Marches, rallies and honks for peace are all good strategies — but they're not enough, say local activists who gathered Saturday to discuss tactics for social change. It's time now for something more, a kind of "peaceful uprising," they say.
The all-day conference at the University of Utah drew about 150 activists representing groups ranging from the Healthy Planet Mobilization Committee to a new group called Provo for Palestine. There were environmentalists, peace activists and union organizers. Panelists included former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Tim DeChristopher, the eco-saboteur who last month disrupted the Bureau of Land Management auction of oil drilling leases.
The "old model" of social activism hasn't proved effective, said DeChristopher, who appeared on two panels. "We have to convince leaders that there will be an uprising," he said. "Changing a light bulb is not an appropriate response" to the climate crisis.
After a day of panels and films, about 30 people attended the final, what-shall-we-do-now session, where they discussed their shared vision of a "just, sustainable and peaceful world" and the pros and cons of getting arrested for their causes. Sixteen of the 30 raised their hands "yes" when asked by attendee Caleb Proulx whether they would engage in that level of civil disobedience.
"Sometimes you're willing to do whatever it takes, and maybe that time is now," said longtime peace activist Diana Lee Hirschi, who was arrested in 1989 as part of a national campaign to stop production of the Trident missile system.
While marches and rallies are helpful, "we could do something that's creative and powerful," suggested Ashley Sanders, who helped organize the "alternative commencement" at BYU in 2007 to protest the traditional commencement address of Vice President Dick Cheney and was youth coordinator for Ralph Nader's 2008 presidential campaign.
Sanders suggested an "action" near the end of this year's legislative session. "We'll descend on the Capitol and hold an Athenian people's legislature," she said. She envisioned thousands of Utahns, perhaps wearing togas, frustrated by the laws being passed by the lawmakers and calling instead for ethics reform and clean air. She also pushed for civil disobedience, with the protesters asking for their own bills to be passed "or we're not leaving."
"That's a recipe for martyrdom," countered peace activist Dayne Goodwin, who drew the line at actions leading to arrests.
Seattle union organizer Paul Bigman told attendees earlier in the day that activists of all stripes need to "build coalitions," especially with the country's working class. Bigman took part in the 1999 civil resistance at the WTO meetings in Seattle. A screening of a feature movie based on that event, "Battle in Seattle," was also part of the weekend conference. While the movie was an adrenaline rush, real-life activism is "hard, hard work, and it goes on for a long, long time," Hirschi told conferencegoers.
A morning session on Saturday, "Activism in the Mormon Community" drew BYU and U. students. "It's a headache to be a progressive at BYU," said Shannon Clawson, "but there is such a strong community of people who are really passionate" about social justice.
Although the conference attendees didn't reach a consensus on specific actions for the near future, they did call attention to upcoming events: a four-hour civil resistance training led by Hirschi on Saturday, Feb. 21, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Quaker Meeting House, 171 E. 4800 South; a climate change discussion with DeChristopher, author Terry Tempest Williams and Salt Lake City Council member Soren Simonsen at 7 p.m. the same day at the Salt Lake City downtown library; an environmental mass action in Washington, D.C., on March 2; and a multi-issue national action on April 4.
Upcoming events will be listed on the Web site of Utah Jobs with Justice, www.utahjwu.org.