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Obstructive Civil Disobedience Returns to the United States

When I woke up yesterday morning and started to see the reports of blockades in New Zealand and the United Kingdom as part of the Fossil Fools Day of Action, I predicted to myself that such events wouldn’t be mirrored here in the United States.

I was wrong. Blockades were launched in Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York as well, blockades in which individuals chained themselves to the machineries of fossil fuel energy production and finance in order to halt their progress.

The same day, truckers snarled traffic in multiple U.S. cities to protest the rise in oil prices. This kind of transportation protest is best known in France, and I am unaware of any recent American precedent.

Before the attacks of September 11, 2001, American protest had begun to move toward obstructive civil disobedience directed at stopping the targets of protest in their work. Think Seattle 1999. That sort of tactic largely halted after the attacks of September 11, when Homeland Security officials began seeing any sort of disruption as a form of terrorist activity. Certainly, nominal civil disobedience continued, especially at large protest marches. But these acts of civil disobedience, which typically involved sitting down across a line drawn by the police, getting immediately arrested and booked for a misdemeanor, and then going home, were never truly obstructive; they were acts of political theater that didn’t stop a thing.

Yesterday’s protests were also certainly acts of political theater. But the civil disobedience involved in yesterday’s protests were real attempts at the obstruction of the work of targets. I think it is important to notice the return of obstructive protest to the United States. I think it is a sign of erosion in the culture of Homeland Security.

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