Embracing radicalism: After the SOTU, activists are risking arrest today at the White House to push Obama on climate

Board chairman and farmers, entrepreneurs and activists, students and teachers, lawyers and actresses --dozens of them -- are gathering at this moment near the White House, where later today they will risk arrest to hold President Obama to the commitments he made in last night's State of the Union to "do more to combat climate change." The list of those participating in today's action include Daryl Hannah,'s Bill McKibben, and Mike Brune, the executive director and Sierra Club -- an organization whose leaders are today engaging in civil disobedience for the first time. (Participants from the Boston area include Brandeis junior Jacklyn Gil, Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor, and Rev. Jim Antal of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.) For more info, you can follow the day's event at or on Twitter at @tarsandsaction. 

It may seem incongruous to casual observers that climate activists are gathering the day after the President devoted a chunk of the SOTU to their cause. "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence," Obama told the nation last night. "Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late."

But what's become increasingly clear to those on the ground in the climate-justice movement is that the solutions being half-heartedly kicked around in Washington are nowhere near enough -- and our time to act is quickly running out. 

On the cover of tomorrow's Boston Phoenix, and available since yesterday here on, we're publishing an important essay by the journalist and activist Wen Stephenson -- a former editor at the Boston Globe and senior producer at NPR's On Point -- that is already being hailed as the movement's next major manifesto. In "The New Abolitionists," Stephenson argues that even the most aggressive proposals by our most progressive leaders are simply not enough. In turn, he argues that the movement needs to embrace radical traditions in order to have any chance of affecting change. "This is the reality — or the surreality — of the historical moment in which we find ourselves," he writes. "At this late hour in the climate crisis, with the clock ticking down on civilization, to be serious about climate change — based, mind you, on what science and not ideology prescribes — is to be radical."

In the piece, Stephenson revisits the story of Tim DeChristopher, an economics student from Utah who in 2011 peacefully disrupted an auction of 22,000 acres of National Park land -- in short, he walked in and placed the highest bid, even though he didn't have the $1.8 million to cover it -- and was eventually sentenced to 2 years in prison. (He's currently in a Utah halfway house and due to be released in April.) DeChristopher's riveting story is the subject of the documentary Bidder 70: This Is What Hope Looks Like, which screens for free tonight (Wednesday, February 13) at 7 pm at Somerville's Arts at the Armory. It'll also double as a discussion for anyone who's thinking of joining next week's landmark Presidents' Day #ForwardOnClimate protest in Washington, on February 17 on the National Mall.


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