The Climate Disobedience Center exists to support a growing community of climate dissidents who take the risk of acting commensurate with the scale and urgency of the crisis.
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As we look back on 2023 and prepare for the year to come, we keep circling back to the concept of “disobedience”: what it is and how it fits into efforts to spark systemic change.
Obedience exists in relation to power, authority, tradition, or social norms. Nearly every moment of every day, each of us decides when to comply with the status quo and when the price of obedience is too great.
From grand actions to the smallest choices, the decision to disobey means choosing not to abide by the way things are, but envisioning and attempting to embody how things could be.
There is so much complexity within the myriad ways people think about disobedience: discerning the strategic value of specific actions, struggling to tolerate the discomfort of disobedience, defying norms that diminish frontline voices and leadership, and more.
As we roll out this series of blog posts, we hope you’ll share your reflections with us.
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This post was adapted from an email sent by Nastasia Lawton-Sticklor, Marla Marcum, and Siobhan Senier to our community.
Monday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside for remembering and honoring our trans friends, families and community members who were killed over the past year. In the midst of our grief over loss of life, loss of safety, and loss of community, this is also a time to recommit ourselves to fighting against transphobia.
After all, climate justice work calls us to work toward our collective liberation. Extractive relationships with our planet are part and parcel of the larger cultural context of domination and oppression. As organizers, we strive to disobey those forces--and we use the term DISOBEY purposefully. This means prioritizing our solidarity with one another, and naming and learning from the ways in which that solidarity has fallen short.
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A note for context This love letter from Nastasia Lawton-Sticklor to all of us marks the beginning of her Climate Disobedience Center fellowship year. We are overjoyed to welcome her to this part of our team! - Marla and Leif
In his book Freedom Dreams; The Black radical imagination, Robin DG Kelley quotes his daughter Elleza Kelley saying:
The kind of citizenship I dream of is one where we acknowledge our attachment to each other, desire to be attached to one another, in relations other than property relations. Where serving the other is a way of serving the self. It sounds very romantic, but isn’t that the origin of all the things we want to make and bring into the world? The power of the love letter is that it is written without the guarantee of a response.
Kelley then responds: “And what are radical social movements if not love letters”? (Kelley, 2022, p.xl)
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As you may know, the No Coal No Gas Campaign was first launched by the Climate Disobedience Center core team in 2019, alongside our friends at 350NH. Since then, it’s grown to include over 1,600 people in the New England region, as well as several wonderful supporters across the continent. We have many incredible core organizers from multiple New England states, and I’m fortunate to be able to spend about 75-80% of my organizing time working with these amazing folks! I’m so grateful for the support of the wider CDC community for this work – it’s what allows us to keep working to realize our three campaign goals: build community, show what’s possible, and shut down fossil fuels in the region. I wanted to give you a little update of what No Coal No Gas has accomplished this year and ask you to please donate to support our continued organizing.
On January 8th, No Coal No Gas kicked off the year with an action at the Merrimack Station – the region’s last coal-fired power plant. A few of us climbed up the smokestack of the plant while it was running and released a banner that said “SHUT IT DOWN.” Two other folks locked themselves to the base of the tower in support, while others supported from the river and the road. Standing on the ledge of the smokestack, I could feel the fumes from the plant burning the back of my throat as I watched steam rise where the cooling system discharges water back into the river and melts the ice.
It was heartbreaking to be so up close and personal with the same machines that are killing people in central New Hampshire and accelerating climate change. Yet even as I wheezed from the cold and chemical plumes, I could also hear the cheerful encouragement from my friends down below. And even high up in the air in the cold, I didn’t feel remotely alone. This action was really meaningful for me to participate in personally, and certainly got the attention of plant owners Granite Shore Power, who showed up at the plant during our action! You can read coverage in the Concord Monitor here.
Left: Leif smiles while sitting high on a smokestack at the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, NH with the icy Merrimack River behind them. Right: The "Shut it Down" banner is deployed from the smokestack.
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“This work is LONG, when people take a risk and land in the criminal legal system, they need a community and at least a couple of people who are going to stick with them until they are free. The fact that my time can be freed to do this work means that this work is going to happen until it’s done.” - Marla Marcum
I know you know our dear Marla Marcum, but in this season of gratitude I want to share with you my appreciation for a uniquely Marla role that she has played in the climate justice movement over the past year and a half. Since even before we founded the Climate Disobedience Center in 2015, Marla has put front and center the idea that the action isn’t over until everyone is out of the criminal legal process. And that it’s the community’s responsibility to help see people through the often bewildering jungle of that process, which tries at every step to dehumanize, punish, and strip folks of their autonomy.
I want to tell you how she took organizing that support to the next level for and with activists who joined the fight to block construction of the Enbridge corporation’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota.
If you want to hear this story, and I think you will, read on.
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We are in a pivotal movement moment when a lot of things are shifting and changing. Many of us are resolving court cases or heading to trial, reinvigorating our commitment to resist Line 5 and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and engaging myriad challenges across our communities. Many of us are also taking time to build community care networks, to rest, and to do the important internal transformation and healing required to sustain us in these struggles. Though the challenges loom large, we are grateful to be in this moment with you.
We also want to update you regarding the changing composition of our own team. After almost four years, Core Team member, Emma Schoenberg, is transitioning away from the Climate Disobedience Center. Looking back across those years, I want to recognize that our team and you, our broader community, have done some powerful work.
With a big and beautiful movement family, we’ve gone from dreaming about a Yet-To-Be-Named Network to the launch of the Fierce Vulnerability Network and publication of the FVN Handbook. It’s a big dream, and there is so much work yet to come. You can learn moreabout this effort to build a constellation of direct action teams positioned at the intersection of racial healing and climate justice here.
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Some thoughts from CDC core team member Tim DeChristopher in response to the recent self-immolation of climate activist Wynn Bruce.
The philosophy of nonviolence is grounded on an understanding that all beings are deeply interconnected into a web of life, so harm to one is a harm to all and to the larger whole. As part of our great work of social and spiritual transformation, we have to grow our awareness that each one of us, ourselves, is part of this larger whole. As such, it must be emphasized that nonviolence encompasses self-care, and harming one’s self is violence. If nonviolence means anything, we must be able to unequivocally state that burning a human being to death is wrong. It is still wrong when that human being is oneself.
As a climate movement, we need everyone at their fullest and healthiest. Even in small ways, refusing to take care of one’s own needs and health is rarely an act of genuine compassion for the larger group. While we may need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to harm or risk being harmed, to actively cause harm, even against yourself, is to push on the wrong side of the moral scale. As every one of us is an expression of an infinite potential of love, the irreversible action of taking one’s own life deprives the world of limitless possibilities. We can never be certain about the impact of our actions on the world, so we must have the humility to act with uncertainty, inclined toward learning. Our job is to keep showing up for one another with our whole selves. Our job is to keep showing up for one another with love. It may not be our job to know exactly why or how our presence is so important. But our job is to keep showing up.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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While many folks have been taking a break during this holiday season, our Marla Marcum has not been one of them. Over the last week Marla has been jumping between lawyers and dozens of defendants who are before multiple courts defending their acts of conscience and moral imagination.
Will you support Marla’s incredible court-support work with a donation?
The Climate Disobedience Center arose out of a need to deal with court cases after someone has taken action. I’m sure many of you know how we’ve spearheaded efforts to bring the climate necessity defense into courtrooms across the country. But legal strategy isn’t the only thing that happens when activists enter a courtroom; it can be a place to build community, build the disobedience muscles of those around us, and build power we can use in the next phase of action.
Defendants from the 2019 mass action to remove coal in Bow, New Hampshire fill the room in Concord District Court February 14th, 2020.
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I remember when the terror of climate change first sank in for me in early 2008, and the seemingly stable world I thought I knew suddenly became a much more scary place. Everyday actions took on life or death consequences. For a while I was paralyzed by this fear, but as I moved forward into action and community, I began to feel empowered and equipped for this dangerous world.
This year a similar kind of fear took hold of our whole society. For many people, even a hug or a handshake can seem terrifying right now. Just today I listened to someone describe the sense of panic she felt when someone approached her without a mask. We have been taking necessary steps to protect each other from a very real danger, and at the same time, we have also been practicing being afraid of each other. As climate activists should know well at this point, even when the danger is very real, we still can’t allow ourselves to get lost in our own fear. Thinking out of fear too often makes us feel small and inclined toward dogmatism.
At some point, likely in the coming year, we will get past this pandemic. But there is no guarantee we will get past the fear. After 9/11, rights and freedoms were sacrificed in the name of one scary threat, and they never came back. Whether it’s the mass tracking of movements through cell phones or just the practice of seeing a person’s face as a sign of danger, we cannot allow this fear to become normalized.
We launched the Climate Disobedience Center five years ago. It was a wild proposition at the time: to form a little center that would have the back of people who take risks to defend the web of life, and would broaden the conversation around direct action, invitational nonviolence, and push the edge of moral imagination of climate action. When we started out we were clear that we would not be a typical non-profit. We weren’t going to take typical non-profit salaries. We were ready to risk the very existence of the organization if it was the strategic and moral thing to do. And because of our commitment to act on our principles in accordance with our sense of strategy, morality, creativity and intuition, we weren’t going to be dependent on grants that would limit our ability to act.
Since 2015 we’ve supported activists across the country through their legal processes, through trials using the climate necessity defense, we’ve consulted about strategy, and connected hundreds of people with lawyers and legal resources. In the last year alone, we have offered new trainings and innovated ways to offer real community support to defendants with remote court appearances. Meanwhile, we have also struck out on our own to build coalitions, develop campaigns and support actions that would push the boundaries of what is possible from the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline fight, to the Valve Turners to the No Coal No Gas campaign in New England. And over the past two years, we have joined partners across the country to develop a network of direct action teams at the intersection of racial healing and climate justice.
At the end of the day, movements sustain themselves when people show up to share with their community the most precious things they have: their time, their wisdom, their vision, creativity, passion and skills. A movement grows when people see what is happening, how something new is growing, and feel called to add their gifts into the mix as well. There’s no amount of compensation, or paid staff, that can build it.
We didn’t have language for this when we started out. However, since we began our work as part of the “Yet-To-Be-Named” network, we have come to understand this as the functioning of a gift economy: a relationship of mutuality, trust and care made real in the material world by time and resources.