We are a group of young activists that have been active for only a few years. The experience of participating in different environmental organizations made us realize the limits of these organizations with respect to the effectiveness of our struggles. So in recent months, we decided that we wanted to try to inflict economic damage on fossil fuel companies through our actions. This decision led to much in the way of questions, preparation, reflections and ideas. These things are what we would like to discuss in this text.
Originally published by Montreal Counter-Info.
It began with many of us acknowledging something: the environmental struggle has hit a wall. We repeat actions of the same intensity (whether we’re 20,000 or 500,000 in the streets) for a cause that is becoming radically more urgent. We complain that the government doesn’t listen, but we choose to stay in a passive position, always in a posture of making demands while more than enough evidence has accumulated to disillusion us. Wishing to be lucid about the effectiveness of our methods as much as what little room for manoeuvre we have left, we felt the necessity to do more and to do better. These reflections emerged as well following readings like “How to Sabotage a Pipeline” by Andreas Malm, texts on the history of the Earth First movement (“Down with Empire! Up with Spring!“), and written reflections from ZADs and from current environmentalist groups.
Some may tell us that these reflections needed to come sooner. They may be right. Still, it is absurd to ask an activist to move from inaction to the most radical form of action. Every activist accumulates experiences that lead them to reflect on the effectiveness of their actions. Each one of us may then evaluate what they can do, based on their desires and abilities.
So we started to think about what would be within reach for us and have a certain impact. The first obvious obstacle that presents itself is the law. We believe that right now, everyone must reflect on their capacity and will to break the law in order to have an impact. Accepting legal risk takes time, it’s a psychological process not to be ignored — being comfortable with the actions that follow all the more so. This taking of risks may throw into question some of our aspirations and make us face our privileges as well as what they may imply as responsibilities. Therefore we invite anyone with the will to intensify their political action to reflect on the legal risks they are ready to take. Ultimately, we see it as a necessity so as to have a greater impact. It’s a matter of finding a balance between risk and intended impact. We do not seek to get arrested “to get arrested” or in a perspective of civil disobedience with an audience. We no longer want to be in a position of making demands to those in power, we want to cause direct economic damage with the goal of forcing a prohibition of fossil fuels.
The second obstacle apparent is that of preparation. We weren’t prepared to take this kind of action, and information stays hidden (with reason). We had to delve into different sources ourselves to learn certain techniques, to have good legal protection, and to communicate with each other securely. All this preparation takes more time. However, if we wish to intensify our struggle, we must get off the beaten trail and try to learn on our own the best we can. Through this process, there will be experiments and mistakes, and we will not all become perfect activists overnight. This lack of preparation and knowledge must not be an impediment to the intensification of our actions, it only requires that we make the time to learn by ourselves and share our knowledge.
The third barrier that appears is that of our (in)experience related to our age and the network of who we know. We are part of a new generation of activists that was not around for some big dates of struggle in “Quebec”. This inexperience leads us to have less practice, but also less knowledge of activist structures and practices. This inexperience can also elicit distrust from older comrades who see us as naive or unable to act in view of an escalation of pressure tactics. This distrust has its reasons, but we still would have more to gain by uniting as much as possible and sharing knowledge that was erased with the dissolution of the ASSÉ and burnout. Not that we put aside the necessity of organizing in affinity groups to build trust and maintain security.
Lastly, the fourth barrier we face, one that we may feel inside us without sharing it, is an emotional barrier. Lowering your fears about actions you’re doing, facing confrontations with the police and their intimidation tactics (we recognize that for some people confronting the police is not a matter of choice), developing the courage needed to trust yourself on new paths that lie outside societal approval: all these things require emotional work that takes time, even more so as we may carry within us the image of the perfect revolutionary who is afraid of nothing, who fights the police without fear, maybe even with a smile, and we consider that it may be a question of nature. Whereas in our lives, we want to take care of each other, promote understanding of points of view and foster kindness, our organizing asks that we harden ourselves, face our fears, express our anger and take our legitimate place even if it means confronting the order of the world. This work on our nature and our emotions should be seen not as a barrier, but as an invitation to develop sharing circles to do this work together rather than alone. Ultimately, developing these qualities will allow us to live a life that is closer to our ideals and allow us to be happier.
Surmounting these barriers as much as possible, we carefully planned our action. The action aimed to damage gas stations in order to render them inoperable for several days. In the course of things, we had our challenges. One location ended up being surveilled, and another closed a few weeks before our action, rendering it useless. We nevertheless gained practical experience by which we faced our fears and learned lessons from our mistakes. It is necessary to begin acting, even if we are not perfect, even if we don’t know everything. What’s important is to organize as well as we can but above all to act, because all that stops us is essentially fear and a lack of time.
In conclusion, we believe it is necessary for the struggle to evolve toward a plurality of direct actions. Our goal in this text is to share that it is not necessary to know everything, that it’s normal for many obstacles to appear along the way, and that we can all autonomously gain the knowledge and reflections needed towards this end. Ecological struggles will mark the coming years. They are struggles that we have no choice but to win. We would like for the next people who organize in the context of the ecological crisis to not take the typical peaceful path. We also want to call for activists from previous generations to share their knowledge with us so that we can move forward together. However, we do not overlook the impact that repression had on some of our friends. We recognize the courage of the people who were or are in any way a part of struggles past and present.
-History is watching