Becoming less helpless makes us all better

protestby Matthias Rhomberg

The Naïveté We Need: Notes on a Climate Action

“A lot of naïve people around here today.”

The middle-aged guy in the Fall River Herald News T-shirt was casually chatting up the cop, just some friendly mid-morning chit-chat, as I walked past them in the middle of Brayton Point Road in Somerset, Mass., on Sunday. He was referring to the crowd of some 400 singing and chanting protesters moving toward us, marching to the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant down the street, carrying banners like “Gov. Patrick: Quit Coal,” “Coal Kills,” “There Is An Alternative” and “Just Transition For All.” Leading the march, which had the support of local community members and organizers, was a group of forty-four people — including college students, grandparents and mothers of young children — who would shortly be arrested for trespassing at the gates of the plant. They engaged in peaceful civil disobedience to demonstrate the moral seriousness of their demand: that Governor Deval Patrick use his authority under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act to close the largest coal plant in New England, one of the region’s largest sources of the carbon emissions that are catastrophically heating the planet.

I stopped and turned to the Herald News guy. I couldn’t help myself.

“You think these people are naïve?” I asked him.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” He was startled.

“And you’re a reporter?”

“I’m a photographer,” he said flatly, and walked away, suddenly in a hurry to find a better angle. The police officer stared at me inscrutably. I’d been mingling with the press, taking photos and tweeting with my phone, but I was clearly with the protesters. I smiled and kept walking.


Helping the helpless become intelligent is what we need. Keeping the helpless helpless is what the bandits want.

They want people to believe that demonstrating, that showing their  views publicly in mass groups, accomplishes nothing.

But we know these efforts do accomplish much. Simply by making people act they accomplish something.

The helpless can see that they are not really helpless. The intelligent are listened too and the bandits are ignored. Authoritarians lose power and civil libertarians gain.

This is where I disagree with those who say Occupy Wall Street accomplished nothing. OWS was an initial experiment organizing in a decentralized fashion, as was the original Tea Party meetings. Both gave power to those who had not felt empowered.

People learned a lot. The goal is not only to accomplish something, to give power to the powerless but to keep them from being co-opted by the bandits, as has often happened.

Bandits are afraid of the helpless gaining power and their servants work hard to keep the helpless convinced they are just naive.

The goal of these efforts, as seen above or with OWS, is not to simply make a specific effort happen but to empower those who think they have no power.

Anyone civil libertarian on either side of the political spectrum should be overjoyed by these efforts.  Any authoritarian in either side of the political spectrum will be trying to negate these efforts.

We need to fight the bandits by getting the helpless involved.