Sometimes the only way to get attention is to break the rules. Fifty years after my first arrest, I’ve embraced being locked up in the name of the planet. As Cop26 nears, here’s why it’s time to rise up

The good fight: the climate activists risking everything

The first time I was ever arrested, I was picked up for smuggling drugs into the US from Canada. They were vitamin pills, but that didn’t seem to matter to the police officer in Cleveland, who mentioned that his orders had come from the Nixon White House. It was 1970. I had just started a campus speaking tour protesting against the Vietnam war, and was under surveillance by the National Security Agency. I raised my fist for the mugshot, and after a night in jail, they let me go.

I think the idea was to discredit my opposition to the war, and maybe get my speeches cancelled. Instead, students turned up in their thousands. My first arrest wasn’t for an act of civil disobedience, exactly, but the lesson I took away from that surreal experience was just how powerful it can be to set your ideals against the machinery of the state. Half a century later, it still works. And, as the extraordinary activists who tell their stories here attest, it remains an indispensable means of being heard by those who would prefer to ignore us.

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