The predictable path of protest (Wet’suwet’en)

In northwest British Columbia, Canada, a group of First Nations (the Wet’suwt’en) are blockading a road to be used for the eventual construction of a natural gas pipeline from northeast BC to Kitimat on the upper west coast. Fourteen arrested so far for defying a court injunction to cease and desist. Where is all this headed? No crystal ball needed. Just follow my Public Order Activism Arc, based on the observations and research related to hundreds of public order incidents in my career.

activism archFirst step of course is to create fear and outage and the unfair loss of something dear to us all. In this case, “Mother Earth, water, the future.” Next create a patina of credibility by citing “science,” history, and (possibly soon to come) David Suzuki. Now we’re really on a hot trajectory. Next is a call to action leaving the perception of tremendous momentum. In this case supportive and well organized protests in Vancouver, Ottawa, and other parts of Canada including the east coast. We hear the momentum-moving phrase “We don’t want to stand up for…Indigenous people but for everyone around the world.” Indeed. All this drama and momentun of course is fueled by strategically-aroused news and social media.

The Activism Arc reaches a crescendo with dramatic action and reaction. In this case carefully orchestrated arrests and immediate rightous indignation and unkind words for the RCMP. Watch the Arc progess and you will see a period of sustained arrests and continued peaceful protest. This can lead to conflicting opinions being more strongly voiced, perhaps from other First Nations, and within the protest groups themselves. Perhaps a sense of public disapproval as pollsters show opposing views to protester actions.

To prevent a dying end state to the entire show, to refuel waning media coverage, there is the probability that a very small minority of protesters and their newly arrived supporters (from various anti-this-and-that factions) will seek to stoke the dying embers with more dramatic and even violent action. Which of course will simply destroy every careful step of the Activism Arc.

UPDATE: As the Predictable Path of Protest…well…predicted…today the Angus Reid Institute reported that the majority of Canadian agree that a lack of pipeline capacity is a “crisis in the country.”  The pollster also noted that local protests and opposition “has recently been highlighted by recent events in Houston, B.C., where 14 people were arrested from a blockade designed to prevent access to a different pipeline project operated by Coastal GasLink. The pipeline is to carry natural gas through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory on its route from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. Notably, a majority of B.C. residents (57%) disagree that local opposition should carry most of the weight in these debates.”

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