Open thread: novel activist tactics

One criticism of the climate activist movement is that it continues to rely on tactics which were either never effective or which have lost effectiveness as opponents of decarbonization have learned to counter them.

This is a central part of the thesis in Micah White’s book The End of Protest, in which he argues in particular that big marches have lost their ability to help.

It’s worth devoting a thread to any new activist tactics. For instance, there is this recent show of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia: Convoys of pipeline protesters slow traffic on Ontario’s busiest highway.

35 thoughts on “Open thread: novel activist tactics”

  1. Just as modern-day organisers of a coup may be better off seizing a popular Instagram account than the national broadcaster, so too have the barriers to entry collapsed for shutting down the busiest airport in Europe. This summer Extinction Rebellion, a climate-change pressure group, may well achieve what the IRA failed to do, using nothing more than a drone of the sort available for under £100 ($127) on Amazon. The first “non-violent direct action” will be on June 18th, followed by another ten days of action starting on July 1st.

    And that is just the tip of the autonomous iceberg. Modern drones are not just “low and slow devices”, says Anna Jackman of Royal Holloway, University of London, but are capable of speeds up to 160mph. Moreover they can be adapted by hobbyists both benign and malicious. Examples of DIY modifications include graffiti sprays, grabbing claws, firework launchers, flame-throwers, tasers, handguns and chainsaws. James Rogers of the University of Southern Denmark points to an environmental activist who landed a drone carrying radioactive material on the Japanese prime minister’s residence. It sat there for nearly two weeks before it was discovered.

    If the threat of long prison terms and large fines does not deter protesters who believe they are saving the planet, the danger of unwittingly killing a few hundred people might.

  2. Attacking art works that are safely encased in glass does nothing to further the activists’ cause – if anything it makes a case for climate complacency

  3. Letzte Generation activists have thrown potatoes at a Monet and motor oil at a Klimt, scaled the Brandenburg Gate, sneaked onto airport tarmacs, and pounded away at the street in front of the German Ministry of Transport with jackhammers. They’re widely referred to as Klima-Kleber, or “climate-gluers,” for their enthusiasm for super-gluing themselves to a dizzying array of things—the gilt frames of famed paintings, dinosaur skeletons, buildings, walls, and all manner of roadways and streets

  4. “As she sat with her bare hand glued to the asphalt of the Fürstenbrunner Weg, Melanie Guttmann told me she understood and even sympathized with the rage her group’s protests were provoking among workers trapped in gridlock. But Guttmann, who’s been with Letzte Generation since its founding in 2021, described that as the cost of a strategy that has won the group enormous publicity.

    “Of course this creates anger, and I can understand that,” said Guttmann, 27, who said she’d worked as an IT project manager before quitting her job to devote herself full time to activism. But “over the last few months, we got the opportunity to go on TV shows to talk about why we are here and that we need to take action now,” she said. “So yeah, I think that it’s effective.”

    The attention-grabbing tactics have also swelled the ranks of Letzte Generation, which regularly hosts lectures and recruiting sessions at bars and online. As recently as last summer, Letzte Generation was little more than a noisy but small band of committed activists. Now the group claims hundreds of members, perhaps a thousand, and stages demonstrations multiple times a week.”

  5. Yes, there absolutely must be room in the movement for people who would never dream of blocking a road or smashing a window, just as there must be for those willing to take on such risks. But there should be no space here for a “beyond politics” framing of the climate crisis (a slogan often and problematically espoused by XR, though its supporters insist that it has been misunderstood), because that would root the climate struggle in a fundamental lie. Without a compelling story that links rising sea levels with attacks on the right to strike, environmentalists will allow governments and businesses to pursue a slow, inadequate and ultimately ineffective decarbonisation programme.

  6. Divided yet united: Balancing convergence and divergence in environmental movement mobilization

    Environmental movements play an increasingly pivotal role in societal responses to pressing issues, such as climate change. These movements are often multi-scalar, spanning locations, ideological orientations, organisational types, and tactics. We investigate how the UK’s anti-fracking movement manages the tension between the necessary convergence of collective actions and this divergence of scale. Based on a frame analysis of press releases, position papers, websites, blogs and 20 semi-structured interviews, the paper shows how heterogeneous environmental movement actors, with diverse framings of fracking, utilised three convergence processes – funnelling, expanding and familiarising – making connections vertically, horizontally and contextually. These processes created a ‘web’ of resistance that held the environmental movement together while maintaining diversity. Our paper contributes to the environmental movement literature by explaining how movements overcome divergence without establishing homogeneity. This is important in understanding how environmental movements can expand their role within a broader constituency in opposing environmental destruction.

  7. A wave of student occupations has shut down schools and universities across Europe as part of a renewed youth protest campaign against inaction on climate breakdown. Twenty-two schools and universities across the continent have been occupied as part of a proposed month-long campaign.

    In Germany, universities were occupied in Wolfenbüttel, Magdeburg, Münster, Bielefeld, Regensburg, Bremen and Berlin. In Spain, students in occupation at the Autonomous University of Barcelona organised teach-outs on the climate crisis. In Belgium, 40 students occupied the University of Ghent. In the Czech Republic, about 100 students camped outside the ministry of trade and industry. In the UK occupations were under way at the universities of Leeds, Exeter and Falmouth.

    The most radical actions were taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, where youngsters occupied seven schools and two universities. On Thursday, occupying pupils forced one high school to remain closed for a third day, while students at the University of Lisbon’s faculty of humanities barricaded themselves in the dean’s office.

  8. What the climate movement’s debate about disruption gets wrong

    The recent debate about whether climate activists should employ disruptive tactics tends to conflate all forms of disruption. The debate typically focuses on the public’s reaction to protesters, yet the more important question is whether a given tactic imposes disruption on elite decision makers. Most external analysts, and many activists themselves, fail to specify what approaches are most disruptive of elite interests and which elite institutions the movement should target. They also often misinterpret the lessons of historical social movements. We reconsider one of those movements, the Birmingham civil rights campaign of 1963, in light of the current strategic debate. We argue that disruption is necessary, but that not all “disruptive” strategies are equally effective. In particular, we advocate a strategy that can impose sustained and escalating costs on the elite sectors that can force politicians to confront the climate emergency. Priority targets include financial institutions that fund and underwrite fossil fuels as well as corporations, universities, pension funds, and other institutions that consume and invest in fossil fuels.

    It is an unfortunate reality that despite the institutional trappings of democracy, the general public is usually marginal to the policymaking process. In practice, that process is typically dominated by powerful industries and state institutions that exercise preponderant influence over both government and media. This asymmetry is especially well documented in the case of the United States but is also true, to varying extents, of all capitalist societies (Gilens and Page, 2014; Young et al., 2020). Thus many potential reforms enjoy strong majority support among the public yet never get passed, such as higher taxes on the rich, higher minimum wages, reductions in military spending, and stronger regulations on polluters (Kull et al., 2021; WPO, 2021; Young et al., 2020). Public support is rarely a sufficient condition for the enactment and implementation of progressive reform. Often it is not even a necessary condition. Many of history’s progressive movements have succeeded without the support of the majority, as struggles for slave emancipation, labor rights, racial integration, and many other good things attest (Young, 2024). Instead of chasing public approval, those movements more often sought to disrupt elite decision-makers directly.

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