Handcuffs, jail cells, rap sheets, and Climate Change

get-out-of-jail-free-greenpeaceIt’s been a good week for get out of jail cards — just don’t let anybody tell you they’re free.

At the beginning of the week, I had two lots of friends who were facing the prospect of spending this weekend in jail. One set in South Dakota facing sentencing for draping a banner on Mt Rushmore reminding Obama that history honors leaders, not politicians, and his chance to make history is in turning the tide on climate change. In Denmark, the Red Carpet Four had already served 20 days in jail without trial, across Christmas and New Years, with no visitation rights. They were being punished, in effect, for making monkeys of Danish security when they breezed into a Head of State dinner hosted by the Queen. A limousine, a Tux, an off-the-rack dress, and a motorcade with the Greenpeace logo and the words “Planetary Emergency, Authorized Personnel” on it was all it took to get an audience with 120 world leaders, whom they asked to drop the caviar forks, put a cork in the champagne, and go make a climate treaty.

In both cases, prosecutors likened the activists, in words or deeds, to terrorists. Threats to democracy. Law breakers.

Law Breakers? We’ll take that. But terrorists they are not, and when it comes to Democracy, those who take up civil disobedience in the name of a cause are Democracy’s champions, not its enemies.

Rosa Parks was not a terrorist. Gandhi was not a terrorist. Law is made when law is broken, and truly big change seldom happens from within the system. Somebody has to throw the tea overboard to get things moving.

Right now, our elected leaders are failing to address the gravest threat our world has ever faced. The longer the inaction prevails, the more action we’re going to see by civil society. More and more people, mostly, but not all, young, will choose to take non-violent direct action — because civil disobedience is a last resort. It’s what a movement does when the legal channels have been exhausted. When the courts and the politicians and the corporates have been asked, and failed to respond. The people who make that choice are not criminals. They’re heroes.

I found it somewhat ironic that in the case of the Mt Rushmore folks, most were given sentences that involved community service. Now that’s a case where the punishment fits the crime. Because in fact, a community service is exactly what they rendered when they raised their voices, as big as a mountain, to let Obama know that we’re not the only ones watching — the future is.

And when the history of climate change is written, the real criminals will be outed, and they were not the folks who faced the possibility of jail this weekend.

4 thoughts on “Handcuffs, jail cells, rap sheets, and Climate Change”

  1. Global Warming and Climate Change is the biggest environmental issue that we face these days. the long term effects of these environmental changes to a nations economy is quite damaging. there would be a shortage in food supply as well as on water supply too.

  2. Beth, your comment has nothing to do with the issue in the article. Nobody is denying Al Gore’s heating bill, or John Travolta’s jet fuel consumption. In fact, they should both be confronted, and called out. 

    These two men’s seeming issues have no bearing on the great problems facing us. Global warming marches on in spite (maybe because) of these two, and we need to stop pointing fingers (it is a huge waste of time). We need solutions, and we need everyone to follow them.

  3. Interesting Article!

    OK, I am a convert. I see the light. I will follow the example of our eco-leaders.

    I commit here and now not to use more than 80% of the energy every year that Al Gore uses, and no more than 70% of the amount that environmentalist John Travolta does.

    Mr. Gore maintains a modest $30,000 heating and cooling bill for his residence in Tennessee alone for 2008. And, Mr. Travolta is currently in possession of five high power jet planes, any one of which uses more fuel than my entire family would ever dream of using. Yet, for some reason, we look to both these men for eco-leadership. Are we insane?

    It will be a struggle, but with my 1700 square foot home, my heating and cooling bill will be about $3,000 this year. To get it up to 80% of Gore’s footprint will be extremely difficult. However, I can only try.

    With leaders like this, I know we will, working together, eventually win this battle.

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  4. Community, Service and Leadership are the respective, food, water and oxygen that feeds civil society. As long as world leaders offer economic and environmental incompetence and moral corruption, many more of us must join and support the leadership of those who risk incarceration on behalf of all of us. Thank you “Red Carpet Four” and “Rushmore” for raising the alarm that civil society can not win the challenge of corrupt/incompetent power without all of us working for real solutions.

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