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Bill McKibben: Why I'm Planning to Get Arrested on Monday (and You Should, Too)

With thousands of big names and small gathering, the first massive protest of its kind against global warming will put the heat on DC.

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Not only that, but it's owned by Congress. They don't need to ask any utility executives. They could just have a vote and do it -- as easy as you deciding to put a new, clean furnace in your basement. It would even stimulate the local economy.

All of which means it's the perfect target. Not because shutting it down would do much, except for the people who live right nearby. But because it's a way to get the conversation started. When civil disobedience works, it's because it demonstrates some willingness to bear a certain amount of pain for some larger end -- a way to say, "Coal is bad enough that I'm willing to get arrested." Which is not the biggest deal on earth, but if you're going to be asking the Chinese, say, to start turning off their coal-fired plants, you can probably keep a straighter face if you've made at least a mild sacrifice yourself.

There are dangers in this kind of strategy too. It could turn people off, make them think that global warming protesters are crazy hippies harkening back to the '60s. I don't mind hippies in the slightest, but when the writer Wendell Berry and I sent out the original invitation to this action, we asked that those who wanted to be arrested wear their dress clothes. And not just because it's serious business -- but also in hopes of discouraging the hardcore anarchists and troublemakers attracted to such events, sort of in the way that convenience stores play classical music to keep folks from loitering outside.

The other danger is that it might convince activists that this is the most important work to do, the main tool in the toolbox. That's almost certainly not true, which is why it's appropriate that Powershift, the huge gathering of young people the same weekend in D.C., will focus on lobbying on Capitol Hill that Monday morning of the protest. Lobbying first, sitting-in second. And third, and most important of all, the suddenly swelling movement toward symbolic action next fall on a global basis. 350.org, the campaign I helped found, is looking for new ways to make a point, with a global day of action on Oct. 24 that will link people up from high in the Himalayas to underwater on the Great Barrier Reef to… Your Town Here.

A little Facebook, a little Twitter, and a little sitting down in the street where the police don't want you. We've got to see what works!

Bill McKibben is the author of 10 books, most recently Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

 
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