IT FEELS GOOD to laugh out loud. In the past year I haven’t felt lighthearted about weighty topics such as our political leadership, globalization, and climate change. But Bill McKibben’s latest book, Radio Free Vermont, reminds me that humor can be as powerful as protest in speaking truth to both injustice and abuse of power. Prolific writer, climate organizer, Sojourners columnist, and co-founder of the organization 350.org, McKibben has given his life to galvanizing the climate movement. He advocates for a diversity of strategies, from a carbon tax to public art, with a seriousness reflecting the high stakes of inaction. In his first work of fiction, the satirical plot of Radio Free Vermont revolves around the exploits of Vern Barclay, a 72-year-old radio announcer who finds himself at the center of a campaign to convince Vermonters to secede from the U.S. His motley crew of allies includes Perry Alterson, a teenager with technological expertise who ends every sentence with a question; Trance Harper, a former Olympic biathlon winner; and Sylvia Granger, a firefighter who harbors these fugitives while teaching investment bankers and corporate attorneys how to drive in the mud and fell trees for firewood in their new state. The narrative begins with acts of nonviolent and almost joy-filled resistance by the accidental activists, which include taking over the airwaves at Starbucks with Radio Free Vermont (“underground, underpowered, and underfoot”) and the rather polite hijacking of a Coors Light truck to replace the cargo with Vermont craft beers (which are mentioned by name in nearly every chapter). It’s like the Vermont Welcome Wagon received training in civil disobedience, with a local brew never far from reach.
Joy as Social Change
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