Direct action in the climate movement on the rise

posted by scott parkin

I spent the past couple of days talking with a longtime movement friend of mine who has been organizing civil disobedience and mass mobilizations since the 1970’s. She told me about organizing a thousand person blockade at C.I.A. headquarters in 1987 as part of the Central American solidarity movement. In those days, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Oliver North and many other nasties made a bloody mess of things in the name of “liberty” and “democracy.” Good moral people from a wide spectrum responded by putting their bodies, livelihoods and reputations on the line. During that particular mobilization she said they trained out in the open in the middle of the Capital for a shutdown that resulted in over 600 arrests.

Many mobilizations have happened since then in places like Seattle (WTO 1999), San Francisco (anti-war shutdown, 2003), Washington D.C (too many times to count). Less so on the climate front.

It’s gotten me thinking about the different direct actions that have been going on around the world on coal and climate. As our parents and grandparents did in Langley 20 years ago, good moral people are now responding to the climate crisis and subsequent climate injustice by putting their bodies on the line as well.

Ben Block, reporter with Worldwatch Institute, just penned a great article about the growing protest and direct action movement around coal and climate. In it he cites the growing youth climate movement, the fact that over half of new coal fired power plants have been defeated through various legal, regulatory, political, community, and direct actions channels and the increasing use of civil disobedience.

“Climate activists worldwide are raising the stakes, with many turning to civil disobedience to make their voices heard. Actions in recent months have ranged from chaining themselves to coal conveyor belts in Sydney, to forming port blockades in the Netherlands, to scaling smokestacks in the United Kingdom.

The rise in activism reflects growing frustration against the continued, and expanding, use of coal as a source of energy. The fuel, while affordable, is directly linked to climate change and air pollution. “

We have an opening for this work. Luminaries such as Al Gore and climatologist James Hansen have advocated for greater use of civil disobedience by the climate movement. Mainstream media outlets like Time magazine have reported on the growing use of NVDA strategies as a moral response to global warming. Last week, the Sierra Club won a court case that puts new coal fired development on hold for a year or more.

Our friends in the U.K. and Australia have stepped up on the action front. In the U.K. six Greenpeace activists were acquitted after using a “necessity” defense arguing that global warming is such a threat to humanity that breaking the law is becoming the only alternative.

Now we’re seeing the U.S. coal and climate movement begin to step it up as well. Blue Ridge Earth First! and Rainforest Action Network have escalated the fight against the Dominion plant in solidarity with the residents of Wise, Virginia. Mountain Justice and various coalfield communities continue the struggle in Appalachia against mountaintop removal. Rising Tide and Earth First! groups put their bodies on the line from Florida to Washington State. Out of the coalfields, in the suburbs and cities, students, radicals and concerned citizens are pressuring the coal financiers, Bank of America and Citibank, to withdraw their capital from coal and carbon intensive industry.

The landscape is changing and we’re moving forward with our strategies and actions. It’s time to train, plan, mobilize and take action. Get together with your friends and community and take some action. No matter how big or how small, every action counts.

The big actions, like the one my friend’s worked on at the C.I.A., are coming on the climate front, it’s only a matter of time. Maybe sooner than we think as founder Bill McKibben says- “It’ll happen. Keep your eyes open in D.C.,