Darley Oaks farm finally closed after the family who owned and worked it could no longer face the death threats, arson, bomb hoaxes and the desecration of a relative's grave. This activism did not persuade society that heavily regulated animal experimentation for medical research was unnecessary. It simply targetted a weak spot, a family unable to defend themselves, in order to achieve its goals. That seems more like bullying than legitimate activism. But is it seen as a necessary evil on the way to a greater good by those involved? And if you condone such reasoning, can't medical research that harms animals also be seen as a necessary evil to a greater good? Which parts of this tangled mess should be illegal?
Anti-abortion campaigners regularly picket abortion-clinics and intimidate workers. What limits should be set upon them? Where is the right balance between their right to protest and be heard and the workers' rights not to live in fear for working within the law?
Even the Orange marches in Northern Ireland are part of the same question. How do you draw a line, objectively, between an Orange parade and a Pride march? They are, at least in part, both about being seen and counted, about being recognised, politically and socially. Both are considered incendiary by some. How do you say, no, that parade is offensive and triumphalist, intimidating the Catholic residents, it has to go somewhere else without also saying, sorry, this march is intimidating to Christians who consider homosexuality abhorrent, go away?
Fundamentally, group action which seeks to coerce the behaviour of a vulnerable but perhaps critical few, is not democratic. There seems to me a big difference between campaigning against the actions of governments and corporations, and targetting a few individuals. (Of course, a great many things going on today are decidedly undemocratic, but can we afford to fight fire with fire?) Is activism a no-holds-barred war to destroy, or is it a struggle for hearts and minds? What should it be? And quite what is society willing to allow?