Meet Allen McGonagill: From An Inconvenient Truth to Civil Disobedience

From An Inconvenient Truth to Civil Disobedience: Meet Allen McGonagill

By Kaylen Sanders

Edited by Chloe McAlpin

Allen McGonagill is an environmental activist and a key member of Extinction Rebellion Boston’s strategy and action groups. After six years in the solar industry, he currently works for Purple Carrot, a vegan food delivery company that brings plant-based dishes to non-vegans. In his interviews, McGonagill repeatedly emphasized the importance of education and rebellion in the fight for environmental justice.

Like many people, Allen first grasped the scale of the climate crisis when he saw An Inconvenient Truth in high school. There was no environmental curriculum at his middle school and high school, and even as an environmental studies student about a decade ago, his university's department did not offer a single undergraduate course on the climate crisis. While some classes would scrape the surface of the topic, it was hardly baked into the curriculum.

McGonagill is baffled and enraged by this disconnection. "I think we're still facing a big public education gap, and we need to wake people up to what the climate crisis really means. Climate change should be a mandatory course for most college students… if you're at college and it is mandatory to do Calculus I and Calculus II, that's bullshit compared to someone being educated on climate change.”

McGonagill’s emphasis on education explains his current excitement for disruptive education, a strategy that XR Boston plans to focus on in the coming months. McGonagill defines disruptive education as "civil disobedience that is educational as the primary goal." According to McGonagill, this can take the form of teach-ins, holding public space for sit-ins, and breaking into universities to teach climate and adaptation classes. He wants to encourage universities to join XR in this educational effort by actively demonstrating what climate crisis education looks like.

McGonagill has no doubts that in order to cut emissions by 40% globally in the next eleven years, we need to educate and motivate everyday people. “I truly believe without being on the streets and engaging with the public, that we cannot build the support we need to create a livable future.”

On December 6th 2019, McGonagill was arrested for the first time while attending a gathering with the Sunrise Movement. At the gathering, Governor Charlie Baker refused to speak to hundreds of young people about three bills that were critical to creating a livable future. Only ten minutes after the statehouse closed, the police prevented students from going deeper into Baker's office and began making arrests. When recalling the event, McGonagill seems calm and almost aloof. “I was scared at the time,” he wrote in an email, “But while it was physically uncomfortable for a while and an inconvenience to find time for court dates, it was also empowering and connecting to see others who were willing to risk their freedom with me. Arrest isn't something everyone can do as easily as I can, but I believe that we rebels can do more than we think is possible.”

Engaging with the reality of the climate crisis is certainly not easy, but McGonagill recognizes it as the first step towards envisioning a new political reality. "What we need now is a group of people large enough that is demanding policies in alignment with the science to open up the Overton window and make it more politically feasible for real options to be considered and politically unfeasible for inaction to be considered. I think that is a prerequisite to actually having meaningful policy passed."

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