John Quigley is best known for the 71 days in 2002-2003 that he sat in a tree to save it from being cut down. Since then, he has become known as an environmental activist, participating in actions such as the South Central Farm sit-in, and also training other activists in non-violent civil disobedience.Meeting with the monthly Activist Support Circle, a group that provides emotional support for activists, Quigley remarked that he felt ”humbled” to be visiting with a group of people dedicated to seeking positive change. But he also had some advice to pass on.“Activism is a lifelong job,” Quigley observed. “It takes courage, strength, persistence, listening to that voice inside you that says ‘There must be a better way.”“We are perpetually fighting the perception that we are ‘fringe”. Yet, “fringe” causes like the fight against global warming have become more mainstream over the last 20 years. To take a seemingly radical idea and bring it to the mainstream requires that “you learn to check yourselves, know why you are doing what you are doing,” and to withdraw from personality and ego clashes that often cause activists to quarrel.He noted that the effectiveness of taking action comes from how an activist states her/his point of view. Trying to “prove” one’s ideas “right”, as if in a court of law, can have a negative effect. “Think of it [the idea] more as a gift that you are giving the other person. Give the gift as a possibility rather than the argument.”He gave an example from his own activist career. During the time he sat in “Old Glory,” the endangered tree at Stevenson Ranch, Quigley was constantly being interviewed by the media. At one point, he was asked what he thought of George W. Bush running for reelection. Aware that many of the people who had come out to support him in his battle to save the tree were Republicans, Quigley replied: “I’d rather focus on saving Old Glory.” By doing this, he moved away from what might have been a divisive partisan debate.Quigley has given talks, mostly to students, about how to engage in protest and non-violent civil disobedience. When the issue of “presentation” came up, he asked them: “If you leave the nose ring in for an interview, do you think it will have an impact on the issue? If you take the ring off, is that ‘selling out’?“My perspective is: what you’re doing is inconsequential to the larger issue.”Quigley also spoke of how he developed his “aerial activism,” a series of events where people gather on beaches or fields and use their bodies to form political art images. “I wanted to find a way to enroll people into activism-a collective effort,” he explained. Some photographs of Quigley’s aerial art can be found on the Internet at manoman.com.“It’s important for us to renew ourselves,” Quigley reminded the activists. “Refresh and nurture yourselves. This is a courageous life you live-feel good about it.”
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