“.. then they fight you, then you win.” – Gandhi
Repression – arbitrary arrest, prison without trial, violence, lies, manipulation -the whole paraphernalia of the pathological elite is disgusting and outrageous. And I can say this from some personal experience, having been banged up for months for making a speech. But as battle-hardened readers of my posts you know I am not going to write on something so intellectually lazy as why the bad guys are bad guys.
No, what we need to do is to look with laser focus at the rapid descent into repression of the UK carbon regime to deeply understand why the present moment – this getting towards our darkest hour – is our moment of greatest opportunity, particularly if we play our cards right. Let me say this: this moment gives us the greatest probability of overwhelming the UK government than at any time since the Rebellion of April 2019.
How come? It comes from the most exciting word in the English language: “Backfiring”. Many of us have a vague understanding of the phenomenon but it is fascinating to see the dynamics play out before our very eyes. Like being arrested for wearing a Just Stop Oil T-shirt. Did you see that right? Yep, people are being arrested for wearing T-shirts – not as a result of some mix-up – some Met fuck up. But as in the bright light of day, an act of police policy. Nothing “went wrong”. Add that to the getting imprisoned for making a speech (me), getting imprisoned for saying “climate change” in court, and getting sent to the Old Bailey for holding a placard saying juries have the constitutional right to go against the judge in their verdict, added to the trail of police raids and arrests for …er… being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, what has happened to the black and minority communities for decades is going mainstream.
So first let’s look at the basic dynamic: when the opponent uses repression towards nonviolent resistors they create an instinctive sympathy from supporters, observers and even opponents of the cause. This can be conscious, subconscious (grudging respect) or arguably unconscious. In principle the greater the aggression, violence and/or punishment – the greater the sacrifice – the greater the moral attraction. This is backfiring. This for instance works in a simple case of seeing others you know getting arrested – then in a group discussion later you are far more likely to sign up to engage in civil disobedience to the point of arrest yourself. Action is worth a thousand words – it’s so true. Seeing is believing. So the harder they push the more the backfiring potential. This is not deterministic – it doesn’t happen every time with everyone – but the odds are high.
But there is something else going on which explains why semi-authoritarian regimes like the UK are most vulnerable to the civil resistance methodology – mass civil disobedience enacted day after day. In liberal regimes, you have to do “quite a lot” to be arrested if you take part in open civil disobedience – and even more to be sent to prison. Sitting down on the road as they did recently in liberal Holland for instance – led to arrest but no charging. To end up in prison requires doing something dramatic – “criminal damage” to a building or an oil refinery – an “activist” type thing – certainly not what ordinary people would do and not where they would go. When people do “activist” actions they create a little emotional simulation in the public because people think “Oh it’s those people doing strange activist things – that’s nothing to do with me.” They switch off. That’s the main reason why the press does not cover doing bad things to bad people.
In contrast, in semi-authoritarian regimes the “site of confrontation” as you might call it becomes the “everyday action” in the “everyday place” – most especially marching down a city road. Doing this moves from a non-arrestable activity to something to be pulled off the road for, handcuffed and dragged off to a police van. The optics are different – this violates the “natural” sense of justice of ordinary people – why is that happening to people for just marching?
Similarly with the T-shirt incident – a secret action on an oil refinery gets no publicity and little sympathy – while people get arrested for standing around wearing a JSO T-shirt – what the fuck. It has become a national talking point.
So “repression” in actuality, means making the everyday illegal and so it vastly increases the backfiring potential.
Lastly the “entry cost” is significantly lower cognitively and materially – you can see yourself doing a march – in a way that you cannot see yourself climbing over fences, and it’s easy – you just go and join in down the road. So lot’s more people get outraged and a lot of them decide to join in because it’s easy. It’s a march and you get the numbers. It becomes a people power thing.
This is how classical civil resistance works – it’s not complicated – you go on the street and stay there till the regime reacts or falls. It creates the opposite of what was intended. Handy!
Of course, the opposite dynamic applies, repression can create disengagement, as the pessimists like to remind us in their self-serving fatalistic analysis – so there is nothing that can be done. The Police Act “prevents protest” as if we humans are bits of a car engine – if you don’t put petrol in it the car won’t move. Humans are not engines – we are souls with a moral sense. We are violated by the violence of power. And if we as leaders and designers act in smart ways in service to our communities we can bring about the glory of collective action. It’s happened before it’s going to happen again. Sooner than we all think.
Just watch what’s written on your T-shirt!
To sign up for civil resistance, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“.. then they fight you, then you win.” – Gandhi