Do such actions lead to more support for the cause? That’s what the science says

Climate action group Extinction Rebellion blocks the A12 in The Hague on January 28.ANP image

She is a former healthcare administrator, married mother of three, someone who says “ma’am” and “you.” However, Eva van Kemenade (55 years old) is about to commit a violation. This weekend you are likely to take part in the banned demonstration on the A12 near The Hague, for a tougher climate policy. Although she will likely remain on the sidelines, she admits: Being carried away by riot police officers is too much for her. “But if the police told us to leave and I’m standing on the sidewalk somewhere, I don’t know if I would have done it yet,” she says. ‘We’ll see.’

That protesting on a public road is illegal? This is less important to her. There were also regular weather rallies. But they still get less attention from the media. In my opinion, occupying such a highway is now the only campaign method that still attracts attention. And the theme of this protest, sustainability, is very important to me.

Hard work, hard work, harder work. It can help blow off steam and is guaranteed to attract attention, but will it help? Will you arouse the sympathy of people who take a neutral stance: Hell, these protesters are right, this cause is worth defending?

A12 Siege of The Hague at the end of January.  ANP image

A12 Siege of The Hague at the end of January.ANP image

A protester sits on the Fokker access road in Woensdrecht, 1984. Riot police intervened shortly afterwards.  ANP image

A protester sits on the Fokker access road in Woensdrecht, 1984. Riot police intervened shortly afterwards.ANP image

Probably not, American climatologist and activist Michael Mann realized after two angry climate activists splattered tomato soup against Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece, Sunflowers, in London’s National Gallery. There was glass in front, but still. The popular anger was evident. I was concerned that such actions would harm the cause to which I and so many others had dedicated our lives.”

In conjunction with the Annenberg Center for Public Policy, Mann surveyed more than 1,000 people. They were presented with the following: ‘To raise awareness of the need to address climate change, some activists have taken disruptive and non-violent measures such as blocking rush-hour traffic and pretending to damage works of art. Would such actions reduce, increase or change your support for efforts to address climate change?

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I was shocked by the answers. At least 46 percent indicated that they felt less sympathy for climate action. Even a quarter felt “much less” empathy. Support increased to only 13 percent. This influence was evident even among leftists and young people.

That shouldn’t be the case, Mann writes Discussing the results, in time. “The public doesn’t like this kind of work. They probably evoke negative associations with climate activists, at least for some. And that negative association translates into less support for their cause.”

Show beyond norms

Yes hold on. Man a climate scientist. No sociologist or political scientist has knowledge of this kind of research. “Asking people if they’ve changed their minds is not the way we study this kind of thing,” says political scientist Simon Oetjes (Leiden University) bluntly. We sociologists get our information from experiments in which we show people news, for example, or from ongoing studies in which we ask people for their opinions before and after an event. Fortunately, such studies have also been conducted.

for blog A piece of red meat Otjes re-read some of those studies, looking for an answer to the question of whether sitting angry on a highway makes sense to get your point across. His conclusion: Yes, I did. Pretending beyond the norm, as rule-breaking is officially called, can certainly arouse sympathy in people who aren’t there. “My assessment is that non-normative, nonviolent action can help persuade opponents.”

So the climate movement can be grateful to the municipality of The Hague for not allowing the A12 protest.

Just: the effect is subtle and surrounded by ifs and buts. This became evident, for example, when scientists looked at what exactly happened to public opinion when Extinction Rebellion occupied five important junctions in the heart of London for ten days in April 2019. Yes, there was an uptick in concerns about the environment, Find out by Ben Kenward of the University of Oxford and Cameron Brake from the University of Amsterdam. But it’s not certain if that’s also due to the protests, they wrote in a recent post. At the time of the protests, there were also student climate marches and great interest in David Attenborough’s acclaimed series our planetthat just came out. This can skew the results.

In another analysis of the same traffic blocks, Political scientists in London found something baffling. After the protests, a large group of Britons questioned the desire to pay more money for environmentally friendly products. A sign of people’s dislike of sustainability? It may be just the opposite, scientists say in the journal Environmental Research Communications: Maybe people just wanted a more natural climate-neutral purchase, as the XR advocated.

This is just what you aspire to

It’s not easy to make sense of all those experiences, studies and observations, says social psychologist Martin van Zoomeren (University of Groningen), who is working on a general article on the issue. “We’re at a point where we’re moving toward a more nuanced approach,” he says. “But I also understand that this is not a good, catchy title for your article.”

The point, he explains, is that a show can have very different purposes. And it all depends on what you’re striving for – and how you measure it. Sometimes the goal is: Movement buildingIt builds a movement,” he says. Then you don’t have to be too extreme. But if your goal is to get attention, it might help to sit on the edge a bit, with playful actions, as they’re sometimes called. How annoying a protest can be without losing Empathy is a question we don’t have an answer to yet.

To create understanding, it is important in any case to be clear what the protest is about, van Zoomeren believes, and that pretense is the only thing that gets things moving. Activists must be able to explain what they are doing and that their intentions are good. It is about communication: What are the intentions of these protesters? Then I think you can go away.

In such cases, outsiders may become sympathetic to violent protests, such as race riots or—long ago—British women’s violent suffrage demonstrations. For example, US researchers discovered that after the 1992 US race riots, more blacks and whites registered as voters for the Democrats in neighborhoods that saw more street fighting.

A suffragette is taken away by the police in London, April 1906. Image Getty

Police take suffragettes in London, April 1906.Getty image

Police intervene during the blockade of the A12 by climate action group Extinction Rebellion in The Hague, January 28.  ANP image

Police intervene during the blockade of the A12 by climate action group Extinction Rebellion in The Hague, January 28.ANP image

And there seems to be such a thing as the reinforcing effect of radical action. in The study was published last summer Sociologists led by Brent Simpson of the University of South Carolina had more than 2,000 subjects read about a fictional radical climate movement, Climate Action Today. Supporters damaged, among other things, the property of the oil companies and threw stones at the oil workers’ cars. Test subjects didn’t like it. But they seem more sympathetic to a fictional climate group called Global Warming Warning, which has taken a more moderate approach, with petitions, peaceful meetings, and information.

In short, the radicals shifted unsuspecting research participants into the arms of more moderate activists. This reveals a subtle way in which unpopular tactics from a small radical wing can increase popular support for moderate factions in the same movement. Pinas Nexus.

There is no clear downside

In England, unlike the climatologist Mann, the two British research groups have by no means found a clear disadvantage of barriers to public support. While the demonstration lasted for days and caused a lot of inconvenience. “However, we found no evidence that the protests turned the public away from a sustainable way of life,” the London group said.

Kenward and Brick had their test subjects read coverage of the siege on a trial basis by the impartial broadcaster the BBC, via XR itself, and the right-wing Boulevard newspaper. daily Mail. He summed up the news: “Passengers thrown into chaos on their way home by thousands of environmental warriors.” But those who read it were not disturbed by it. Their sympathy for the climate issue has not diminished — though it has not increased, as have the people who followed the news about the blockade through XR private messages.

Anyway, for Eva van Kemenade, it has long been proven that campaigning helps. As a teenager, she also demonstrated against nuclear weapons and for peace. And now you say again: “The more people, the more people think about their circle: something needs to be done,” you expect. Moreover, we are on the eve of the elections. Maybe people will change something in their voting behaviour. And who knows, the government is sensitive to the protests. Although this may be a vain hope.

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