I’ve been arrested three times so far this year for nonviolent direct actions (nvda) on the climate crisis. I don’t think I’ve ever been arrested more than once in a single year before this year; since my first arrest in 1970 I’ve been arrested about 30 times.
I risked arrest with about 100 others a week ago in southwest Virginia, fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Five of us—not me–were arrested, four on purpose after locking down to four pipeline construction vehicles at two different construction sites. Both sites were pretty much shut down for the whole day, the main objective of these actions.
In two of my three arrests this year, one at Chase Bank in DC in March and one at the Federal Reserve in NYC about a month ago, I was not one of the primary organizers. I responded to the initiative of others, glad they had done so and pleased to join in and contribute what I could in the action buildup.
There have been many more, climate-focused, risk arrest actions this year, among them: many actions, probably at least 20, by the new and youth-led group Climate Defiance; the disruption of the corporate sponsored US Tennis Open in NYC in September; about 20 MVP resisters in total arrested since August in Appalachia; many thousands in the Netherlands; Greta Thunberg just last week; 20 people in Boston last month; 14 at the East Hampton Town Airport in July in NY; and more, probably many more.
Next up as a major focus for US climate justice and other activists is the Asian Pacific Economic Consortium in San Francisco, Ca. in mid-November.
Then there are the hundreds of members of Jewish Voices for Peace, including 12 rabbis, arrested last week at the White House calling for a much-needed ceasefire in Palestine/Israel. Almost certainly there are going to be more such nvda actions to try to prevent an escalation of this decades-long, murderous and brutal conflict.
Both of these issues, the climate crisis and war in the Middle East, are very urgent. I think that the rise of climate nvda over the last six or so months is partly related to the many massive weather disasters around the world over the course of the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere. And the killings and kidnappings by Hamas in southern Israel, followed by the massive destruction wreaked upon Gaza afterwards by Israel, are a very big, very disturbing set of realities. It is to the credit of many groups in the USA and elsewhere that there has been such a rapid action response behind the call for an immediate ceasefire, something which polling reports is supported by a majority of US Americans.
However, as important as nvda is as a tactic, it’s just that: a tactic. It is not a strategy for either the kind of deep and wide societal transformation we need or even for an ongoing campaign on a specific major issue.
Take the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. There is no question that the 932-consecutive-days tree sit from 2018 to 2021 by Appalachians Against Pipelines had a huge role in preventing the MVP from being completed. The actions now being organized by AAP are critical both for the delays in construction caused as well as to strengthen the morale of the overall movement, generate media coverage of the resistance and keep hope alive. But also important, right now, is the campaign being waged by others on the issue of corroded pipelines—pipelines that have literally been left outside exposed to the elements for as much as five years. That campaign has already had some impact on the actions of the federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA, which is supposed to be regulating MVP. And also important is the monitoring of construction, observing and taking pictures of MVP’s violations to be used potentially in court filings, as well as to press regulators to step in.
I’ve been part of activist groups in the past that had difficulty understanding this essential lesson of history: purist politics or the arrogant attitude of “my way is the only way” very rarely work. And if they do work in the short term, sooner or later the inherent problems with those ways of approaching the project of social change will lead to corruption, at least, if not an eventual failure overall.
Each of us taking the kind of actions we believe will be most effective, while always being willing to listen to and dialogue about why others with similar political views see things differently—this is an essential building block to ultimate victory and a new world.
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