The End of Protest went on sale on Tuesday, and Micah White has had a whirlwind week of media and events. You can check out his Twitter feed for links to interviews and reviews. On Wednesday we took Micah out for dinner, to celebrate his book and his 34th birthday.
Last night’s event at the Toronto Reference Library capped off his time here. The discussion with Susan G. Cole of NOW magazine was sold out, with 500+ ticketholders plus a number of rush seats. Micah was electric and eloquent when he explained why we urgently need a revolution of how we practice activism.
I am a longtime activist, and I share Micah’s belief that activism as we currently practice it is no longer as effective as it could be. While editing the book I participated in and helped organize some of the largest climate marches we’ve seen so far, including the People’s Climate March in 2014, which attracted 400,000 to Manhattan alone, along with marches around the world…and I saw that the situation didn’t really change, at least not at the government level.
Micah argues that the only way we can tackle climate change is through a large-scale social movement, similar to the Arab Spring or Occupy. I was reading the theory about why these marches can be a waste of resources and energy, and seeing it in real time. Granted, I acknowledge that marches can attract new volunteers, provide an outlet for enthusiasm for change, show widespread demand for action, and demonstrate the strength of the climate movement to other longer-established movements (labour, feminism, and disability rights, to name just three). But by following the script of protest, we are enabling authorities to more easily police our marches and rallies, and we’re not allowing ourselves to tap into our innate creativity, which will allow us to respond uniquely and rapidly, and thus increase our odds of success. As Micah urges in his book, we should “never protest the same way twice.”
So am I opposed to marches as a way to fight climate change? Not entirely. I think we need a mixture of tactics. Marches, sit-ins, and rallies are tried-and-true methods of generating media attention and welcoming newcomers alongside seasoned activists. And we can argue that we already doing that; have been for years.
But I would like to see more actions that respond creatively, and with a certain level of spirit, if not fun; the Art Not Oil campaign is one method, and kayaktivism (an unfortunate but catchy name) is another. The fossil fuel divestment campaign has been approaching the issue from numerous angles; case in point: the strong and dedicated divestment team at the University of Toronto.
That we are already using numerous strategies gives me hope…and perhaps all of these attempts to move the dial are the social change equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall: one will stick, and revolution will sweep the world.