Protesters Didn’t Stand A Chance

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 16, 2011
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It is really quite impressive that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference went off without many hitches. When you have 50 percent of the world’s economies in one place, obviously anything can happen.

But, at least by press time, it didn’t.

One observation: Delegations had so much security at their command, not just in the number of security personnel but also concrete barricades and restricted pedestrian and vehicle traffic that protesters were outgunned from the beginning.

Other things being equal, when power is unequal the most powerful party can achieve his or her goals more readily.

Power imbalance in negotiations can represent clear dangers to the satisfaction of the needs of both parties and to the collaborative process. Taking that into consideration, the protesters trying to impress or disrupt the conference should not be upset. This was a mismatch.

A couple of concerns for the protesters to consider.

First, high-powered parties tend to pay little heed to the needs of low-powered parties, who either don’t get their needs met or use disruptive, attention-getting tactics that make collaboration very difficult.

Second, and probably more importantly, low-powered groups are not usually in a position to trigger and advance an integrative process. A problem-solving approach requires a tolerance of change and flexibility, which often requires negotiators to give up some control over outcomes.

It’s going to take a while for all the factions to divide up the credit for such a momentous, historic conference, but it will all end up with a scorecard of who won and who lost.

It seemed clear from the beginning that Hawaii was going to be the clear winner in this showdown between organizers an protesters. Both state and city did their homework and were ready for just about any contingency. They deserve kudos.

The APEC conference had not even opened for business, and many detractors dug deep down and came up with an elderly gripe. The convention center was built in the wrong place.

Old-timers will remember the lengthy discussion about whether it should be in Waikiki at the International Market Place or on Kapiolani and Kalakaua.

Well, they can put that argument to rest. The convention center proved it was built in the right place.

Probably unwittingly, the APEC organizers used a very successful tactic in dealing with ultimatums. It is called the “farpoint gambit” after the name of a Star Trek episode.

The success of the gambit hangs on the ability to say, “Yes, but ...” to an ultimatum. The “Yes, but” part of responding to numerous ultimatums was, “Yes, but it’s a great showcase for Hawaii and everything it has to offer, and we generated a lot of revenue in the process.”

And that is what happened. Yes, the traffic was horrific, but it was worth it.

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