The power of protest

Thousands of people plan to descend on Heathrow airport in London this month to protest - not at the Iraq war or nuclear power, but at people going on holiday. A huge programme has been organized to alert people about the effects of air travel on global warming. They will also educate the public abo

ut the bio-fuel alternatives. When I read about this I felt a thrill at the way ordinary people do not leave our future in the hands of politicians, business barons and scientists but take to direct action themselves. It revives memories of protests against the Vietnam War and apartheid South Africa.
Ten million people, virtually the entire present population of Zimbabwe, have lost their homes and livelihoods in India because of floods over the past few days. While feeling desperate for those poor people we can also be grateful that we are getting lots of warnings about the effects of global warming. Hopefully we will heed them.
Protests in themselves have limited power and are quickly followed by an offensive from those with opposing views and vested interests, in the case of the airport protests in London it is the aviation and tourism industries. Arguments fly back and forth as to which emit the most green house gases; planes, ships, cars or trains. This is quite apart from deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia and China’s construction of two power stations every week.
But what is noticeable is the way the debate is growing more urgent and no one can ignore any longer the fact that the planet is getting hotter as a result of our activities. As with Vietnam, as with apartheid, the hope is that a crescendo of protest will eventually lead to radical decisions that will save the planet just in time. So public peaceful protest has some power to influence decision makers and bring about change.
So much for our planet, but what of our little corner of it where we persist in our messy little problem of governance? Protests can only contribute where they are tolerated and there is an open society in which people can express their views. Within our country such public protests are met with savage assaults even on mothers with babies. Protesting, far from being seen as an honest attempt to make one’s voice heard, is seen as treacherous and criminal.
And beyond our borders we do not rank as important enough to attract more than fleeting attention. In fact the rest of the world are tired of us now as they were in the later years of Ian Smith. So there is no room for protest and there is no outlet for our feelings. The result is we suppress our emotions and laugh a bit to ease the pain. But for the most part we just keep quiet. And wait.

Post published in: Opinions

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