Since 2014 we have been talking about the need for non-violent, direct action. From the first episode of our Climate Stew podcast, we recognized that for any real action to happen that leads to policy and systems change, it will require putting pressure on the system.
One model we have looked at is the model early HIV/AIDS activists displayed when taking on a system that ignored the people who were suffering and refused to act.
Our curator, Peterson Toscano, speaks out regularly about the lessons we can learn from earlier generations of activists. People are listening.
A little over a year ago, I had a conversation that would change the way I think about climate activism. It was a day so swelteringly hot that the interview I was to give for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby podcast got rescheduled indoors. As Peterson Toscano, the host, and I fell into a deep discussion, I found myself turning the tables on him, asking a string of ever more personal questions.
I was beginning a new project about gender and the Antarctic, and I wondered how, for Toscano (a self-proclaimed quirky, queer climate activist), the climate crisis intersected with queer rights. Toscano’s response has stuck with me to this day and is best summed up with a line from his one-man show Everything Is Connected—An Evening of Stories, Most Weird, Many True.
He says, “I’m going to tell you the worst-case scenario with climate change, promise me you will not freak out. Promise? Well, we are looking at the potential extinction of the human race…but what other people on the planet have faced potential extinctions and exterminations before? Lots of people. But also LBGTQ+ people…There is a special time in our history when we learned a lot of things that might be applicable today. I’m talking about the HIV/AIDS crisis.” Toscano told me that the activist movements of the 1980s didn’t just change hearts and minds; they changed public policy.
It occurred to me then that a cross-movement conversation in the era of climate crisis would bear vital fruit. A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of chatting with Peter Staley, a founding member of ACT UP, and Roger Hallam, a founder of Extinction Rebellion. It’s my hope that this conversation can demystify direct-action activism while helping us think about what comes next.
What follows is an extraordinary conversation. You can read it for yourself in Document Journal.