Earlier this week the 9th circuit court in Portland Oregon declared the Sea Shepherd, a direct-action anti-whaling ship and its crew, pirates. They were ordered to cease and desist their efforts to stop a Japanese whaling vessel from fishing in the Antarctic Sea. What the Sea Shepherd does is get in the way. They sail between whales and whaling ships, or between and in front of vessels. It is not a safe practice. Nor is it a form of protest the media finds new, interesting, or particularly worth reporting.
To be honest, my first response was that I could not believe the Sea Shepherd was still around. I first heard about the Sea Shepherd close to twenty years ago when I first began working for Greenpeace. Sea Shepherd was started by one of the original founders of Greenpeace during the early days of direct activism when Greenpeace was still known for taking to the seas. Part of me regarded this kind of activism as a thing of the past; a tactic so clearly riddled with high stakes and gray areas that no one could possibly believe in its effectiveness. But here they are, on video, being pressed between two ships, interviewing one another about their dedication to the movement and the environment, in court, being called pirates. And while I want to be in support of them, the reality is that it is just so much danger, to themselves, and the other crews, and such little press coverage, that it hardly seems worth it.
This kind of activism radicalizes the environmental movement, allowing the conservative right to cast everyone concerned about climate change, resource conservation or air and water quality as first fanatics, then terrorists, and now pirates. As much as I want to applaud their idealism, image matters. Significant social change can only come with participation from the mainstream. I think the time has come for the Sea Shepherd to change its tactics.
For a history of the Sea Shepherds:
Oregonian Article on the Ninth Circuit Court Decision: