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Friday, August 5, 2011

A how-to lesson in civil disobedience

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Justice, Nov. 2009, Mecklenburg County Courthouse

We all know the Democratic National Committee’s convention is going to be in Charlotte next year. We also need to become one with the reality that with the big bash will also come protesters.

With that, here’s a little 101 on civil disobedience from Grist.org’s David Roberts. Note, he’s talking most specifically about climate change issues, but this lesson can be applied to any type of civil disobedience. To sum up: Don’t be boring.


What will influence people to take climate seriously? I think one underappreciated answer to this question is that a bunch of people need to be seen taking it seriously. Human beings are social creatures; we do what we see our peers doing, particularly in stressful or uncertain situations. It's called social proof: When we're not sure what to do, we tend to assume that others are better informed and follow their lead.

Therein lies the (potential) value of civil disobedience: It is a social signaling device. It says, "We are taking this seriously. We are willing to risk our comfort and safety, willing to get arrested, just to get you to pay attention to this." If done well, in the right circumstances, that kind of behavior sends a stronger message than any compendium of scientific results ever could.

That said, it's obvious that not all civil disobedience or direct action has that kind of effect. A great deal of it has no effect at all, it just sinks like a stone without notice. Here we come to an aspect of Tim DeChristopher's caper that hasn't gotten enough attention. It's not just that he was well-intentioned and courageous. Plenty of people do well-intentioned, courageous things that are nonetheless boring and nobody cares. What DeChristopher did also involved the crucial elements of surprise and delight. I mean, he just walked into a government oil-and-gas lease auction and started bidding sh*t up. That's ... absurd! And hilarious. And badass.

Civil disobedience is a display of intensity, a tiny bit of social proof, a candle in the darkness. But it only works if people notice.


Read the entire post here.

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