Several weeks ago, after Tim DeChristopher received a two-year jail sentence for climate monkey wrenching, the outrage in various quarters was palpable. Some, like Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone, saw a potentially historic moment in the making:
For climate activists, this is a Rosa Parks moment. Or should be.
In other words, the jailing of DeChristopher should be a similar kind of epic spark, one that would launch a movement of protesters rallying to the climate change cause. But equating the DeChistropher episode with a seminal event in the Civil Rights movement is problematic, because as sociologist David Meyer noted yesterday in The Washington Post, "anger doesn't make a movement "” organizers do." Meyer's essay is not about climate activism, but he provides an instructive history lesson for budding climate activists:
Social movements are products of focused organization. Even the icons of activism in American history wielded influence through larger groups. Rosa Parks wasn't just a tired seamstress in 1955, when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala. She was a longtime organizer who served as chapter secretary of the local NAACP, which organized a bus boycott and a lawsuit in response to her action. Earlier that year, she had attended a workshop on nonviolent action at a labor center, the Highlander Institute, where she read about Gandhi and the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down segregation in public schools. All of the specific actions weren't choreographed, but activists had spent years building the infrastructure and cultivating the ideas that made the bus boycott possible.
As best as I can tell, climate activism remains a disorganized amalgam of national and local groups. Ironically, there seems to be a bigger grassroots uprising against one of the highly touted solutions to climate change, if Robert Bryce is correct when he asserts that
the backlash against industrial wind is real, it's global, and it's growing. The U.S. has about 170 anti-wind groups.
If the climate movement in the U.S could claim it had 170 separate chapters, that would be a notable sign that it too is growing. Absent that, what will it take for the climate cause to catch on? A certain famous climate activist, in a speech several months ago, laid out the challenge, in terms that evoked the kinds of sacrifices made during the Civil Rights era:
Where is the point when our movement is going to say that stopping this injustice is more important than my career plans, is more important than my comfort and convenience?
I'm sure we'll know when the climate movement arrives at that point.