Civil Disobedience as a Radical Flank in the Mountain Valley Pipeline Resistance Movement

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Virginia Tech


Communities of resistance are increasingly turning to radical tactics, including acts of civil disobedience, to fight back against encroaching fossil fuel infrastructure. The fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is no exception. The MVP is a 303-mile long proposed fracked gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. I apply radical flank effect (RFE) theory and the theory of movement dynamism to understand the role of civil disobedience, as a radical flank, in the MVP resistance movement. I contribute to the literature on RFEs by focusing primarily on how the radical flank of this movement has affected within-movement social dynamics, like trust, unity, and interpersonal relations. I rely on 15 semi-structured interviews with pipeline fighters, both those who have and have not participated in acts of civil disobedience, to gain insight into the use of civil disobedience, as a radical flank in the movement. This movement has used diverse tactics to challenge construction of the MVP, making it a strong case for understanding the role of radical tactics, and their relationship to moderate tactics. I find several positive RFEs (energizing effects, connecting effects, engaging effects, uniting effects, and movement outcome effects) and some potential negative RFEs (conflict/alienation, fear of consequences and organizational risks). I also find evidence of movement dynamism in the form of an ecosystem of tactics which emerged in the MVP resistance movement. Movement actors kept moderate and radical flanks publicly separate for strategic reasons while overlapping membership bridged the social dynamics of the movement, encouraging cohesion and collective movement identity.



social movements, civil disobedience, radical flank, Mountain Valley Pipeline