Ambulance vs Road block – Recommendations for dealing with the media

1. Background

The leading climate movement “Återställ Våtmarker” [1] (engl. “Rebuild wetlands”) in Sweden, has peformed a highly disruptive blockade of the major E4 motorway in Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, on Monday, August 29, 2022. The police and legal system reacted harshly to this street block by arresting 10 activists, presumably to avoid further protests in the light of the upcoming national elections on September 11, 2022. In the aftermath of these actions the press contacts of the movement were interviewed by national radio  (“Studio ett”, SVR) [2, 4] and national TV (“Aktuellt”, SVT2) [3]. A main talking point during these interviews was that an ambulance with a priority 1 call was delayed because of the protests, which was used to question the goals and methods of the “Återställ Våtmarker” movement.

2. Recommendations

To support activists in interviews were such undesirable side effects of civil resistance actions are discussed, I would propose the following strategy.

  1. Explain that this was an unintended event in connection with a non-violent civil resistance action
  2. Explain the precautionary methods which were taken to avoid such unintended events
  3. Explain what actually happened and what the negative consequences actually were (e.g. delay of ambulance in minutes, negative health consequences for patient or health personal, reaction of affected patients and health personal)
  4. Explain that in the current emergency situation street protests are an emergency measure by non-professionals (grassroots movements), which lack the logistic infrastructure and resources to guarantee a fail-proof safety concept.
  5. The current climate emergency situation justifies such actions according to leading political and scientific authorities
    1. Bill McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London [8]
    2. Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General  [7]
  6. Point out that ambulances are often also delayed by regular traffic jams without the right of car drivers to use the motorway being questioned.
  7. Point out that political scientists state that a certain measure of disruption (and even violence) may be justified and may even be required to maintain a democratic society [5, 6, 10, 11]
  8. Clearly reject all framings as “terrorists”, “criminals”, or “radicals” by pointing out non-violent methods as an adequate reaction to the escalating climate crisis. [7, 9]
  9. Instead of quoting scientific facts, which may be hard to communicate within a limited time one can explain the situation with the following analogy:

Long version:

Imagine you are on bus on a motorway, the driver gets a heart attack and the bus goes down the slope. Many passengers are injured and unable to move, but you can get out, walk up to the motorway and try to get help. You are waving at cars to stop them, but nobody seems to notice or care. Finally, you decide to walk into the motorway to force the traffic to stop. Cars break, drivers get out and shout angrily at you until you manage to explain the situation. The drivers apologize and follow you to the bus to save the other passengers.

During the block of the motorway with the limited available means also an ambulance is stopped somewhere further away, which obviously was not the intention. However, considering your limited options to get help and risk for your fellow passengers, your action to block the traffic risking to block an ambulance seems the right thing to do.

Short version:

We are on a fossil fuel speedway and face a mass accident because of massive climate breakdown ahead, which is hidden in the think fog created by the fossil fuel industry, politicians, and the media . We are forcing car drivers to slow down for their own safety after they have ignored warning sign after warning sign put up by scientists. While we are trying to minimize any hassle for individuals and high-priority vehicles, such as ambulances or fire engines,  with our limited logistic resources we cannot always guarantee that. Join us to make our protests safer for everyone! Everybody is welcome, everybody is needed!

References:

[1] https://återställvåtmarker.se/

[2] https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/klimataktivister-begars-haktade

[3] https://www.svtplay.se/video/33931074/aktuellt/aktuellt-31-aug-21-00-6?id=8ZY23Rw&position=670&highlight=klimataktivister-haktade-efter-aktion-pa-e4

[4] https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/klimataktivister-begars-haktade

[5] https://theconversation.com/is-violent-political-protest-ever-justified-72630

“Modern democratic thought has long held that individuals have a right to resist and rebel against tyrannical government and political injustices, and that defeating these great social evils may sometimes demand the resort to armed force.”

[6] Bull, Thomas (1997). Mötes- och demonstrationsfriheten : en statsrättslig studie av mötes- och demonstrationsfrihetens innehåll och gränser i Sverige, Tyskland och USA. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A76121&dswid=-1167, Fulltext: http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:160651/FULLTEXT01.pdf

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/06/climate-scientists-are-desperate-were-crying-begging-and-getting-arrested

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.” – Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/30/total-climate-meltdown-inevitable-heatwaves-global-catastrophe

“This is a call to arms,” he says. “So if you feel the need to glue yourself to a motorway or blockade an oil refinery, do it. Drive an electric car or, even better, use public transport, walk or cycle. Switch to a green energy tariff; eat less meat. Stop flying; lobby your elected representatives at both local and national level; and use your vote wisely to put in power a government that walks the talk on the climate emergency.” – William J. McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/19/environment-protest-being-criminalised-around-world-say-experts

[10] https://www.dn.se/debatt/orimliga-straff-vantar-dem-som-deltar-i-klimataktioner/

[11] Voulé, Clément Nyaletsossi et al. (2021). Exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as essential to advancing climate justice. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3936774?ln=en

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