A human chain spanned Manhattan\u2019s West Side Highway. The group carried a highway-wide yellow banner that proclaimed, \u201cStop the Pipeline\u201d and sang the old civil rights anthem, \u201cWhich Side Are You On?\u201dThis act of peaceful civil disobedience last Saturday stopped traffic on the three-lane highway and resulted in 13 arrests, enacted in an orderly and non-violent fashion by both the protesters and the NYC police. A white-haired woman in a wheelchair was among those handcuffed and transported to a nearby police station for booking.Many of those participating had hours earlier gathered at the First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn to listen to a conversation between Occupy Sandy organizer Jessica Roff and Tim DeChristopher. DeChristopher (profiled in the recent documentary, Bidder 70), famously bid on public lands in Utah to prevent their sale to gas and oil companies, and served two years in federal prison for his actions. His civil disobedience, though spontaneous, ultimately caused the cancellation of the auction sales. DeChristopher was there to talk about the role of peaceful civil disobedience to combat the development of extreme fossil fuels, which was of particular relevance to those who would engage in action themselves later in the day. The blockade of the West Side Highway was in opposition to the opening of the Spectra pipeline slated to snake through densely populated areas of downtown New York City.New Yorkers have long fought the pipeline, a legacy of the outgoing Bloomberg administration and key link in the infrastructure conveying radon-saturated shale gas into New York City\u2019s building heating systems and kitchen stoves. Despite the recent history of life-threatening pipeline explosions, lawsuits from an array of national and local environmental groups and nearly 5,000 public comments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC approved the Spectra pipeline with construction commencing this week.As DeChristopher views it, this decision can be seen as a form of violence against city neighborhoods, people\u2019s lungs, health, and safety. But whether it\u2019s climate change or a gas pipeline, DeChristopher says it\u2019s critical to think strategically about what\u2019s worked\u2014and what hasn\u2019t\u2014in order to access lessons from history that can guide future steps.\u201cWe\u2019ve never stopped a climate crisis before,\u201d DeChristopher says. But at least, the movement has learned \u201cwhat doesn\u2019t work\u2014appeasing those in power.\u201d DeChristopher points to what he characterizes as the failed strategy of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) founded in 2007 by a coalition of major environment groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council (partnering with major corporations such as BP America, Pacific Oil and Gas Company, Shell, and General Electric). Having spent more than $700 million on a comprehensive strategy, featuring cap and trade as a principle tactic for change, in 2009 this effort \u201cfell on its face,\u201d says DeChristopher because it was \u201cbuilt around how corporate lobbyists work.\u201dWell-directed activism can (and must) unmask the violence embedded in culturally condoned policies and infrastructures, DeChristopher believes. \u201cWhen leaders don\u2019t acknowledge and address climate change, this is violence against the young,\u201d he says. DeChristopher urges giving a human face to the affliction and violence inherent in the current web of public policies and business practices.He predicts that pressure rather than appeasement will deliver better results. \u201cAppealing [to elected officials] isn\u2019t enough.\u201dIt\u2019s not that DeChristopher counsels opting out of the political process. "Too many people compromise by voting for candidates they don\u2019t really like, and too many more people don\u2019t vote at all. We can do better than that,\u201d DeChristopher contends. \u201cLet\u2019s look for more creative solutions.\u201dActivists can take heart because successfully advancing new initiatives does not require a majority, he argues, but collective action. The Baby Boomer generation surged into mass activism. Later many retreated from it, claiming that activism wasn\u2019t practical or didn\u2019t work.\u201cDidn\u2019t work? That generation launched one of the most successful movements in U.S. history,\u201d DeChristopher says. \u201cThey helped to launch the civil rights movement ... and to stop the war in Vietnam. They gave elected officials the backing to fund the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Medicaid and public broadcasting.\u201dDespite these successes, tear-gassed and intimidated by the police in Kent State, the Pentagon, and the Chicago Democratic Convention, many boomers withdrew. In place of naming the violence directed toward them, they turned the critique upon themselves and on activism, claiming that activists were \u201ctoo angry.\u201d Instead self-improvement was resurrected as the road to collective change. For DeChristopher, it\u2019s clear that a more authentic spirituality is based on a group ethos. Espousing connection as a philosophy is not enough. Acting collectively for everyone\u2019s sake is a must.DeChristopher regards pioneering suffragette Alice Paul as a role model for more compelling strategies. During the women\u2019s suffrage movement, the majority offered tepid support for women\u2019s vote, but no mandate for immediate action\u2014 a stalemate similar to the current gradualist approach to climate change. Paul-style blockades and protests on the White House lawn were radical acts for women in that era. Seeing women go to prison, fast, and get force-fed provoked people to choose between immediate rights vs. current subjugation.DeChristopher says, \u201cThey needed to raise tensions to force a choice. Those who saw a problem were willing to make the necessary sacrifice.\u201d He sees those pioneers as enlivening models for today\u2019s challenges.And DeChristopher himself has become such a model.\u201cThe writer Annie Dillard said that sometimes you jump over the cliff first and develop wings on the way down,\u201d DeChristopher mused. \u201cAs an introvert, I saw myself as a wonky economist who always talks about the GDP. But the movement had a lot of wonky economists\u2014so instead I ended up as the civil disobedience guy.\u201dBack in 2008, DeChristopher was struck by Bill McKibben\u2019s similar reluctance to step out to action. \u201cWhen people asked him, \u2018Let us know when it\u2019s time to take action,' McKibben replied, \u2018I\u2019m a writer, not an activist. That\u2019s not my job,\u2019\u201d DeChristopher recalls. \u201cBut finally he set a date [for a White House protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline] and embraced that role.\u201d The lesson? Do what\u2019s needed.DeChristopher is now studying at Harvard Divinity School. \u201cI don\u2019t believe in what mainstream Christianity espouses or tolerates so I hesitated to identify myself as a Christian. But then I asked, why do people who preach greed and hate and violence get to define Christianity?" Redefining things is one of DeChristopher\u2019s fortes, fueled by his exploration of history\u2019s lessons, as well as his own direct experience.During his trial and imprisonment, a group called Peaceful Uprising sprang up to support him. DeChristopher characteristically tried to figure out why.\u201cWhat drove them was that I reminded them of their kids\u2014and I needed help. When I lay myself down to block the path where we were headed, it translated abstract numbers of impacted people into a direct personal connection, and people responded."Our current challenge is \u201cabout recognizing our privilege and using it where it counts,\u201d says DeChristopher as he returns to another history lesson. \u201cWhen Black Panthers met in Philadelphia in a Quaker Meeting House, the police rushed the building looking for a fight. After assuring that the Panthers remained inside, the Quakers, unarmed and peaceful, formed a human circle that surrounded the building.\u201d Unwilling to fight the Quakers, the police retreated.For each person, assessing how to \u201cleverage one\u2019s privilege\u201d (as the Quakers did) will look different. \u201cPrison wasn\u2019t bad for me\u2014but it isn\u2019t for everybody,\u201d DeChristopher admits. \u201cIt isn\u2019t for parents with young children, but it may be for retirees with comfortable incomes. It\u2019s really individual and requires some soul searching.\u201dAccording to DeChristopher, the most vigorous opponents of civil disobedience have been the big environmental groups. Unlike the community-based grassroots advocacy groups against fracking and gas pipelines, \u201cmainstream environmentalism became a professional movement of non-governmental organizations. It wasn\u2019t based on relationships, networks, or community to function. It was detached from interpersonal work and community,\u201d he says.In the same way, the early news reporters covering climate change deserve thanks for getting the carbon numbers right. Yet all too often they clung to a scientific mandate so absolutist that they rejected people, human experience, and community action as messy intrusions on the sanctity of science. As a result they failed to engage the public by covering the human costs of climate change and extraction industries.In contrast, DeChristopher defines interpersonal work and community building as core strategies for addressing climate change, as well as essential for long-term human resilience. \u201cIt\u2019s probably too late to prevent catastrophic impacts,\u201d he says. \u201cWe are on track for a period of rapid change. The challenge will be to maintain humanity while navigating this period of intense change. It will require people to live with one another and relate to each other in new, or rather old, ways.\u201cWe are coming out of an historic anomaly, a time when people haven\u2019t needed each other\u2014and have substituted consumption of material resources for human engagement,\u201d he says. \u201cThis was very harmful on the emotional level. A lot of needs were not really being met. That period is coming to a close, and we are entering a time when people and interrelationships are more important than ever before.\u201dDeChristopher also sees music as essential to successful organizing. \u201cGetting people to sing takes time and practice. It builds connection and trust,\u201d he says. \u201cEmpowered people feel part of something bigger. We didn\u2019t evolve to feel empowered by \u2018likes\u2019 on a computer screen, but by the people we spend time with. Terry Tempest Williams got it right\u2014the best response to intimidation is joy and resolve. The opposite of intimidation? People singing in the streets.\u201dSinging in the streets is exactly what people did at the Spectra protest following DeChristopher\u2019s talk. Will such acts of civil disobedience help more of us to figure out which side we are on? Time will tell.