, Montreal, Rostock, and so on, I would wish I had a staging ground like Christiania.

I will be surprised if you don’t see some heavy action in the coming days.


Pre-emptive Protest

December 6, 2009

From the Future Crime Files: the City of Copenhagen as approved a pre-emptive protest law. Impossible to countenance this:

Under the new powers, Danish police will be able to detain people for up to 12 hours whom they suspect might break the law in the near future. Protesters could also be jailed for 40 days under the hurriedly drafted legislation dubbed by activists as the “turmoil and riot” law.

I guess I’d better wear that tie. My hip open-collar look may signal an intent to do something spooky.


The Throw Down

November 14, 2009

Looks like the ramp-up for black-bloc activities in Copenhagen has begun. If Naomi Klein is right, it well could eclipse even what we’ve seen at other recent events.


Moms Against Climate Change

November 6, 2009

Graham Gets a Swirlie

October 15, 2009

Just before I entered sixth grade, I was terrified that the older middle-schoolers would give me a swirlie — holding me headfirst in the toilet so that my hair assumed the shape of the bowl. I was relieved to discover that the middle-schoolers at my school, at least, weren’t as twisted as they were made out to be by my fifth-grade peers.  Turns out, some republican activists in South Carolina are borrowing tricks from my middle school of myth.

Growing up is hell. Think Progress has the scoop, as does the Wonk Room.


Arrested Anti-Development

October 15, 2009

Q+A: Environmental Activist Mike RoselleHere’s an interview with Environmental activist Mike Roselle in Time Magazine. I sat around a campfire with Roselle about twelve years ago, rehashing some of his tales from the early days of Greenpeace.  As should be clear from this interview, he’s a pretty radical dude, he’s taken some pretty aggressive actions, and as a result of this, his stories are truly fascinating.  I don’t think I said anything the whole night.

Among the courses that I teach regularly, one of my favorite is an upper division course on property and protest. The course is ultimately geared to address conceptual concerns that strike me as more centrally at the heart of environmental issues than those that generally frame the debate: namely, nature and wilderness.  Instead, I look directly at what is moving the issue: property and protest.  We address a range of theories about the origin and legitimacy of property rights and then ask questions about the extent to which property rights fall into place against other concerns, like human rights and environmental policy.  We also look at various activist strategies, including symbolic protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, monkey wrenching, property destruction, and sabotage.   As far as readings, the course starts with history from the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use Movement, and then moves back through the history of property rights, past some of the legislative ‘takings’ cases, and up through the tactics of Earth First! It’s a great class, if I do say so myself.

I may be picking up this book to add to my syllabus.  Any feedback or thoughts on Roselle’s tales would be much appreciated.  Also, if anyone has suggestions for readings from the Wise Use movement, particularly regarding actions and events that have shaped reactions to the environmental crowd, I’d be interested to hear those as well.