On the ANZ Hoax: Jonathan Moylan, the Rebel

Following Jonathan Moylan’s ANZ hoax I wrote some days ago about whether his actions were justified. I was interested in critiquing some of the fatuous arguments against his act of civil disobedience and looking at the action through the lens of grassroots political activism. Now I’d like to consider the role Moylan has played, examined with Bill Moyer’s ‘Movement Action Plan‘ as a guide. I’ve previously written about Moyer’s ‘Four Roles of Social Activism‘, which is the best foundation for understanding this write-up. However, this post is written to be intelligible one way or the other.

Jonathan Moylan’s ANZ Hoax was classic rebel behaviour

Moylan’s illegal hoax identifies him as a rebel in the Moyerian sense, playing a crucial role within the Australian anti-coal movement. In Doing Democracy, Moyer introduces the rebel by writing, “Rebels promote the democratic process, especially when a social problem is not publicly recognized and the normal channels of participatory democracy are not working adequately.” (emphasis added) Moyer specifically identifies the use of “extra-parliamentary means” and notes “Rebels are usually the first to be recognized publicly as challenging the status quo.” We can see how this fits Moylan’s stunt: participatory democracy is failing to address the issue of Australia’s coal mining and export, Moylan deployed an “extra-parliamentary” tactic, in this case a misleading faux press release, and he has thus been recognised as challenging the status quo. The hoax was an effective rebel tactic.

share price fluctuations following Jonathan Moylan's ANZ Hoax

Following the hoax press release, financial markets did some rebelling of their own.

The value of Moyer’s model and of classifying Moylan’s actions within it, is that Moyer’s model recognises the value of each role. In addition to the “rebel”, Moyer describes the “change agent”, “reformer”, and “the citizen”, each of whom has a role to play in effecting mass social change. While it’s easy to be critical of rebels because they break the rules and attract criticism – which could be argued to reflect badly on the broader movement – they can achieve things other roles can’t. Moyer suggests rebels have a critical role in putting issues on society’s agenda “through dramatic, nonviolent actions”, and, most relevantly in this case, showing how “institutions…violate public trust by causing and perpetuating critical social problems”. This second-mentioned point is essential to understanding the effectiveness of the ANZ hoax – Moylan targeted an institution that was putting money into a destructive and reckless practice. It’s debatable to what extent ‘the public’ object to funding coal projects; it’s obvious, however, that the public interest is served by applying scrutiny to ANZ’s decisions.

Social movements require rebels in order to succeed. While Moylan’s fake press release was illegal and controversial, this accords with the role of the rebel, which is to use extra-parliamentary means to draw attention to a previously unrecognised social problem.

But are rebel tactics always suitable? And what follows them? It’s worth trying to identify the state of the anti-coal movement in Australia and whether Moylan’s timing was strategic – which I’ll do in a future post.


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