I know, it’s incredibly lame to keep regurgitating stuff from other blogs, but David Roberts has done some great analysis on why chaining yourself to trees or holding a critical mass bike rally no longer gets attention, but bidding up oil and gas leases does. Generally, some great post-mortem on the Tim DeChristopher case.
First, some discussion on why civil disobedience works in the first place:
Therein lies the (potential) value of civil disobedience: It is a social signaling device. It says, “We are taking this seriously. We are willing to risk our comfort and safety, willing to get arrested, just to get you to pay attention to this.” If done well, in the right circumstances, that kind of behavior sends a stronger message than any compendium of scientific results ever could.
Okay great, so if that’s the case, why doesn’t it matter if I chain myself to a tree?
The problem with so much of what passes for environmental direct action is that it’s become rote and predictable. The kids chaining themselves together and getting arrested. The activists scaling something tall and unfurling a big banner. The protestors sitting in trees to stop loggers. All those things are brave and well-intentioned, don’t get me wrong, but they are not surprising. At this point, everyone’s seen it before and everyone knows exactly how to process it.
The officials and industry operatives at the oil-and-gas auction didn’t know how to process what DeChristopher did. He found a hole in a rigged game and walked right in. That kind of clever culture jamming is what draws attention these days. I’ll wager that most successful 21st century civil disobedience will be nonviolent and creative. It will use the extraordinary tools available to citizens today to pull off something unexpected, something with a twist, something that delights and surprises even as it educates. Repeated exposure to that sort of thing might even convince more Americans that giving a sh*t is what people do.