By Judy N Green, spokesperson and political liaison at Stop Ecocide Canada
I wear many hats, including that of activist, advocate and politician. It is clear that people don’t always understand the value of each of these rolls, nor their place in a just and democratic society. As I navigate through these varied, but related activities, the differences have emerged. The main differentiation is between the goals and the targets within each approach. The fact is, to improve society, we need people to actively engage in all these activities: activism, advocacy and politics.
An activist’s main goal is to raise public awareness on an issue that is important and requires our law makers to address. It requires raising public awareness, and increasing pressure on our elected officials for there to be effective change in our society. Activists will employ street marches, sit-ins and non-violent direct action as well as petitions, letter writing campaigns and Twitter Storms.
An advocate, focuses on a single cause and often provides a reasonable solution. An advocate will focus on individuals to educate and encourage them to make changes to, or create new laws or practices. They accomplish this mainly through lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, private members’ bills and personal advocacy within houses of parliament, courtrooms and the medical system. Advocacy is more intimate than activism, as it is directed to one or more lawmakers or officials, rather than to the population at large. That said, advocacy, especially systems advocacy, often is driven by a grassroots upswell of support generated by activism. Advocacy is also more effective when backed by a groundswell of popular support.
Politicians are citizens who put themselves forward to govern our society. They are law-makers elected to represent all their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them. Politicians across the political spectrum from municipal, provincial to federal and even at the international level are responsible for making the laws and rules that allow our societies to function in a just and fair fashion. Elected officials react to the will of their constituents and will prioritize issues where there is more support from voters.
The Overton Window was developed in the mid-1990s by the late Joseph P. Overton, who was senior vice president at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy at the time of his death in 2003. The Overton Window is a model used to understand how ideas and policies change and are accepted over time.
Policies that lie within the Overton Window are more likely to be adopted. Other policies and ideas exist, and may be valid, but are not prioritized because a politician will risk losing their public support and the associated votes.
The Overton Window can both shift and expand to encompass new ideas and policies. Occasionally there are politicians who work to shift the Overton Window, like American politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) who is a champion of new progressive ideas like stopping fossil fuel extraction, and ending poverty by providing a Guaranteed Livable Income. Politicians who do this are considered controversial and they risk their political future.
More often, the shift of the Overton Window occurs as a result of a shift in perceptions, understanding and acceptance among the general population. This shift takes time.
Activists and Advocates work to speed up this shift or expansion of the Overton Window by raising public awareness and advocating for these changes at the systemic level.
Read more about the Overton Window here .
- the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
“Growing activism on the abortion issue”
Recently, we have seen a growing number of passionate protestors taking to the streets. From the Greta Thunberg youth led movement Fridays for Future, to Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, Wet’suwet’en protesters against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The news reports out of Fairy Creek report First Nations and environmentalists fighting against the decimation of the last Old Growth Forest in British Columbia in the largest protest in Canadian history. There are so many more. In Nova Scotia there have been ongoing protests against a secret backroom government deal to delist and sell “Owl’s Head Provincial Park” to be developed into, yet another golf course. The successful campaign by Pictou Landing First Nation to close Northern Pulp and to reclaim and restore Boat Harbour is a shining example of how activism effects important change in our society.
What all these protests have in common is that they all follow the rules of Non-violent Direct Action (NVDA).
Non-violent Direct Action
Many of the activists I know have attended training in NVDA, myself included. The best-known pioneers of NVDA are Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
Gandhian nonviolence is based on religious principles drawn from a diversity of scriptures, specifically the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Koran. Gandhi looked toward a higher authority for absolute truth. His central concept, Satyagraha, translated both as “truth seeking” and “soul force.” Ghandi believed that opponents could learn from one another and that the truth could never be achieved by force.
The Indian independence movement lasted almost thirty years, and involved thousands of Indians from all walks of life. Despite its size and duration, it remained almost uniformly nonviolent. Even when law enforcement resorted to violence, even when protestors were beaten and/or imprisoned, they themselves avoided reciprocating with violence.
It is thought that Gandhi was able to keep the Indian independence movement from lurching out of control (and possibly becoming violent) through a number of strategies:
Gandhian campaigns began with negotiation and arbitration, during which he worked not only on the issues in dispute, but also on developing a cooperative relationship with the British officials involved. If the conflict was not resolved at this state, the satyagrahis prepared for nonviolent action including “agitation, ultimatum, economic boycott and strikes, noncooperation, civil disobedience, usurpation of governmental functions and the creation of parallel government.”
Each participant in a Gandhian campaign had to make a personal and absolute commitment to nonviolence.
Gandhi avoided common precipitators of escalation. For example, he tied each campaign to a single issue and thus avoided distraction or dilution of the issue. He put an emphasis on developing personal relationships with opponents, and thus refrained from the tendency to demonize the opponent or move from confrontation to antagonism. By announcing all intended moves, he minimized the possibility of information becoming distorted.
Martin Luther King learned a great deal from Gandhi’s experience and it shows in his set of guidelines for the civil rights movement in the mid twentieth century.
The following is from Kings Institute at Stanford University and adapted from the essay, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, by Martin Luther King Jr.
Six Steps for Nonviolent Direct Action
STEP ONE: INFORMATION GATHERING
Identify the issues in your community and/or school in need of positive change. To understand the issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution, you must increase your understanding of the problem. Your investigation should include all sides of the issue and may include formal research and listening to the experiences of others.
STEP TWO: EDUCATE OTHERS
It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. In order to cause change, the people in the community must be aware of the issue and understand its impact. By educating others, you will minimize misunderstanding and gain support and allies.
STEP THREE: PERSONAL COMMITMENT
Check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Causing change requires dedication and long hours of work. Meet with others regularly to stay focused on your goal. Prepare yourself to accept sacrifices, if necessary, in your work for justice.
STEP FOUR: NEGOTIATIONS
Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the individuals whom need to participate in this change. Discuss a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement that the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but rather call forth the good in the opponent. Look for ways in which the opponent can become an ally.
STEP FIVE: DIRECT ACTION
These are actions taken to convince others to work with you in resolving the injustices. Direct action imposes a “creative tension” into the conflict. Direct action is most effective when it illustrates the injustice it seeks to correct. There are hundreds of direct actions, including:
• Boycotts — refusal to buy products
• Marches and rallies
• Letter-writing and petition campaigns
• Political action and voting
• Public art and performance
STEP SIX: RECONCILIATION
Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, oppressive policies, and unjust acts, not against persons.
We can see similarities to Extinction Rebellion (XR) in that they have based their approach on that of the great leaders before them .
From the XR website you can read of their core beliefs around Non-violent Civil Disobedience.
“With over 1203 groups in 83 countries, we are already making a difference. XR has been credited for compelling legislation, pushing governments to take action, and shifting the public discourse on the climate and ecological crisis through our creative, artful, sustained, non-violent protests all over the world. We follow in the footsteps of many who have come before us. From India’s Independence Movement to Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement to the Arab Spring, history has shown us time and time again that nonviolent protest does work as a powerful means to bring about change. And yet, there are no guarantees. As rebels, we know that tomorrow’s reality is today’s concern. A world ravaged by climate change and biodiversity loss is one that will gravely affect us all.”
They also explain why they feel the need to rebel.
“We have no other choice. We rebel against the systems that got us here. We rebel for the future we want. We rebel because it is our responsibility to act. We have no more time to waste. Nothing is impossible – we can still write the story we want and we will. We as individuals can make a difference, collectively. We will do this together – transform the world, create lasting change and build a better future for all.”
It always seems impossible until it’s done
– Nelson Mandela
Violent Direct Action
We are now seeing increasingly violent protests in Canada, in a style first seen in the United States during the Red Hat, “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” movement. These actions are almost always Violent Direct Action (VDA) and are more akin to a mob than NVDA. Most jump right to Direct Action and skip the four previous steps outlined by Martin Luther King, in the list above.
Some recent actions protesting public health measures during a global pandemic have become quite violent and fueled by conspiracy theories, with participation and financial support from familiar agitators such as the White Supremacist movement and those exhibiting evangelical extremist views . Some involved in these anti-mask, anti-vaccine VDA have been implicated in death threats against doctors in Alberta and have been criminally charged for throwing stones at the leader of the liberal Party during the 2021 federal election.
There has been an alarming increase in the number of protests that use violence, threats of violence or take place at schools, hospitals or the homes of politicians. These violent, threatening and intimidating actions ultimately do nothing to further the cause of the protestors and many of their actions are criminal in nature. The storming of the US Capital Building on 6 January 2021, illustrates all the hallmarks of this growing form of protest.
In Canada, we have the right to gather and to protest. It is a fundamental right within our democracy. As with any right, it comes with responsibilities. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has in depth information on this topic. All levels of our government (municipal provincial & federal) also have a responsibility to enact laws that keep citizens safe. These laws restrict where, when and how protests can legally take place.
History has shown us that violence always alienates citizens, does not grow a movement and never leads us toward lasting societal change.
- Public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.
“Their advocacy of traditional family values”
- The profession or work of a legal advocate.
Advocacy involves promoting the interests or cause of someone, something or a group of people. An advocate is a person who argues for, recommends, or supports a cause or solution. Advocacy is also about helping people find their voice. There are three types of advocacy: self-advocacy, individual advocacy and systems advocacy.
Self-Advocacy or Individual Advocacy
We should all advocate for our personal rights and speak up for what is right for us. Especially in the medical system, being your own advocate or advocating for a family member helps you work as a team with your health care providers. My sister is a lawyer who acts as a legal advocate for children caught up in divorces. Advocacy gives a voice to the otherwise voiceless.
There are Children’s Rights Advocates, Women’s Rights Advocates, Advocates for Accessibility and any manner of other causes to advocate for.
At Stop Ecocide Canada we are engaged in systems advocacy. We are working to raise awareness of the crime of ecocide as it is perpetrated across our globe. We are helping the earth find her voice. We are illustrating the interconnectedness of harm to the environment, the people who live and thrive on those lands as well as the animals and plants that sustain that population and ecosystems worldwide. We are advocating for a systemic change in the way our criminal justice system works in relation to crimes against the planet.
Ecocide and environmental racism are often linked and must be stopped. Just think of the massive Man Camps and their link to sex trafficking of First Nations Inuit and Metis women. Around the globe Indigenous land defenders have been dying at a rate of four per week since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016 .
Existing systems of civil prosecution have put the onus on individuals to go up against corporations with deep pockets and an unending parade of lawyers. Making Ecocide an international crime under the Rome Statute, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), provides a tool for lawmakers to prosecute the worst offenders. However, the real lever is that this fifth amendment to the Rome Statute, of the ICC, will act as a deterrent. Insurance companies and investors are unlikely to be interested in corporations and states that would be engaged in criminal acts and breaking the law, as their personal liability would be high.
Listen to our Podcast where co-founder Dona Grace-Campbell and spokesperson & political Liaison Judy N Green discuss these issues in detail and answer some tough questions .
Read more about the legally robust definition and the global movement to Stop Ecocide .
We advocate through letter writing, petitions (electronic and paper), Private Members Bill, Lobbying Members of Parliament and the Senate. We advocate for political parties to add support for this fifth amendment to the Rome Statute as the Crime of Ecocide. We also are building a worldwide movement to shift the Overton Window to ensure that this policy and law falls within the “popular” and “policy” range.
In Canada, our law makers are our elected officials. Members of Parliament (MPs) at the federal level. Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) at the provincial level. They are supposed to be our voice.
Sadly, we live in a hyper-partisan world and most politicians’ votes in parliament are whipped. This means that they are told how to vote by their party, even if it goes against what their constituents want or what is in the best interests of those constituents. In 2013 Sean Holman, an associate professor at Mount Royal University, filmed a documentary on this subject. I invite you to watch “Whipped” . Note that whipping of votes occurs at both the provincial and federal level of politics in Canada. This film exposes the problem in the British Columbia provincial legislature.
This hyper-partisanship is leading to an increase in the necessity for citizens to take to the streets to get their issues noticed and addressed by their elected law-makers. This is a result of the fact that Party policy often takes precedence over the needs of local constituents. Even more reason to add support for the Stop Ecocide amendment at the ICC to each Party policy book.
Hyper-partisanship and whipping of votes have resulted in well-meaning, smart and compassionate elected officials being unable to vote their conscience.
In this environment, change will only happen when we are successful in building political-will across party lines, while avoiding the creation of political footballs of the issue. It is my strongly held belief that certain issues of human rights, basic human needs and threats, such as the poverty, inequity, global pandemics and the climate crisis need to be completely non-partisan.
Politicians are constantly weighing priorities and there is a lot they are expected to know and make decisions about. As an advocate we need to make the choices easier for them.
I have a great deal of respect for those who put themselves forward for political office and even more for those who do not lose themselves and their integrity in that system.
Ultimately, we need politics to be done very differently.
We Must Work Together
As you can see, activism and advocacy are both tools used to muster political will to make systemic change by shifting the Overton Window. Activists raise general awareness and advocates offer targeted advocacy along with solutions. Ultimately politicians make or amend the laws.
When the political system becomes hyper-partisan, it stops representing the people. This is why we are seeing a marked increase in protests. Most protesters have done all the polite letter writing, speaking with their elected officials, signing petitions, voting with awareness, hoping for the best and they are now taking to the streets, camping in forests, that are under attack, and otherwise making their voices heard.
“We have no other choice.” One protestor at an Extinction Rebellion march of 10,000 in the Nova Scotian city of Halifax said … “You know things are bad when the introverts are marching in the streets.”
Judy N Green is a computer scientist, activist, advocate and writer. Judy lives in Nova Scotia. She ran in West Nova during the 2019 general election and tripled the vote for the Green Party of Canada (GPC). She went on to run for the leadership of the GPC in 2020. Judy is a spokesperson, political liaison at Stop Ecocide Canada and serves on the board of Directors of Stop Ecocide Canada. Judy can be seen alongside her neighbors at local protests to stop clear-cutting, open pen fish farms and advocating for Stop Ecocide, transparency in government and truly green solutions to combat the Climate Crisis.
 – Overton Window – https://www.mackinac.org/OvertonWindow
 – Extinction Rebellion, Why Rebel – http://www.rebellion.global/why-rebel/
 – Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the Rights to Gather and Protest – https://ccla.org/right-to-protest/
 – Four Indigenous Land Defender have died each week since the 2016 Paris Climate Treaty was signed. – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/13/murders-environment-land-defenders-record-high
 – Podcast on Stop Ecocide by Dona Grace-Campbell and Judy N Green – https://open.spotify.com/episode/5sKYD5srzsxm28TE3qvzau?dl_branch=1&si=uR8aLgoiTl-cGe4hjo35cg
 – Legally robust definition of Ecocide – https://www.stopecocide.earth/legal-definition
 – Documentary by Sean Holman, “Whipped” – https://seanholman.com/whipped/
 – Stop Ecocide Canada – https://www.StopEcocide.ca