It’s complicated and it depends (sorry)
I'm confused.... This article talks about the popularity of the 2019 protests, and I am making the assumption here that that's referring to shutting the city down for 11 days.....
If that is what's being referred to; how do we conclude the guardrail 'avoid road blockages' advice? With 'confidence' even?
I think there is a wonky undercurrent here though, and maybe its because I'm not in the UK working on the 100 days campaign.
But why is there this undercurrent implication that actions being popular with the public equal success? I understand 3.5% needs to be mobilised; but I dont think the actions that the public 'approve' of equate to those people mobilising and joining in.
Also, if you genuinely acknowledge and understand the emergency we are in, someone stopping a road about it does not turn you away from seeking climate justice. So those people who were 'turned off' by the actions were probably never actually 'on'. Moreover, with the 3.5% rule; that still means 96.5% of the population have not moved into action and dont need to. So mainstream popularity isnt needed to get those changes we need.
Which 2019 protests are we talking about?
April 2019 had - crucially - the novelty value and, as a result, largely positive or open-minded media coverage, plus the carnival atmosphere with loads of young people, a skate ramp on Waterloo Bridge, Massive Attack DJing on a stage in the road in Marble Arch near a freshly painted Banksy, the pink boat at Oxford Circus... but all of these things inconvenienced the public, and we did pretty much everything you have somehow concluded we shouldn't do, yet it's now clear this was the point at which XR was most impactful and most positively received.
October 2019 was different - attritional, somewhat repetitive, with the media starting to turn against us and the police starting to wise up. This time the target was Westminster but this didn't make the rebellion more impactful or make it be received more positively.
Comments on Steve Akehurst's Discussion of Impact of JSO,XR actions on Public Opinion about Climate Action, continued 2 of 3
5. Now, why have subsequent ones been less successful?
# I take as given Steve's reasons, and also the media impact, so will not discuss those.
# Everyone got used to them. The police now knew what to do. The politicians returned to their old thinking. Xr had 'done what it intended to do', had already had its impact (even though not enough). Law of diminishing returns.
# XR etc. did silly things - jumping on tube trains, and more zany things. Inconveniencing 'ordinary people' (as Steve says).
# What started with a self-sacrificing attitude became gradually more self-indulgent. ("We activists like protesting"; "we protest for sake of it"; "Exciting to go to prison"; etc.) No longer primarily sacrificial. Now, of course, it is not as simple as that. There will have been some self-indulgence in XR19 and some sacrificiality in later events.
# Timing: Oil terminal blockade occurred as people were alarmed at fuel price increases.
# First one called for 3 actions that seemed reasonable - which were easy to grant (in lip service if not in spirit).
# I do not believe XR's 'theory of disruption', which was one of XR's key elements alongside sacrificial giving, actually works, except for the first time. It does not work because it is a bit reducionist, seeing everything through the grey lens of power dynamics. For example the theory I heard was: keep disrupting and either 'those in power' will take notice or they will become so extremely intransigent that 'the people' will have the sense to chuck them out next election. But (a) there are many politicians who are genuinely wanting to to the right thing, (b) 'the people' include Yellow Vests etc. who take the opposite line to ours, (c) Most humans resist being bullied by the other, but are more willing to change their minds when the other shows love, concern, openness, vulnerability, generosity, etc. (c.f. why the element of Sacrifice was important, above.) Disruption does not work as ongoing strategy.
6. What we need. A widespread change of heart attitude. XR19 began towards that, but ... I have a possible solution to this, but which I will not share here because I suspect most would immediately reject, ignore, or try to rubbish it.
Comments on Steve Akehurst's Discussion of Impact of JSO,XR actions on Public Opinion about Climate Action. contd.
4. First, why was XR19 successful?
# XR19 was new, not so much in its happening (police were told beforehand) but in its style. Took people, the police and even the government by surprise. It was also big, and well-organised.
# Timing: Coincidence of 4 things at that time: Greta's school strike, two Attenborough films that made an impact, and XR19 all gave the same message. [Personally I see God's hand in that - if you will allow me to say so.]
# Sacrificial. I think this was probably one of the most important, though least recognised. Humans respond positively towards genuine self-giving and sacrifice by others. One of the fundamental elements of XR strategy at this time was about people making, and being willing to make, personal sacrifices (e.g. willing to be imprisoned). Attitude of sacrificialness was then rare among protests. Being willing to sacrifice also showed that people take it very seriously.
# New attitude to police was demonstrated - which caused surprise to police and others, so they did not know how to react. Onlookers saw this different attitude as showing genuine concern for climate change, not just a liking of protest.
# The fundamental principles were well-thought-out beforehand. It was not just protest, but protest based on new kinds of principles. Subsequent ones seemed less well thought through.
# It was perhaps no wonder that XR people should ask "What now?" and try out various things.
Comments on Steve Akehurst's Discussion of Impact of JSO,XR actions on Public Opinion about Climate Action
Published 230202. Comments by Andrew Basden 230204.
1. Thank you Steve for this very useful research. Of great value. Very timely because, as someone involved in both XR and JSO, I have been pondering exactly Steve's question for some time.
2. You conclude that the XR19 action was surprisingly successful in getting Climate Action onto the agenda, and that three others had negative impact. You say you are surprised about the positive impact of the XR19 and offer a few possible reasons, including ordinary people and a Cabbie liking it. I think those were important but , I think there may be other reasons, some that are even more important.
# You conclude with 4 very helpful guidelines, one being not to inconvenience ordinary people, but target culprits better.
# (But, if that is the case why was JSO/XR oil terminals blockade not more positive, because it targeted the culprits, not ordinary people. I was one who was involved in that one, as (more marginally) with the XR19. I discuss that below.)
3. Now I will address two questions: Why was XR19 successful? Why have subsequent ones been less so? Since it is standard fare to blame the media (esp. anti-green media), I will not discuss that below, but will take it for granted that it has an effect. Instead, I suggest some other reasons that I have not heard much discussed in a systematic way.
Probably in separate comments.
Independent confirmation of the XR 2019 effects, in our manuscript recently submitted for peer review: https://psyarxiv.com/vs7p9 (main results infographic Table 4 on p. 17, direct link: https://imgur.com/a/7Z32UgT).
What our work mainly adds to your analysis (comprehensive and very interesting, thanks!) is the effects of different media sources on the viewer. Positive effects came from the BBC and direct activist messaging, not so the Daily Mail (not a readership effect, this is also a randomised experiment). We also looked into polarisation: the actions did increase polarisation, but for attitudes to activism, not the environment in general. That data was collected at the time in 2019 so confirms your hunch that the positive effects are not due to some kind of decay over time of negative response.
I'm not convinced by your argument that carnival atmosphere is what works. Our direct activist message was the most effective and it included little carnival atmosphere. My top hunch about what can be effective is large numbers of people expressing strong dedication (sacrificially) towards a clear cause that observers can relate to at least a little (the CREDs theory from social psych).