Opportunities from bureaucratic conflicts

One lesson from the Keystone XL protest is that bureaucracies often suffer from inner tensions and conflicts of interest. Actions taken by one segment of a large structure may conflict with the wishes of another segment, and that can create opportunities for those who wish to create change.

In Washington D.C., Park Police had responsibility for the area of sidewalk where the protest was taking place. Faced with plans to protest every morning for two weeks, they wanted to try to deter participation. For that reason, they decided to transfer the people who were arrested on the first day to central booking and have them held over the weekend until they could see a judge.

Central booking is the responsibility of a different police force, and they did not appreciate having to deal with dozens of peaceful protestors, priests, grandmothers, scientists, and so on. Partly as a result of their objections, participants on all subsequent days were released within a few hours of being arrested.

Given the strength of the organizations that want to dig up and burn all the world’s fossil fuels, those who want to avoid doing so out of ethical concern for future generations will need to make use of contradictions like the one between the preferences of the Park Police and those of the city police. By making effective use of strategies that take advantage of such contradictions, smaller groups of people with fewer resources may be able to achieve greater success.

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