Flip the narrative: civic 'radicalism' is, and always has been, 'the new norm'

3 Jul 2018


In posting my support for Greenpeace’s latest environmental defense action (to halt dairy conversion in the Mackenzie country), I reflected this morning on the urgent need to revive a culture in society that celebrates our environmental and social justice defenders.


It’s a perilously insane and topsy-turvy world where our defenders are more frequently persecuted and incarcerated for their so-called ‘radical’ direct action.


We need to once again normalize the concept of “civic duty” justified in the face of unjust law and persistent oppressive regimes (and certainly, if our government claims also to agree with this idea in principle, then our government should improve political decision-making and align public policy to protect such Defenders in practice). I say "once again" because throughout history, there has always been a struggle of opposing forces, an antagonism against a population empowered with an awareness of their civic duties.  That 'people power' is, after all, what keeps in check political and corporate tyranny.

And we ought not to ghetto’ize our civic duty with an expectation that it falls on the shoulders of just Greenpeace members or a small number of tangata whenua or community-based activists: it’s a duty that every sovereign citizen in Aotearoa must willingly and passionately embrace if we're to ensure justice for all and a harmonious democracy. 


We need to change the false narrative that such civic activism is in any way 'radical' in its expression: it is not 'radical' to defend life-sustaining natural habitats or human rights. On the contrary, it is in fact absolutely necessary for humanity's survival. We should flip the concept of civil 'disobedience' against destructive powers that claim to be, and focus instead on civil 'obedience' to the imperative to protect our natural environment, our human rights and democratic institutions.

On the other hand, it is 'radical' and perverse for so-called 'captains of capitalist industry' to continue their Life-destroying extractive-based production that externalizes their private profit-making costs onto nature and society.  It is more radical and obscene that nature and society should be forced to subsidize the growing billions of dollars of gluttonous profits of a relative few (a significant proportion of which is exported to foreign coffers) while the majority of Aotearoa (and the world) suffers under the horrific shadow of 6th mass extinction of Life on our Home Planet which those same elites (including some enabling elected officials and bureaucrats) have collectively created.


The success of such direct civic action is likely to result from raising awareness over time that creates a critical mass of outrage in the affected population which then morphs into effective mobilized action to force political and industrial accountability. 


For example, either political incumbents bring the resource management regime and Aotearoa’s high-level constitutional arrangements into line with environmental protection and human rights standards, or those incumbents are 'fired' by the voting public and replaced by more trustworthy elected officials of integrity; either business and industry positively transforms their production activities with all due haste, or go bankrupt as consumers move with their feet to support other more environmentally and socially conscious and responsible businesses.


As the 2019 local body and 2020 general elections draw nearer, we are reminded that these are critical opportunities to elect more progressive (formerly described as ‘radical’) public servants. Citizens need to remember that We, The People, are the sovereign foundation of this country, and from that understanding be boldly and publicly outspoken with our demands for positively transformative policies.  This will give the permission and encouraging social license to political hopefuls to run on a progressive election ticket. A cautionary note, however: beware of disingenuous candidates who speak with forked tongues and are just a Trojan Horse for the status quo. Voters will need to be very discerning at the polls, lest they are deceived again.



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