Radical is a relative concept

  Dear HCN,


About 15 years ago, I heard poet and anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan speak in Portland. Berrigan was a leader in the Plowshares movement, whose participants entered factories and government installations to physically damage nuclear weapons.


After his speech, which was both passionate and supremely logical, Berrigan took questions from the audience. One man asked, "Since we're about to win a nuclear freeze," - which, by the way, never happened - -don't you think it's passé to go around banging on warheads with hammers?"


Berrigan gave the man a withering look. "People like me make people like you look reasonable," he said. "If they weren't arresting me for hammering on missiles, they would come after you for passing petitions."


I was reminded of Berrigan while reading Karl Brooks' essay on the Vail fire, "Terrorist tactics always undermine progress' (HCN, 12/7/98). Because of the property damage involved, Brooks would probably consider Plowshares actions to be "criminal violence." Certainly, the U.S. government and defense contractors did. Yet the brave men and women of Plowshares set an extraordinarily high moral standard that the rest of us in the peace movement still struggle to meet.


Brooks uses the labor movement to make his point about peaceful social change, but it's a dubious example. Going back to the original Luddites, the movement has always included elements of both sabotage and civil disobedience (sit-down strikes, work slow-downs, etc.). The presence of radicals within the movement made negotiation and collective bargaining look reasonable by comparison, and helped force management to the bargaining table. One only need look at China, where circulating a petition for an independent union can land you in prison, to understand that "radical" is a relative concept.


I have a hard time condoning the Vail fire, which was both dangerous and overly dramatic. I can't support tactics that threaten human life or wildlife. However, I'm careful not to automatically equate property damage with terrorism.


Whether or not we agree with their tactics, we must understand and respect the necessary role that radicals play in the ecology of social movements. By creating space for more moderate voices, they push the edge of what is politically possible.





Andy Robinson


Tucson, Arizona


High Country News Classifieds
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • AMAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    If you're an amazing Program or Education Manager looking for an exciting and fulfilling position with an organization that makes a difference in the community,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.
  • NEW MEXICO BIRDER'S PARADISE.
    Fully furnished 2B/2B home near Bosque del Apache NWR, great for nature lovers.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.