Activists cross line into harassment
A healthy level of activism has always been a driving force for societal change, providing a platform for individuals to voice their concerns, fight for justice, and challenge the status quo. It plays a role in bringing attention to pressing issues and initiating meaningful discussions.
However, there are instances when activism crosses a line and its methods and tactics become counterproductive, hurtful, and even predatory.
Activist extremism, such as actions that cause harm to the community and public safety, intrude into personal spaces and shut down any possibility for reasonable and healthy dialogue.
Last week, in the Adelaide CBD, outside the Adelaide Convention Centre, where the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference was being held, traffic was brought to a standstill as an Extinction Rebellion protester abseiled off the Morphet St Bridge, causing disruption to commuters and affecting traffic, including delaying the travel of ambulances seeking to gain access to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and shift workers returning home.
Activism, in its various forms, has contributed to many positive changes around the world, and at times played a critical role in raising awareness and advocating change.
But it must be conducted within the boundaries of respect, empathy, and ethical conduct.
Activism becomes a form of harassment when it involves persistent and targeted actions that deliberately intimidate, threaten or harm individuals or groups.
Lately there have been acts of activism, which I believe have crossed the line into harassment.
Earlier this year, I participated in an International Women’s Day event at Parliament House promoting the role of innovation and technology in achieving gender equality.
I did so in a personal capacity, not in my professional role as an industry representative of the energy sector in the Northern Territory.
My presentation was not about energy, but my personal journey of adult education, leadership and working in male-dominated industries.
Yet as I spoke, I was interrupted and surrounded by activists shouting slogans and waving placards.
Increasingly, we’re seeing activism turn into personal attacks, including the spreading of false information, engaging in character assassination, or targeting individuals based on their personal attributes and careers.
This form of personal attack can also spill across social media, where activists film their intrusive behaviour and share videos on their community pages to incite further intrusive and nuisance acts.
While it’s important to note that the line between activism and harassment may be blurry, and different perspectives may influence how actions are perceived, healthy, ethical activism should always prioritise respect and the pursuit of positive change without resorting to tactics that harm individuals or perpetuate a toxic environment.
I’m calling for all activists – irrespective of which side you feel you are from – to self-reflect and hold yourselves accountable, ensuring that your actions align with the principles of inclusivity, fairness, constructive engagement and debate.