Guest Post by Claire Schoen

As the climate is heating up, so are the protests. And I am marching, signing petitions and writing to my congresswoman. But in the face of EPA cuts and a climate denying cabinet, it doesn’t feel like enough. I’ve begun to wonder if I should take the next step — and get arrested.

I was arrested once, in 1981, to protest the opening of the Diablo Nuclear Power plant. I was 29-years-old and it was a turning point in my life. But that was a long time ago. Today, in the face of the climate crisis, I wonder: Would getting arrested as a climate protest accomplish anything? What would it mean to get arrested as an elder woman? What does civil disobedience look like in the context of climate change? What types of civil disobedience are climate activists engaging in?

Episode 2 of the Stepping Up podcast takes a hard look at these questions – and comes up with some surprising answers.

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1.) The power of putting you body on the line.

When I told friends and family of my plan to get arrested, they asked me if it was really necessary and what it would accomplish. And honestly, I was wondering the same thing. While civil disobedience as a form of resistance is woven into the fabric of American politics and culture, I wasn’t sure if it was the right approach for climate activism. So I put this question to an expert — campaign manger, Sara Shor. Sara is only 29 but has been arrested several time to protest climate policy. When I asked her why civil disobedience is important, she explained: “When you see 2000 people putting their bodies on the line or even a few people putting their bodies on the line, it makes people pay attention. And politicians change their mind when public opinion sways.” I found stories from Seattle to England of climate activists like Sara engaging in civil disobedience to protest everything from pipeline construction to coal-fired power stations. And I met some amazing people along the way.

2.) Getting arrested isn’t only for the young.

At 65, I wasn’t sure if I had any business getting arrested. Wasn’t that something millennials should be doing? But then I met the 1000 Grandmothers — a group of elder women activists who formed to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. These women gave me a unique perspective on what it means to be an elder and an activist. And I was reminded of Bill McKibben’s wise words: “One of the few unmixed blessings of growing older is, past a certain point, what are they going to do to you?” As he points out, “at 22, having an arrest record may not be the absolute best thing for your resume.” But for guys “with hairlines like mine” there is less to lose. I realized that there an important role for elders in protesting climate change and perhaps we have a responsibility to be on the front lines of the fight.

3.) Doing something is better than doing nothing.

As an impulsive 29-year-old, I just went out and did it. But now I have a better understanding of the physical risks of arrest. I could actually get hurt! This is of course part of what makes civil disobedience such a powerful tool. But it’s also a sobering thought. For some of us our activism may take other forms, But as we rise to meet this great challenge, we must all take whatever action is possible for us. And for us grannies, this might even mean getting arrested.

So what choice should I make?

Listen to the newest episode of Stepping Up to hear the full story.

The Stepping Up podcast tells tales of people who are stepping up their game in unexpected ways. Grandmothers and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they will amuse and inspire you, as they figure out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

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