With dozens of events next week, many hope arrival of climate punks who’ve swept the UK will be a watershed moment
— Bea Ruiz, a veteran progressive coordinator, has been telling scores of first-time climate change protesters they face being harassed and beaten by police next week. Most seem happy with the deal.
“I told a 72-year-old volunteer that he will probably be targeted by police,” said Ruiz, who is based in Eureka, California and is helping organize the first US rollout of Extinction Rebellion, a group founded in the UK that has grabbed attention through disruptive protests leading to mass arrests.
“He paused and then said: ‘OK, yes.’”
Following a foray into New York in January, several thousand protestors will aim to cause similar mischief in dozens of US cities next week.
“This is a coordinated rebellion that targets industry and government indefinitely, to shut the country down,” Ruiz said. “In my 30 years plus of activism I’ve never seen so many everyday people worried in such a visceral way, for themselves, their children, their grandchildren. It’s unprecedented.”
Some activists hope the arrival of Extinction Rebellion will be a watershed moment for the US environmental movement, shifting it from what they see as a tepid response to the cavalcade of disasters threatening the livability of the planet. Extinction Rebellion is aimed at spurring a muscular, punkish outpouring of civil disobedience, snarling cities and frogmarching politicians towards meaningful action.
In the UK, Extinction Rebellion members have caused uproar by halting traffic on bridges in central London, stripping naked in parliament and blockading the BBC. Last week, protestors glued themselves to the entrance of a fracking conference.
“Troublemakers change the world,” said Roger Hallam, one the group’s founders.
Elsewhere in Europe, Swedish teen Greta Thunberg sparked a series of walkout strikes by schoolchildren over the sclerotic response by adults to climate change.
Such sustained protest, in countries where planet-warming emissions are sharply falling and gasoline-powered cars are increasingly banned from city streets, is unusual in the US, where the Trump administration has promoted fossil fuels, dismantled climate regulations and overseen a rise in emissions.
American protesters have shown willingness to chain themselves to oil drills or, in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, be rounded up outside the White House. Native Americans, regularly subject to the collateral damage of extractive industry, rose up in the face of savage policing during the Standing Rock protests of 2017. But some activists feel forceful confrontation needs to become the norm.
“We have no time left, we have no time for incrementalism” — Bea Ruiz, activist
“The mainstream environmental movement has been asking so little of people here, whereas we are saying, ‘We are in danger and we are asking you to act accordingly, to put your lives on the line,’” said Ruiz. “Very commonly, the big environmental groups will send emails saying, ‘Donate $5 today, call your congressman’ and then ask for very symbolic action where people won’t be held for long.
“We want to remind people that people in civil resistance in the past have been willing to risk their lives. The Freedom Riders [of the 1960s civil rights movement] signed their wills before they got on the buses. We have no time left, we have no time for incrementalism.”
Differences in policing approaches could be a factor in the varying intensity of protests. Extinction Rebellion, which cites nonviolent disobedience in the mold of Mahatma Gandhi, triggered dozens of arrests but no fights when activists shut down five London bridges in November. By contrast, police in North Dakota deployed water cannon and rubber bullets against protestors at Standing Rock.
“We are incredibly lucky in England to have a police force that isn’t perfect but is honourable and maintains peaceful protests,” said Tiana Jacout, a UK-based Extinction Rebellion organizer. “You can be willing to martyr yourself by going to prison here but it’s a different ball game in America.
“It’s easier to protest when you’re not being brutally beaten. I just hope they can get the revolutionary bug again.”
Some experienced climate campaigners reject the idea that their actions have not matched the fervor shown by their European counterparts, pointing to a raft of marches and other actions to decry Trump’s disdain for climate science and its dire implications for millions of Americans who risk being upended by flooding, wildfires, extreme heat and water insecurity.
Trump’s term has also seen cities such as San Francisco declare a “climate emergency” and the emergence of the Green New Deal, a Democrat resolution urging a second world war-level effort to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Activists are nagged by the timed nature of the challenge, however: according to a landmark United Nations report the world has little more than a decade to avert disastrous ravages from climate change.
“I think it’s crazy that we have to do this in order to get politicians to act on the greatest crisis we face but manifestly we do,” said Bill McKibben, the co-founder of climate group 350.org and a Guardian contributor who estimates he has been put in handcuffs “seven or eight times”.
“Nonviolent direct action is never an end in itself, but carefully used it underlines the moral urgency of the moment. I think it mostly needs to become bigger, everywhere. And dramatic action – conducted with care, so that people aren’t turned off – has a serious role to play in that.”
by Oliver Milman | The Guardian