The oil and gas powerhouse of the South resides in Houston. This past week, Greenpeace USA protesters at the Houston Ship Channel attempted to shut down the busiest channel in the country and one of the largest gas and oil outlets in the United States. The 22 protesters were exercising their right to assemble and petition their government, given by the First Amendment, but at what cost to themselves and others?
According to their website, Greenpeace USA is “a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.” However, their most recent protest in the ship channel caused traffic jams and a car accident, injuring one person. A peaceful protest that unintentionally caused harm.
Suspending themselves from the Fred Hartman Bridge with bright-colored flags, this spectacle and stunt caused the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to call in several levels of law enforcement — including the Coast Guard — in order to protect the protesters from themselves.
What were their efforts for, you ask? To grab the attention of the Democratic presidential candidates prior to their debate in Houston that same Thursday night. Again, this seems dangerous and not peaceful. It is one thing to pressure your politicians and make them see the severity of climate change through action, but this action feels passive -aggressive in nature. Action — another aspect of Greenpeace’s mission — requires peace, but should not be aggressive. They could instead call the politicians in the areas where oil and gas industries are prevalent, ask politicians the hard-hitting questions, just as any other constituent would. This is still action and an exercise of political efficacy, but in a truly peaceful way that gets right to the people waiting to hear your opinion on the matters important to you. This is how you make a point, not by claiming peace while causing chaos.
Ultimately, this protest did not gain the attention of its targeted audience, but the communities surrounding the ship channel and bridge from which the protesters suspended themselves, as well as gathering national attention from the news media outlets and those opposing climate change. Several critics pointed out the flags, equipment and transportation used for the demonstration were most likely created by or fueled by petroleum-based products. For an organization that is so focused on switching to a world without fossil fuels, there seems to be a blind spot regarding their resources. The candidates spoke little of climate change Thursday night following CNN’s town hall-esque climate change forum held just a few days prior with the top 10 Democratic candidates.
So what was the point? Someone was injured, protesters placed themselves in danger, the intended audience did not respond to the call to action — this doesn’t seem peaceful or successful. I want a better way in which we label our protests peaceful. Let us see if we can find the kindness and level-headedness in our assemblies.
I understand the hurt and frustration behind organized petition and protest, but I legitimately pose this question: Where do we draw the line between creating chaotic peace and being passionate about what we are standing for?