An inconvenient truth: We need protesters

18:21, Feb 28 2012

John Minto, Pete Bethune, Sue Bradford and Lucy Lawless. What do we owe these people, the protesters and agitators for the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the endangered and the environment?

After the publication of our editorial of last Friday, in which we backed the scientific support for fracking, it might surprise many readers that we are just as supportive of those groups and individuals who stand up for causes they believe in, often at great risk to their own reputations, livelihoods and even their lives.

And a great number of them are every bit as responsible for progress and advancements in our societies as the scientists and great leaders and thinkers who they have often railed against.

Some might struggle with the idea that protest and agitation can equate to progress and advancement. But the evidence is compelling.

At various times in our recent history John Minto has been among the most hated people in this country. But the man who became the face of the polarising 1981 Springbok tour protests can claim an important role in ending apartheid and advancing human rights and democracy in South Africa.

Without Mr Minto and many like him it is quite likely the rest of the world would not have forced change on a stubborn regime and Nelson Mandela would have died on Robben Island.


Like the protesters who clamoured about the Noble Discoverer, Kiwi Pete Bethune risked life and liberty by illegally boarding a vessel, the Shonan Maru 2, to protest Japan's whaling programme and its flimsy veil of scientific endeavour.

But his actions and those of many others have probably saved many whales and may yet lead to an end to the deplorable practice.

It's worth noting that most of the countries that we traditionally associate with first-world advancements and progress are countries that recognise the right to protest in some form. At the other end of the scale are those nations which do not value the input of their citizens.

By contrast they seem repressive and anachronistic, held back by a fear of that valuable exchange of ideas that inspires curiosity, competition and a growth in knowledge. Whether you agree with each other or not.

Sometimes such protests do not force change. But they still fulfil a valuable role in keeping companies, industries, countries and regimes on their toes and relatively honest.

Because it is naive to believe the powerful will always be benevolent and do the right thing. The pursuit of profit and power can blind our industrial and political leaders to the price they expect others to pay for that pursuit.

Laws and guidelines governing how an individual or body should act responsibly towards employees, fellow citizens or even the planet did not simply appear one day, as if by magic; invariably they were earned, and sometimes forcibly dragged, from those who stood to gain more from retaining the status quo.

So we thank the protesters and agitators for their continued efforts.

Even if we do not always agree with you.

Taranaki Daily News