Last week, the celebrated activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally bidding on parcels of land desired by the oil industry, and a small protest was organized outside the courthouse. Grist's Jennifer Prediger put together a great mini-documentary on the event; it serves as an important reminder that there are indeed ordinary folks willing to stand up to authority to fight for climate action. But I couldn't ignore another nagging thought while watching all the folk singing, the hand-holding, the peace-signs: if you want to make waves with civil disobedience in the modern era, this is probably the worst possible way to do it.I can't think of anything that does less to capture the imagination of the modern American public than trotting out old hippie tropes. This is the sort of thing that the vast majority of 21st century youth will watch on TV and either roll their eyes or ignore it altogether. And frankly, I wouldn't blame them.
Why, after all, do we continue to regurgitate the hippie protest model, a half century after its heyday? Can we come up with nothing better? Is our counterculture that stagnant?
Before I continue, I want to make one thing clear -- I'm not trying to bash the hippie movement itself, or the folks who participated in this event. Those folks were showing their courage the way they best knew how, and it takes guts to stand up to armed police officers with peaceful protest of any kind. I'm asking that we collectively seek a newer, better vessel through which to channel that courage, so that such efforts will be better appreciated and recognized in the American mainstream.
As for the hippie movement of the '60s, it was clearly a powerful youth movement and -- strange as it may seem now -- a political force to be reckoned with. But continuing to mine that movement's culture for inspiration and ideas fifty years later just reminds everyone how tired our dissent has become.
Dave Roberts recently tackled this issue, and it led me to wonder what 21st century civil disobedience will look like.
One of Roberts' best points was that Tim DeChristopher's protest has garnered such attention because it was different -- it was bold, direct, and "badass". And notice that when DeChristopher shows up to the courthouse in the video above in a sharp black suit with his head shaved, it's jarring -- it's like a grownup crashed a kids' sing-along sleepover. That dissonance only illuminated the gap between DeChristopher's brand of brazen, news-byte-worthy activism and the flower-power 60s revivalism practiced by those celebrating his work.
It's time to bridge that gap. Protests should demand respect and news coverage, not traffic in outmoded cliches. Organizers should study viral YouTube videos -- a tactic powerfully employed by the Yes Men -- and mine more pertinent cultural trends to communicate their messages. Of course, those are just some basic (and pretty obvious) ideas, and I'll be touching more upon this in future posts.
And I'd also love to hear all of your ideas out there -- perhaps I'll take some of them and wrap them into a roundup of 'best ideas for modern green activism'. So let's get thinking, and let's lift environmental activism out of the dusty reaches of the past.
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More on Modern Activism
What Will Effective 21st Century Civil Disobedience Look Like?
Tim DeChristopher Calls for More Civil Disobedience in Climate Fight