the Disillusioned kid: Hummer Time
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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hummer Time

It looks like the pixies at Earth First! might be as handy with the English language as they are with a monkey-wrench:
If the CEOs of all the most conniving corporations got together with the generals of all the least reputable armies and the most devious advertising executives, all for the purpose of creating the biggest, boldest, mile-high-letters-of-fire insult to all of their green, leftist, anarchist, or just plain humanitarian critics, they would give up through disappointment at being unable to match the sheer brazen fuck-offness of the SUV.
(For those of you not so hot on your Americanisms, SUV is what our brothers and sisters on the other side of the pond calll 4x4s.) "No other target," EF! suggest is "as unneccesary, as bound up with capitalist notions of status and superiority, as aggresively individualist in its manners, as dishonest in its marketing, as military in its provenance." Which sounds about right to me. Despite this bare-faced offensiveness, EF! still find themselves in a situation where they consider it neccesary to bemoan the paucity of militant direct action targetted against SUVs and everything they represent, at least in the UK. Which brings me to this article in today's Sunday Times.

Apparently, activists on the Continent have come up with a novel way of taking the fight to the SUVs and as an added bonus, it's probably legal. Having studied the law, activists have concluded that letting the air out of the vehicles' tyre isn't prohibited, so long as you don't cause any damage. Some activists (who and where we are not told) claim to have done so in front of police officers. If we can take the Times as fact, the movement began in Paris last year and has rapidly spread across much of western Europe.

Groups apparently compete to see who can let down the most tyres in one night, with Belgians managing to deflate 137 on December 14. The most difficult part of the task is to let out the air without setting off the car's alarm. In order to make sure nobody gets hurt as a result of driving off with flat tyres, activists leave documents on the wondows explaining what they've done.

Despite the apparent legality of the activity, it isn't entirely wothout risk for activists. Some have had the misfortune of running into the boys in blue and spent a few hours festering in a police cell. The one case cited in the article, however, those arrested hadn't been content with simply letting the tryes down, but had decided to smear the car with mud to emphasise its ostensibly rural raison d'etre.

As intriguing as this whole idea seems, what really interests me about the Times article is the contrast it presents between activists from the UK and other parts of Europe. While those crazy continentals are running round letting down tyres left, right and centre, "British activists" we are told prefer a "gentler approach." This seems to involve the use of "spoof parking tickets" which "contain information about the vehicle’s demerits, written in a gently teasing way."

The problem with the split the Times is trying to present between European and British environmentalists is that if you read the article carefully it quickly becomes apparent that they've only contacted one British organisation, the Alliance Against 4x4s. I have to confess I've never heard of them before, but a quick perusal of the site suggests they're a fairly standard liberal environmental group. This is all well and good, but who gave them the right to speak as a representative of the wider movement against 4x4s?

This is a perrenial problem within activist movements. Recall how in the build-up to the G8 Summit in Gleneagles last year, the meanistream media were falling over themselves to say nice things about Make Poverty History and its numerous celebrity supporters. This was accompanied by the usual demonising of anarchists and other radical elements, which the self-appointed leadership of the movement seemed happy to play along with. The media were thus able to construct a largely artificial dichotomy between "good" and "bad" protesters, underminging solidarity and thus effectiveness. (Clearly I am simplifying somewhat here, but I think the basic thrust of my argument is accurate.)

I don't claim to have any great solutions to this problem, although I'm sure in the case at hand, a few deflated tyres would go a long way towards undermining the article's ostensibly authoritative claims. For my own part, I claim to speak for nobody but myself. I encourage others to do the same. What you chose to do with this advice is up to you.

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