An interesting conversation has unfolded in the climate movement about whether college-age protesters—generally perceived as “spoiled elites” by the general public—should be replaced on the front-lines by farmers and grandmothers. Tod Brilliant of the Post Carbon Institute forwarded this argument on the Daily Kos. But Tim DeChristopher, the young activist who disrupted a federal gas and oil lease auction by posing as a bidder in 2008, took the argument in a slightly different direction on his blog:
I think college kids who protest and get a citation will definitely not get sympathy. Those who spend a night in jail probably won’t get much either. Those who get released from a night in jail to go straight back and repeat their action might start arousing some curiosity. Those who defy a judge’s strong warning that returning a third time will guarantee a year in prison will begin to actually move people. When college kids become former college kids who have been kicked out because of their activism, we’ll start making some progress. The “uppity brats” critique only sticks if anyone who wields it has ever sacrificed as much as the college kid is currently doing. I think where the direct action wing of the current movement has fallen short is that they have substituted perceived risk for actual risk, and it is not the same thing.
DeChristopher speaks from experience. The action he undertook as a student two years ago, which is still threatening to land him up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, has netted his group more praise and followers than “uppity brat” accusations.
I’d bet Peaceful Uprising has a longer list of committed grandmothers than any similar group in the country. They’re on board and ready to get arrested in part because they watched a college kid who reminds them of their sons and grandsons face 10 years in prison for defending his future. The advantage of sustained resistance is that it gives us the opportunity to bring more people on board, and it becomes less important who took the first step.
In fact, as DeChristopher argued, the Freedom Riders ignored similar warnings about the perception of well-off young white people from the North coming to the South—only to show the country that “there is something strangely powerful about watching another person put themself in harm’s way.”
More than age, income, profession, or anything else, the one thing that matters about who we put out front is stubbornness. I’ll trade all the strategy in the world for stubbornness.