Tom Steyer thinks the percentage of Americans willing to resort to civil disobedience to force action on climate change is nearing a tipping point.
The billionaire hedge fund manager, a capitalist renegade, suggests his countrymen follow the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.
"According to a fascinating poll
that came out last week, 13 percent of Americans claim that they would
commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech. There has been much
focus on Dr. King's speech – but it caused me to re-read another King
work, his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
When you consider the impact climate change will have on our
collective future, it is instructive to remember what Martin Luther King
had to say about the power of non-violent civil disobedience in that
letter in 1958.
The prophetic points of this message are numerous, but I will highlight two here that standout for their timeless wisdom.
The first was his outline of the preparation needed for mass,
non-violent protest. He advocated a four-step process of analysis,
negotiation, self-purification, and, finally, confrontation. The
ordering here was crucial; only after the first three stages did he
advocate the last.
Dr. King's second observation was that even after the deliberate
execution of those careful steps, confrontation was always "untimely"
for the so-called moderates, arriving too soon for their comfort.
Dr. King's key insight is not just that outright oppressors never
give up their advantages willingly, but also that moderates never
advocate any direct, non-violent, attack on the status quo because they
are actually satisfied with it.
Because of self-interest, the dirty energy industry will always
engage in fierce, intense opposition. But what about the moderates of
our era? Are they still satisfied with the status quo? I think not.
Returning, then, to the 13 percent who would personally engage in
civil disobedience, how should we interpret this level of commitment?
Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson thought that 15 percent of the
general population was the number needed for accomplishing significant
transformation. If he was correct, this may represent a tipping point.
We may be on the precipice of major change.
Let's hope we are."