Demanding Change: Antagonism in Action

4 Feb

Hey folks, this is the note I promised about the Rainbow Warrior’s actions in Kaohsiung. Nothing about open boat days as that’s pretty much self explanatory (the weather good, the kids cute, the workers lovely and the people helpful/curious/apathetic/varied/enthusiastic…etc). This note does go off on several tangents, however. You are forewarned. Moving on…

 

1/24  2011 Mon

Was woken at noon by a telephone call from Aiya, one of the main coordinators for Greenpeace Taiwan. She said that one of the sailors on the Rainbow Warrior, Tim, had been arrested in action, and she was thinking of gathering a group of people to show their support for her.

 

“How much time would it take you to get here?” she asked.

 

“About 15 minutes.” I replied, and expressed a willingness to attend. She said she’d see how things were going, then call us if we were needed. I wondered how many people she planned on calling, somewhat amazed at her energy – and that they had planned actions in Taiwan which they could have been arrested for. I’m not so sure the police would see it in their light. Police are the stodgiest characters in a society. They have to be, to effectively upbraid deviant behavior – such has burglary, or drug use, which isn’t so deviant if you think about human nature. But I can afford to be understanding, I’m not an officer of the law.

 

I fell asleep wondering whether I should get up and prep myself, in case she called and expected me there in 15 minutes. I wondered what support looks like, and whether a crowd of near strangers would be more comforting than one intimate friend picking you up at the station. Besides, you’d only be able to see when you’re released, right?

 

She didn’t call again. I woke up later in the afternoon and looked up their facebook page, where she said they had info about the action. There was a picture of Tim clung adamantly to an anchor, holding a sign. I supposed that the anchor belong to a fishing boat, which was suspected of illicit tuna imports. I gazed at it, and felt slightly jolted. I wondered if I was right to think I wanted to work for Greenpeace. Things like this didn’t happen in Taiwan. They didn’t happen in my safe world where I pondered questions about fixing this world… Yet issues like this, if no one ever knew anything about it, weren’t going to change things. For them to be noticed, they had to be provocative. Something that I was anything but. I like to deal in reason – I bore people with my reasoning. I want to work for systems that are willing to contemplate possibilities in operation, that are idealistic in making change. But seeing that picture, bringing the audacity of such so close to reality, gave me some pause.

 

I recalled a few years ago, sitting with a friend in someone’s car. I was talking to her about setting up a website, naming all the guys in parliament who resorted to fists, dissuading people from voting for them. The lady driving, a friend of a friend’s who was kind enough to offer us a ride, turned around and said “But look, they did this for a reason, they fought for a reason – because their voice wasn’t being heard in parliament. There was no way they were getting proper representation. You shouldn’t judge them when you don’t understand their situation.” and I said no, I didn’t understand. And was deflated.

 

I don’t like to antagonize people. I’m first of all a pacifist, which sometimes translates into coward. I like to persuade through understanding people. But I understand that too much understanding can allow people to remain entrenched in inaction. If every pedestrian lets cars go first in Kaohsiung, it would come as no surprise if the cars here don’t respect the walkers. Looking at Greenpeace’s actions, I’m wondering if it isn’t better to characterize some people as the enemy. To antagonize. On the boat the second mate Martti had worked for years on a carrier shipping petrol from the east to Europe. He said that one day he just got it. He was listening to music from this Finnish band, Stam1na, and the lyrics just got to him – about us destroying our planet. And he started to feel sick about his job. “It’s all for profit, these businessmen, shipping this black, disgusting stuff so they can earn easy money, not caring about our environment at all.” “What we need is an energy revolution. The sun gives us enough energy in a few minutes to provide for all our energy use in an entire day. We should be putting our money into solar energy, renewable energies.”

 

We are anxious, we are infinitely anxious that something be done – about the climate, about the tuna, about the people starving of crop failure, corrupt governance, wars, an economical system skewed in favor of the foreign merchants. I want those folks trafficking people into unsavory situations drawn and quartered. I want the gangs that terrorize and suffocate neighborhoods to be split up and neutralized. I want the women who are killed for being dishonored given safe haven. I want kids to stop dying of preventable malnutrition and environmental factors. I want those kids who want love so desperately in those overcrowded orphanages, that they practically claw you when you can’t hold all of them, to have the homes they need.

 

We are anxious that something be done. And if we’re all like me, who deflate when met with the smooth reasoning of systems that find it inconvenient to change, then sometimes change is not going to happen. Sometimes we have to take our fight outside of the smooth reasoning. Sometimes we have to shame groups into contemplating change. And it is never too late to thank them for backing down.

 

But will it work in our sort of society? Would it work in a society that values face above all things? I don’t know.

 

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1/25 2011 Tues

 

Aiya called again today. She said they shall be having an action in the morning tomorrow, and whether I’d like to join. “It’ll be ‘til 11.” she said. “Do I have to wear anything in particular?” I asked, thinking of magically acquiring a wetsuit. “Ah yes, the volunteer shirt. Wear that.” she said, sinking my improbable fantasies.

 

She called again, later tonight.

 

“Don’t wear the shirt when you come in. The cops are watching us. If they ask you what you’re doing here you can say you’ve come to meet a friend, or that you don’t know.”

 

“Why?” I asked, amused.

 

“The police officers are keeping an eye on us. I don’t want you to be unnecessarily hassled by questions.”

 

“What are we going to be doing?” I said, finally noting my lack of adequate curiosity/sense of self-preservation in the morning. Am foolishly trusting, as have been constantly reminded by close friends.

 

“They’re still discussing it. Nothing dangerous. It’ll be more like a prank – a joke. Nothing to get arrested over. Don’t worry.”

 

I smiled. I wasn’t worried the moment she didn’t say “wetsuit” or even “bikini”. I was just mildly curious. But I could understand the need for secrecy. Any leaked information could result in the action being stopped. Besides, I had to sound authentic if the cops asked me what I was doing there.

 

With these happy thoughts, I turned to The Mule, a fiction about a soldier’s surreal experience of the Spanish Civil war. The ship’s communication officer, Mir, had mentioned the existence of Anarchists besides Communists and Fascists during that unique time in history. Since what he said about the Anarchists totally upended whatever preconceptions I had of them, I was interested in how this real idealogical experiment had played out. So far in the book, only “the reds” and “the nationalists” (by which I infer are right wing fascists) are mentioned. And seeing as the story centers around Juan’s sexual frustration and his obsession about a mule, I doubt it’ll have much informative historical content. <Sigh> Guess I have no fodder to talk to Mir about!

 

****************************************************************************************************

1/26 2011 Wed

Woke up with a blinding eye-ache. My nightwear contacts sometimes act-up, either through insufficient disinfection or a tear in the plastic. I do hope it’s the former as I wouldn’t be able to afford replacing them quite yet. Was late to the Rainbow Warrior looking for my pack half blind, then driving half blind.

 

In the hull of the ship where they have projector and chairs set up, Apple explained to us the reason for our action. Taiwan has, in the past few years at International negotiations(along with Japan and several other asian nations), opposed further talks to creating conservation zones in the global oceans. At the rate the tuna and other fishes are being depleted, this unwavering position shows excess lack of foresight. There’s a statute in Taiwan stating that all fishing boats conducting business under the name of other nations have to be registered under a certain fishing registry in Taiwan.  So far there are 103 boats registered, but there are more than 200 unregistered. Since last October Greenpeace has been contacting the Fishery Agency to enforce this law and request that the Taiwan government support developing conservation zones in the international arena.

 

So far the FA has had under-the-table talks with Greenpeace, which Greenpeace finds unsatisfactory both because the process lacks transparency, and because FA has not been willing to make any concrete promises nor appeared to make any efforts during this time despite vague assurances to act.

 

While in harbor this weekend Greenpeace discovered that one of the boats in the Kaohsiung harbor was among the unregistered and, upon learning that it was to set sail at 9 o’clock of the 24th, made an on-the-moment decision to launch an action early that morning to delay its departure and prod the Fishery Agency into action. Greenpeace people climbed onto the anchor of the boat to prevent the boat from leaving, and projected words asking the FA to take action.

 

After that action, the FA stated that: this ship bearing a Panama registration, being a refrigeration transport ship (it picks up the catch from the nets and transports them), does not fall under fishing ship requirements.

 

Greenpeace found two issues with this statement:

The latest statute issued by President Ma states that ships that conduct netting, transport…etc activities for fishing are classified as fishing ships.

The ship was registered under Panama but last year has switched to Vanuatu. The fact that the FA made a mistake concerning the ship’s registration showed a clear lack of care in dealing with this issue.

 

Thus, Greenpeace decided to conduct a press conference to shame the FA into action. A group of us weekend volunteers went there to help present a united front. There is a law in Taiwan stating that all congregated action requires prior registration. This registration may or may not be approved. This edict is controversial, as it’s a relic from the martial law period here, and has faced various waves of opposition over the years. It’s one of the concerns of Greenpeace we should be arrested for unlawfully congregating/protesting. As three warnings are required to be issued by the police before they’re allowed to arrest us, the Greenpeace people assured us that they would withdraw the movement before the 3rd warning.

 

Thankfully, this was not needed. When we got to the front of the FA to start our action there were several policemen camcord-ing us. We stood quietly in an orderly group and adopted serious expressions, holding up banners. The main spokes person, Yu-Fen, gave her speech before a representative of the FA approached her. They talked it out, with the FA rep saying that the ship was regulated by international law.

 

“If they only need to be regulated by international law, what purpose does the FA serve?” Yu-Fen asked, cuttingly.

 

“We’re working on this.” the FA rep said.

 

“We’ve been having talks with you guys since last October, your agency has been saying that you’ll work on it and we’ve seen no action at all. You’ve failed to show sincerity in your actions. How are you going to face the Taiwanese public? We want a timeline. When will you have this ship checked out?”

 

“We’re working on it.” the FA rep repeated, unwilling to take responsibility for setting a timeline. Then he went on to continue obfuscating the focus, denying responsibility for jurisdiction over the ship. Observing this process behind a banner, blinking to keep the sun out of my eyes, I found his stance was weak and serpentine, whilst Greenpeace’s position was firm and clear. Though some may have interpreted it as argumentative if they simply listened to the tone.

 

We stood there for a while after the interview was finished. Some of the police turned off their camcorders, as it was obvious we weren’t going to start shouting, marching, stomping about or sit down and starve ourselves. In fact, if the police didn’t immediately drag away the protesters starving themselves in front of the presidential building in the Strawberry youth action more than a year ago, they would have found it too much troublesome to do it to us in this circumstance.

 

I find this heartening, as it also signifies that the police feel no obligation to help the FA save face.

 

I rather doubt the dull sounding Fisheries Agency has had so much interest in them for years!

 

Finished The Mule. The anarchists were mentioned once, in passing, and seemingly in league with the republicans (communists). Will apparently have to look up more info. From what I could gather, the Spanish civil war is shockingly contemporary – occurring between 1936 and 1939. I suppose it was overshadowed by the following WWII. During the Spanish Civil war, the Russians provided armory to the communists, but in comparison their army was more impoverished than the fascists, and lacked the military structure/history that the Spanish military (fascists, who called themselves nationalists) had. The fascists enjoyed the backing of most of the industry and upper-middle class. The setting, I felt, was much like latin america, based on the few other novels I’d read concerning that continent’s era of revolution. Perhaps the sensation comes from the fact that the people speak in Spanish. But also because it was very much a class struggle – the haves v.s. the have-nots. One of the greatest impediments to the revolution that was suggested in the novel, was the ignorance of the peasants and their lack of aspiration to a better life, especially in those peasants whose basic needs were fulfilled through their work with the upper class. What would drive people to revolt? James Jasper states, in the The Art of Moral Protest, that an individual’s history and the emotional response of the people have significant play in protests. Eric Hoffer‘s beautifully written ideas in The True Believer would probably fall under category of class dissatisfaction as a motivator, stating that those most likely to protest are those who have nothing to lose from change. A communist dictatorship would probably find the tactic of keeping the masses ignorant and fed quite useful. Unfortunately if they mean to lead a different sort of life than their subjects it will come to light nonetheless. I do find it telling of Cuba’s leadership that so far they do not have a revolution. Certainly to people used to the ideals of democracy their lifestyle falls far short. But what if the US lifted the embargo? And the Cubans were free to travel as they wished? Would a revolution be even less probable after an influx of resources (materialism like China) and freedom? Castro, after all, did not set out to be a communist, but a socialist.

 

After the event, we went back to the Rainbow Warrior for a finishing briefing. One of our volunteers asked Greenpeace about actions towards the Blue-fin Tuna festival that goes on in Ping-tung, a source of income for the fishermen there. Greenpeace Taiwan said that, due to limited resources, they chose to focus their actions on the fishing industry and government negotiations in far-sea fishing for the moment, instead of coastal fishing issues.

 

Read report that mentioned the owner’s reaction to previous day’s action. He said it wouldn’t do him any good if the tuna stocks were depleted, but that such actions from Greenpeace are counterproductive. I suppose there was no communication with the ships’ owner? Though one couldn’t expect him to stop fishing upon request – he was simply inconvenienced in the process of getting to the government.

 

Saw this vid about history of anarchism in America a few days later. Apparently it’s very much a self initiative movement that stresses the happiness of community efforts. At the time in America it was lumped with communism and the anarchists deported to Russia, where they were ‘very disappointed with the way communism had turned out’. Should anarchism and communism should complement each other? Besides the fact of communism having a very centralized government (which allowed the cold war to be  a standoff of two major powers instead of, say, the stiff mighty power and the monkey colony). I think that anarchism has more of an enlightenment aspect – with the greatest stress on the value of individuals and their ability to contribute to a community. It seems sometimes, though, that our society is so complex right now we rarely want to think about taking responsibility, each and individually, for our communities. Can we not go back to a way of thinking of communities as simple relationship/working networks that generate not only our livelihoods but also happiness?

This is the vid:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-TeGrv32Ig

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