By Patrick Maxwell
Apparently, Tim DeChristopher is something of a big name in the current environmental movement in the United States. So it is with some amount of embarrassment, then, that I admit that before he took the stage last Saturday night to speak to 10,000 environmentally-conscious college kids at the PowerShift 2011 conference in Washington, DC, I’d never even heard of the man.
Which is a shame, really, because Mr. DeChristopher has been the driving force behind some momentous happenings in the recent environmental scene. He has combined his passion for the environment and unique talent for stirring up trouble – he is currently facing a ten-year prison sentence for some of his less-than-legal activist work – with an undeniable force of personality and an ability to make people pay attention. Peaceful Uprising, the environmental activist group he helps to run, boasts a slick Web site, thousands of Facebook friends, and a fiercely revolutionary call for action against the status quo.
And believe me, in person, he doesn’t disappoint. As Tim DeChristopher spoke last Saturday – head shaven, red bandanna tied around his neck, defiant gleam visible in his eyes even across a conference hall packed with thousands – it was plain to see why he’d become such a driving force in the environmental movement.
With the calm but forceful tone of a drill sergeant giving orders, Tim laid the shortcomings of the human race out on the table – that 2010 was the hottest year on record, that coal and natural gas initiatives marginalize and destroy communities already beset by economic hardships, that we as a species have already done far too much damage to the environment to prevent the eventual collapse of industrial civilization as we know it – and then explained what we could do to heal our Earth.
He told us that, with an army of ten thousand volunteers like us, Peaceful Uprising could shut down mountaintop removal in Appalachia, cripple the West Virginia court system with civil disobedience, escalate the fight for the environment to the point where the powers that be would have to give up their fight against the planet or, as he said, “send in federal troops to continue it.”
As Tim finished his speech and walked offstage, I, and ten thousand other audience members with me, lurched to our feet, clapping, whistling, and cheering in support for him and his movement. For the rest of the weekend, the memory of his call to action sent tingles running up and down my spine.
But the adrenaline rush of an action-packed weekend spent with like-minded individuals is fading, and as it does, I can’t help but notice that some part of me – the inner voice that likes Buddhist meditation and John Howard Yoder, perhaps – feels deeply, deeply dissatisfied with Tim DeChristopher and the current environmental movement as a whole.
The activism, the inflammatory language, and the calls to “stick it to the man” are helpful, energizing, and (on some level, at least) necessary, but at the end of the weekendShift with t, I went home from Powerhe impression that Tim, and the dozens of other environmental powerhouses at the conference, ultimately failed to preach to anybody but the already-converted choir.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been seeing the same Albert Einstein quote popping up all over the place. It goes something like this: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I think Tim DeChristopher and the rest of the progressive environmental movement could stand to hear this quote a few more times; when the rubber meets the road, it’s not college kids, liberal Democrats, or the Environmental Protection Agency that the environmental movement needs to worry about – these people, for the most part, are already very conscious of the woes that face our planet.
The people whose votes and voices we need are the very people to whom the green movement has spent so much time protesting against – business owners, right-wing politicians, conservative Christians, climate change deniers, and even (gasp!) the Tea Party, the people who hold the keys to industrial reform and lasting, meaningful policy change. The level of thinking that created our current environmental crisis was characterized by divisiveness, party-line voting, and warlike language; we in the environmental movement would do well to take Uncle Albert’s advice and expand our thinking across the aisle. A higher-minded, more inclusive approach if the planet is truly to be saved. Let’s make the change.
(A video of Tim DeChristopher’s speech is available online at www.peacefuluprising.org)