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What the climate movement gets wrong about disruption

climate protest
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The 1963 Civil Rights victory in Birmingham, Alabama paved the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In their latest article, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, UMass Amherst Associate Professor of History Kevin Young and Yale University environmental social scientist Laura Thomas-Walters ask: What are the lessons from that monumental victory for today's climate movement?

"We wanted to think more deeply about the concept of disruption with an eye toward being useful to the climate movement," Young says. "Lessons from 1963 are often misunderstood."

Conventional thinking suggests that the success came when nonviolent protesters won the hearts of northern white liberals, who then pressured the Kennedy administration to intervene. Drawing on accounts of Black organizers, Young and Thomas-Walters emphasize the role of the economic boycott in compelling Birmingham's downtown business elite to push for an end to segregation.

They note that that was not on the side of demonstrators, but that the economic pressure applied to downtown businesses made the difference, rather than the public's reaction to the protests.

Young and Thomas-Walters argue that the historical lesson is that "disruption is necessary." And that it's most effective when it imposes "sustained and escalating costs on elite sectors that can force politicians to confront the climate emergency."

They suggest targets of disruptive strategies by the climate movement should include that fund as well as organizations and that consume and invest in them.

More information: Kevin A. Young et al, What the climate movement's debate about disruption gets wrong, Humanities and Social Sciences Communications (2024). DOI: 10.1057/s41599-023-02507-y

Citation: What the climate movement gets wrong about disruption (2024, February 26) retrieved 23 June 2024 from
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