“The world is changed by those who show up.”
That’s a bit of a twist on an old quote, but it provides the answer to a question that comes up often: What can I do to speak up for responsible resource development in the face of all the professional anti-development campaigns? We know the challenge. British Columbia, and most recently western Canada, has been ground zero for consecutive anti-resource development campaigns.
You may remember the “war in the Woods” or the singling out of BC’s aquaculture industry by professional activist organizations? Most recently we are feeling the effects of an ongoing activist campaign to block western Canadian oil and gas products from reaching international markets. And now new mining and agriculture protests are taking shape. Stopping resource development is the mandate of juggernaut activist organizations. Just visit any of the big activist’s web-pages and they are filled with ‘stop this’ or ‘stop that’ political style campaigns.
For many years these activists have been successful at driving the negative narrative on Canadian resource development because they have consistently ‘shown up’. Over the years, ‘Stop Everything’ has become an industry unto itself with full time paid employees whose job it is to ‘show up’. When diving into the public debate on natural resource development in Canada, it doesn’t take much more than a scratch of the surface to see how these powerful activists have dominated the narrative.
The focus of public exchanges center on why we shouldn’t develop natural resources. It’s all negative all the time. In fact, “raise the negatives” is a fundamental component of activist’s campaigns. Witness 3 anti-pipeline protesters at a Vancouver resource rally hosted by the National Coalition of Chiefs this June. Using a couple of detracting techniques the activists were able to draw the media attention and become the story.
That day, First Nation leader after First Nation leader stood on the podium and talked about the opportunity for independence that comes from being a resource development partner. They spoke of poverty reduction, dignity and purpose that accompany responsible development.
Yet, their message was buried by three detractors that showed up and caused a scene. Their tactics were classic negative intolerance of others’ perspectives. Their presence was deliberate. The three detractors… they are serial protesters known for their activities at last year’s camp cloud.
… And this is the frustration point for many who seek balance. It’s what led to the question above: “what can I do?..” The silent majority can have a powerful presence. All they need to do is show up and speak their truth. Not just once and be done, rather show up regularly to make your presence known and counted. Here are a couple of easy things to do: First, be less attentive to detractors. Try not to dignify their antics with the attention they seek. Second, participate in the public dialogue in a positive way.
Now, for some this feels like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be that way. Quick letters to the editor, comments following an unbalanced article, or an opinion editorial of your own, are all easy things to do. Or, maybe a letter to your elected representative voicing your support for responsible development is more your style. Do things that let decision makers and influencers know you are out there and paying attention.
Do things in such a way that it makes it safe for others to join you. To make it easier here is a formula to follow:
1) Acknowledge the value that is present in the situation. In the case above that value is protection of the environment while creating new opportunities for communities.
2) Take ownership of the value that is present in the situation and recognize it as common ground. Here you can show that you, too, care for the protection of the environment while also seeing to new opportunities for communities.
3) Communicate that you are a champion who stands up for the important shared values. As a resource advocate you know what contributions are made to protecting and enhancing the shares values. Speak to those.
4) Demonstrate your commitment to protecting and enhancing the shared values. By focusing on the common ground and providing alternate solutions to protecting the shared values you are constructively expanding the public dialogue. This simple approach, when applied often enough, speaks to the majority. It also helps to de-escalate and de-politicize issues by focusing on the problem not the people involved.
It’s likely the professional activists won’t participate in this manner because their solution single-mindedly proposes to stop everything. But don’t be bothered with trying to argue with them, remember our goal is to make it safe for the silent majority to ‘show up’.