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Civil Disobedience is Essential for our Survival

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.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

Our curator, Peterson Toscano, speaks out regularly about the lessons we can learn from earlier generations of activists. People are listening.

Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, was inspired by the connections Peterson has been making. She writes:

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.

‘We’re facing a societal collapse’: Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam speaks to ACT UP’s Peter Staley about disrupting the world in order to save it

(Featured Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash)


Author: Prescott Allen Hazeltine

Prescott grew up in the hills of western Massachusetts, and still feels most at home out in the wild. He went on to graduate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with his undergraduate degree and has done post graduate studies at the University of Houston as well as the Gemological Institute in New York City. While hiking is a major passion, as is snowshoeing, he also love to read, research and learn, and can just as easily get lost in internet information as he can photographing the wilderness.

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