The people with the least to lose from the disruption of the status quo have the most power to change things. And the most to gain from such change.
The people who have the most to lose from a change in the status quo, and the most to gain from keeping things just as they are, not only can’t be expected to be a force for meaningful change, but can be expected to put up a huge roadblock against such change.
Which is why we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for governments and corporations to change things.
Many climate activists are asking if we need to escalate our action to include actual destruction of property and disruption of business as usual. Right now, some activists in Australia are blocking coal-bearing trains from reaching the world’s largest coal terminal.
Some sources (coal terminals operator) say the disruption has been minor; others say it has wiped millions of dollars from Australia’s economy in days.
Regardless, the activists face 25 years in prison. While I applaud their courage and commitment, I would hate to see a bunch of young people get sent to prison while business just keeps up as usual.
One of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, emboldened the everyday Indian people to shake off British colonial rule and become self-reliant. He encouraged people to make their own salt (an illegal action against the colonial monopoly) and weave their own loincloths. This was part of a larger movement to boycott all British goods.
We might have to resort to civil disobedience to stop the destruction of the biosphere. But if you’re not quite ready to risk your life or submit to a prison sentence, that’s OK. In our consumerist colonizer society, just refusing to buy stuff is tantamount to blockading a port or dismantling machinery — without legal penalties.
In modern-day consumerist colonizer society, one method of disobedience available to just about everyone is to disobey the twisted consumerist culture norms. Simply stop buying as much stuff as possible from large distant destructive entities. The power of this non-buying is often overlooked.
Disrupting a coal shipment is powerful for sure. But ultimately the producers will find a way to get it to market, to the consumers who are demanding it.
What would be really powerful is if that coal got to market and found no buyers! Don’t think it can’t happen. We can’t all boycott everything, but we can boycott enough to put a big dent in business as usual. We have the least to lose, and the most to gain.
Really our best hope is to address the demand side. I see it as analogous to the war on drugs.
P.S. A few days after I wrote this post, someone shared the following quote in a discussion about our excessively busy and money-focused culture:
“In modern times the ultimate act of civil disobedience is being content with little.” — Einzelganger
• “The case for a more radical climate movement: Author Andreas Malm on the failures of climate activism and the need for escalation” (Sean Illing, vox.com).
• Thread on Gandhi and civil disobedience started by Mike Hoag in the Transformative Adventures group.
• “Gandhi’s manner of dress and commitment to hand spinning were essential elements of his philosophy and politics. He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolic identification with the poor of India. His personal choice became a powerful political gesture as he urged his more privileged followers to copy his example and discard — or even burn — their European-style clothing and return with pride to their ancient, precolonial culture. Gandhi claimed that spinning thread in the traditional manner also had material advantages, as it would create the basis for economic independence and the possibility of survival for India’s impoverished rural multitudes. This commitment to traditional cloth making was also part of a larger swadeshi movement, which aimed for the boycott of all British goods. As Gandhi explained to Charlie Chaplin in 1931, the return to spinning did not mean a rejection of all modern technology but of the exploitive and controlling economic and political system in which textile manufacture had become entangled. Gandhi said, ‘Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of the dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery. This is why we have made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.’ The image of the emaciated, almost naked, and obviously nonviolent Gandhi hard at work at his spinning wheel had an electric effect on millions in India and across the world. He was hailed as the father of Indian independence, and starting in 1931, his traditional spinning wheel became the primary symbol on the flag of the Provisional Government of Free India.” (“Spinning for India’s Independence“; Theodore M. Brown, PhD, and Elizabeth Fee, PhD, in American Journal of Public Health.)
• Einzelganger’s website: “The author behind the pseudonym Einzelgänger is a lover of wisdom in the widest sense of the word. He has been studying Stoicism, Buddhism, and Taoism since 2013. His interest in the meaning of life led to him obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and a master’s degree in Religious & Ritual Studies. He approaches this project mainly from the viewpoint of a scholar (or just out of curiosity and willingness to study), exploring a wide range of different topics and presenting them to you through his own lens.”