The Power Behind The Protesters

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 10, 2007
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The protesters confronting the University of Hawaii regents, opponents of the Hawaii Superferry on Kauai and those opposed to the Striker Brigade locating on the Big Island are having a grand time. They have captured the headlines for a couple of months with no indication that their dominance of the media will cool off soon.

It was entertaining to watch the UH protesters going after their regents over a UH-Navy contract to conduct research on the Manoa campus. What made it entertaining was they were the same people who protested the Vietnam War in the ‘60s. They were a little heavier and there were traces of gray hair, but it was basically the same group of individuals who had banded together to influence policy at the UH.

Then there are the Superferry protesters taking on the U.S. Coast Guard with Boogie Boards and canoes. They succeeded in forcing the ferry out of Nawiliwili Harbor and into courtrooms on three islands, so they deserve to be congratulated. In a political skirmish, delay is a very close to permanent form of denial, and it doesn’t look good for the private sector.

It was all going according to the script until someone tried to compare the civil disobedience during the American Revolution at the Boston Tea Party in 1773, where a group of organized protesters, complaining about “taxation without representation,” dressed up as Indians and boarded a couple of British ships and dumped a bunch of tea into the harbor.

It made me wonder, how did the first protesters organize and come up with the idea that they could influence government policy and procedures by dressing up as indigenous citizens and throwing valuable cargo in the water? When you think about it in retrospect, it was a brilliant idea and surely drew attention to the government policy of taxation without representation.

There is very little connection between the Boston Tea Party protesters throwing tea in the water and the Nawiliwili Harbor incident where men, women and children were throwing themselves in the water hoping to block the Superferry from reaching the dock. That is not to say there were no similarities. Both events were fueled by passion for a cause.

If you give protesters a cause, chances are they will win. There are many examples of a small band of protesters, Greenpeace for one, causing great financial loss to some of the most powerful companies in the world.

There are very few labor unions that can hold their members together without some kind of adversarial relationship with management. The powers behind the protesters understand the psychological cement that is needed to hold the group together. In point of fact, it is not outsider vs. insider, local vs. haole or Oahu residents against Kauai residents. It’s about social cohesion.

Once the protesters learn the lesson, they use their newfound power to raise money and engage in politics. There is a lot to be learned from the Superferry encounter. You will notice when this saga began, there was no problem. A group of knowledgeable people pointed out the problem, organized a plan to bring it to a boiling point and finally offered a solution to the problem. In this way the leaders of the protest use ordinary citizens as their pawns and gain prominence.

I know what you’re thinking, “baloney.” Well, try the theory out. Discover a problem at your office, figure out a solution to the problem, and when you are sure you are correct, point it out at a conspicuous meeting with the management team. More often than not, you will be promoted or at least given the responsibility of solving the problem.

All the protesters need to win is to delay the Superferry. They don’t need to sink it. At this late stage the organizers of the protest can even sound like they support its success, when in fact, it was never their true intention.

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