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When I began this piece, three courageous men and women––I’ll call them heroes––were chained to a piece of construction equipment in the woods of East Texas. They were putting their bodies on the line to halt work on a southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. According to a spokesman for Tar Sands Blockade, about two dozen construction workers and at least three sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and eventually left. Amazingly, no one was arrested, and the construction of the pipeline that would not die was delayed for a day by civil disobedience.
This event exemplifies my favorite tactic of the large and nebulous movement I back. Nonviolent direct action (NVDA) and its oft-used synonym civil disobedience have been effectively used by green activists in the past: Think of tree-huggers chained to redwoods or Greenpeace blocking the paths of whalers. Its effectiveness stems from bypassing its enemies’ advantages; an energy company cannot funnel money to buy legislation to remove people from the paths of its bulldozers.
NVDA making the news is extraordinarily significant, but I’m not yet satisfied. If we want a hope of saving the Earth this way, we need a tidal wave––and I can’t shake the feeling that this good news is only a few drops. I don’t mean to suggest that the shutdown mentioned above is an isolated incident. The website democracynow.org reports that a mountaintop removal project in West Virginia was shut down in July with similar tactics. The story describes “a series of coordinated lock downs, tree-sits and banner drops” and states that “about 20 activists were arrested â€¦ most of them charged with trespassing.”
There are other stories out there––some of which resonate with the feeling of real rebellion. What has me agitated is that this purest form of objection should be our bread and butter as a green resistance, and yet, it’s not. When negotiation and conversation with your opponent have failed to make clear the choice between profits and lives, NVDA offers a last resort that bypasses their crooked values. It’s elemental––the purest possible way to say “enough.” The people are beginning to turn that formidable weapon on the oil and gas companies that are the real enemy, but some reluctance remains.
The successes I’ve cited above are exhilarating but still disparate. Part of it stems from the belief that the battle can still be fought in legislatures and courts. I understand this, but these people have it backwards––a fight for change must start on the streets and end in the courts. If it is fought the other way around, progress will be too slow, too shaky and too susceptible to subterfuge by the polluters.
I’m having a great time reading these stories, but this direct action is not happening fast enough. What we need is a world in which a coal train can’t leave the station for people standing on the rails, where oil is so hard to transport due to constant interference that the dirty energy corporations start to post losses. We need a real revolution, an Arab Spring for the planet––a resistance not against a corrupt government (though they’re far from blameless) but against the altar of money. I want to read about a new protest on the front page every day.
It’s not going to happen unless we make it happen. A mass shift to NVDA is important because, at this point, nothing else is going to be nearly as effective. We are at war––a cold war, perhaps, but clearly a war––with amoral forces who seek to grind our planet to rubble for their own gain. To stand against them with anything other than a titanic raised voice is futile.