Civil disobedience, under the right circumstances, can play an important role in the struggle to stop fossil fuels.
In Ecuador’s Amazon, more than 1500 indigenous people shut down 36 oil wells for five days and blocked a major highway. They forced the government to make concessions on plans to expand oil extraction in the region.
Critically, their direct actions weren’t merely symbolic. The material impact of prolonged, organized disruption of oil extraction and of travel and commerce forced the government to listen, after it had for years ignored pleas for ecological justice. Frederick Douglass was correct when he observed “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Activists must organize campaigns to leverage the resources of the people to strengthen their demands and force concessions from the powerful. Organizers must deliberately decide whether each action in a campaign will work to those ends via material or symbolic impact. Every action must have a purpose; every action must build the people’s force.
All of these victories underscore the power of direct action—blocking highways, shutting off production at the wellhead, packing the court rooms—to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
Read more: Amazonians Rising Up and Winning Against Oil