Saturday, March 8, 2008

What's the Message?

For those of us in the Puget Sound area, the big news story of the week was the early-Monday-morning arson that destroyed a handful of model homes in Woodinville, Washington, and damaged a couple of others nearby. So far, what little evidence there is seems to point to the Earth Liberation Front (E.L.F.), a group of environmental radicals that has come to be labeled as "eco-terrorists."

From my layperson's vantage point, the E.L.F. are more eco-vandals/saboteurs than anything else, occasionally targeting organizations - business, government or educational - engaged in behavior that they find environmentally destructive. But it seems that it would be hard to pin down what the E.L.F. are about, because there really isn't a coherent group there. From all appearances, anyone with an environmentally-based grudge, and can of lighter fluid can act in the name of the E.L.F., and that doesn't exactly lend itself to "staying on message." It also seems that it would be difficult to work together to come up with ways that might get the word out without turning off the general public. Here in the Puget Sound area, the E.L.F. is mainly known known for setting fire to a University of Washington building while going after genetically altered trees that we actually in another building.

But it brings up an interesting point. Can a group that anyone can "join" really have a coherent agenda or message? Movements of various sorts have had this problem. Just as when the World Trade Organization Conference was held in Seattle back in 1999, and the authorities found themselves dealing with two sorts of people - "those who genuinely want[ed] constructive change and who understand the art of civil disobedience; and those for whom destruction is entertaining." And given the tendency of the media to concentrate on the more dramatic images of mayhem and destruction, the message the the would-be agents of change are attempting to disseminate gets lost in the overall din.

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