The Price of Protests
Oregonians are known for their politically liberal, environmentally-minded leanings, and now they will be known for their willingness to take protests to new heights — literally.
When the Fennica, a Royal Dutch Shell oil breaker, tried to pass through the Willamette River on route to Arctic drilling, protesters blocked water passages and suspended themselves for over 24 hours from St. John’s Bridge to send a clear and simple message: Stop.
The bridge hangers, dangling from the 408-foot-tall structure, spent over 40 hours suspended in the air, with supporters standing by in efforts to dissuade the Fennica from its oil ridden journey. Earlier that week, kayakers and canoers had indeed succeeded in blocking the Willamette River and forcing it to return to Swan Island.
In fact, the Coast Guard actually had reason to intervene, resulting in a temporary closure of traffic from the Willamette to the Columbia, with all waterways surrounding Swan Island blocked.
But the protest carried a hefty price tag. On July 30th, the Associated Press reported that Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that Greenpeace USA fork over a $2500 per hour fine for every hour impeding the Fennica from leaving Portland, Oregon.
What are we to make of a court order against peaceful protest? To what extent is it immoral to fine someone for challenging the federal and state powers in matters of social, political, and environmental decisions? Certainly the anti-violence demonstrations regarding police violence towards blacks and other minority groups have resulted in some traffic jams, inconvenience and discomfort, and yet fines (and arrests, in some cases regarding nonviolent Black Lives Matter protesters) simply do not seem to be the proper response.
Repaying concerned citizens who are acting upon the conviction of their conscious to amend, delay, or stop what they see as wrongdoing is a contradiction. Civic duty is, by its very nature, confrontational. Those who gather to express their concern over our mistreatment of each other, as well as of our planet, should be recognized and given a platform. If the way in which they are protesting is hindering the livelihood of others, find a way to channel their message more constructively, but punishment should be reserved for those who endanger lives — not schedules.
What the bridge-hanging protestors have succeeded in doing is creating an image through a deeply symbolic gesture. On one hand, that may sound like a lot of “hippy-dippy gibberish” to the enraged commuter or the letter-of-the-law legal powers, but the truth is that protest has often succeeded first in spirit rather than fact.
Though they did not sink the ship, they delayed the voyage. In so doing, they sent a message worth much more than any court ruling. Ultimately, time will be the true judge of what a protest truly costs, and what we gain from engaging our minds and bodies in active citizenship.
(All photos from YouTube screen shots)
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.