You have probably seen the news: People gluing themselves in the proximity of valuable paintings behind glass (Van Gogh, Monet, Vermeer). Or the news of people spraying paint on luxury car dealerships, intelligence services, central banks, and gluing themselves on top of late-night talkshow tables. If not, now you know people are taking action to Just Stop Oil.
You may disagree with these actions. You may say it does not help. You might be in a social circle that affirms that all of this would be disagreeable. You might hear that these actions are sensational, irresponsible, and that there are ways in our society to bring up issues through proper channels.
It may be easy to forget in disagreement that these instances of direct action are creative, joyful, tremendous, and life affirming (considering the circumstances). The future is being destroyed, yet we care more about the now being disrupted. I am inspired to see this kind of direct action from people fighting for our future.
Direct action can be many things, among which a last resort the result of having no control over something that has control over you. The critique on the gluing and disrupting made me think of direct action that has gone underreported and underdiscussed. I figure it is the kind of direct action that is too hard for many to face and fizzles out after a newscycle: Self-immolation.
Self-immolation is the direct action of putting oneself on fire. It has had tremendous historic impact — known to us through the monk Thích Quảng Đức (in Vietnam) or through Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi (in Egypt), and many other historical acts of protest.
Less commonly known is that self-immolation is occurring as direct action on the topic of the climate crisis too. Both David Buckel in 2018 and Wynn Bruce in 2022 self-immolated and died because of the lack of action on the climate crisis. David Buckel wrote in their last words:
Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.
Do we heed their calls or await the possibility of more death?
Emissions keep rising, floods keep happening, and yet the wealthy (including myself) in this world are discussing whether it is appropriate to disrupt art galleries and who owns Twitter. Let’s discuss their deaths just as or even more ardently and face the tough questions. We are distracting ourselves with easy discussions and we will live to regret it. Climate tipping points are likely to be reached this decade, so if you're alive now, you will experience these threats.
So yes, I applaud gluing, disrupting, and any other creative direct action that is life-affirming instead of life depriving. These acts inspire me to have the courage to reject the idea it is too late, but that does not absolve us — it's right before the clock strikes midnight. I ask you to have the guts to be inspired too. Take direct action where you are — any positive change is worth it and there is more you can do than you might realize.
As Luisa Neubauer said recently (my translation):
If all the people with an opinion on activism had such a strong opinion on the climate crisis, we would be much further along.