In The middle of Run Away History: Judi Bari, Earth First! Organizer – Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods
Interviewed by Beth Bosk – New Settler Interview, Issue #49, May 1990
Judi Bari: Tomorrow I’m going to Oregon. There’s an Environmental Law conference up there. I was invited to speak on a panel about labor and the environment.
Last week, I received a call at my home, at night, from a nastysounding man who identified himself by name and said he was from the Western Council of Industrial Workers, which is the AF of L union which represents mill workers up there.
He warned me that I better not set foot in Oregon. And he said that if any of his union members talked to me they’d be out of a job—and various other vague threats.
He also called the conferences organizers and the university, telling them I shouldn’t be allowed to speak there.
This panel, on labor and the environment, is made up of me—I somehow got on it—a university professor of physics, and the owner of a company who makes fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated. This is their idea of a “Labor” panel.
I gave the organizers the name of a rank-and-file mill worker one hour from them, but they never contacted him. He called them, and they wouldn’t let him be on the panel. And this is a union man who has spoken out in public for the spotted owl and against the yellow ribbon campaign in Oregon.
I’m going to Oregon to cede my spot on this panel to this courageous man. The panel is called “Labor and the Environment: Bridging the Gap.” Yet they can’t even bridge the gap enough to let a single rank and file worker speak on the panel, so I’m going to cede my spot to him.
Beth Bosk: What is going on in the forests, Judi?
Judi Bari: This summer looks real desperate, with the Forests Forever Initiative going through. Basically, the public has become so outraged at what these timber companies are doing—liquidating the redwood eco-system—that some regulation is likely to be passed. There are several initiatives being proposed. The regulation will probably be completely inadequate from the point of view of the forests, but anything that slows them down is no good for the companies.
So the companies have been submitting timber harvest plans at a tremendous rate, and this summer, it is going to be an all-out blitz. They are going to take every tree they can, as fast as they can, before regulations are passed to slow them down.
We’ve considered what we can do about this. Even if the voters pass regulations, there won’t be anything left for us to save. And we decided that our task of physically slowing them down cannot be accomplished with the local population—just like in the 1960s in Mississippi.
We have a very similar situation where we have strong public support both locally and nationally, but we are unable to overcome the overwhelming power of these companies in our rural area with our relatively small population. These companies control every aspect of our society.
So, we are calling for a Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods, the idea being that we are putting out a call for Freedom Riders for the forest, to come to northern California this summer and spend some time doing non-violent civil disobedience, helping us slow down these companies before they destroy the redwood ecosystem.
We realize Mississippi Summer took years to lead up to, and we’re considering this a building process. But we need help from the outside, and we’re calling on people from around the country. Even just seeing clearcuts and the little third growth they are taking out now, that in itself is an education.
Beth Bosk: I would like you to talk about old growth forest ecosystems: what happens when they are rudely wiped out-with neither conscience or consciousness.
Judi Bari: There is no way of replacing an old growth forest. They say, “Well, the tree grows back.” But a forest ecosystem took tens of thousands of years to evolve. And if you go into an area that has been logged, you don’t see the ferns on the ground, the wildlife.
A forest is much more than trees. It’s an entire interrelated ecosystem. And in fact, these trees can’t even grow without the interrelated ecosystem. They need mycorrhizal fungi to attach to their roots to expand the amount of area they have to absorb nutrients so that the trees can grow so large. You can’t just cut down a tree and plant a seedling in a bare c1earcut and expect it to be an old growth forest, even in two hundred years.
So what’s going on is, the way the forests are being abused, they’re being eliminated, and their ability to regenerate is being taken away from them. These old growth forests are genetic pools. We’ve destroyed the ability of these forests to even evolve, as we have vastly changed the climate in which they exist.
If you drive out route 20, for example, you see along the road (at least a couple of feet before you get to the clearcuts) what appears to be a forest growing back from what used to be a dense old growth area.
But a redwood tree does not produce cones for 200 years! So those forests you are looking at are sterile forests. They are not reproducing. And if a fire goes through them, they can sprout from the roots, but they can’t have seeds released because they are not old enough to produce seeds.
So we have entire sterile forests now, and because all the seedlings are coming from the same stock, the trees are not able to evolve. And, simultaneously, we’re vastly changing the climate by taking out so many trees.
I think we need to think really carefully about how we use wood and how we shouldn’t be using wood, and how we get it. The most important thing to me is how we base our needs.
Right now our society is based on the notion that we will take everything we can from the earth, we will get the earth to give us everything we can possibly suck out of it. Instead, we need to scale down our needs to what the earth can produce on a sustained level. Before we take out the last of a magnificent ecosystem like the redwoods, we need to ask: What can the redwoods sustain?
We are hurting the future ability of the forests to even regenerate. And that is important to what the corporations are doing besides the ugliness of the clearcuts. The very concept of leveling these ancient beings so a couple of gluttonous millionaires can get rich is obscene. We have to look at this in a longer term review. What are we doing to the earth’s ability to sustain life?
Beth Bosk: You have maybe another 40 years if you live your life to its best guessed term. Then you’re going to be dead. The sun is eventually going to be a dead star. If the planet dies in the next 40 or 400 years, is that any different than waiting another two hundred million years for it to explode or grow cold?
Why are you driven to protect something that according to the astronomers is bound to die?
Judi Bari: I guess it is a moral issue in the same way as the racism issue in Mississippi was a moral issue. I think that all beings are equal—not just that all humans are equal. I don’t think that anything has the right to destroy the entire planet, or any other ecosystem. Nature is set up so that we beings eat each other, but we do it in a balanced manner so that not whole populations are destroyed. No species or person has the right to destroy other life in that manner.
I’m not just a forest activist. I’m a justice activist. I have been my entire adult life. I’ve worked in the anti-Vietnam movement, the anti-Nuclear movement, Central America. I’ve worked in the union movement; I’ve done community organizing around issues of concern to particular neighborhoods.
The reason that I jump from movement to movement as it may appear (of course, this is over a twenty year period) is not because I am an activist junky, it’s because I believe it is all one struggle. It’s one struggle, many fronts; and I work on the front that is the closest to me and where I am now, the closest to me is the forests.
But I don’t see it as any different. The way that the companies treat the workers is neither separate from nor subordinate to the way that they treat the forests. These companies are anti-life. They are not just anti-trees. They destroy the life of the forests. They destroy the life of the workers. And they destroy the life of people in Third World countries.
And I see it all as being interrelated. I don’t think that all humans are guilty. Most of us are born into this and don’t support it. It’s not to our benefit. It’s only to the benefit of a very few. But we are under the control of a very few, very rich people who are so selfish that they care only for themselves. It really brings up the question of good and evil when you think of somebody like Charles Hurwitz.
How could a man come in and destroy 2000 year old trees to pay off junk bonds?—-not even to pay off junk bonds. He used the money to buy Kaiser Aluminum! I mean, how could somebody like that do it?!? He’s also building the biggest fountain in the world in the middle of the desert. He’s paving over lambing grounds in Bighorn sheep territory. I mean, this man is not just against forests. He made twenty million dollars last year. That is what I am against. That enrages me. The way they destroy lives—people’s lives, trees lives, and whole ecosystems. That enrages me. And I think that is what my motivation is.
Beth Bosk: People are acquiring a “parenting” regard towards the planet. It used to be “Mother Earth knows all”, now it’s more this ailing child that we have first to protect and then heal. How do men like Charles Hurwitz and Harry Merlo fit into this emerging sensibility that everything here is connected, and the closer you are, the more defensive you must get about whatever needs you or is ailing?
Judi Bari: Maybe it is more like an ailing elder. I don’t consider the earth as a child, more as an elder who has given to me, and that we need to give back to.
As to Charles Hurwitz, I don’t think people like that are connected to the earth. That is part of their problem. I was raised back East, and my parents were very progressive, but the life in which I was raised was not connected to the earth, and when I go back and visit them now, I feel uncomfortable. You can’t tell what it used to look like there because it is all developed. People go from their air conditioned house to their air conditioned car to their air conditioned job--
Beth Bosk: Spewing Freon at the ozone layer…
Judi Bari: And there is very little connection to the earth—or the atmosphere—and, because they are not connected to the earth, people have a need inside them they try to fill with consumerism, which only makes the problem worst. When I see someone like Charles Hurwitz or Harry Merlo, I think they have deliberately broken their connection with the earth. And that is the only way they can succeed at what they are doing. They see the earth as something to be dominated. They see it as something from which they receive. They take, take, take and there is no giving back and no interaction with the earth. I know Harry Merlo, the president of L-P, hunts, he hunts on his own land. I doubt if Charles Hurwitz ever gets out of his mansion, or his suit.
Beth Bosk: Harry Merlo has a 2000 acre Shangri-la-like estate, with a son to bequeath it to. He obviously has a sense of generational continuation. He says he learned never to leave the table with empty hands at his immigrant mother’s boarding house table. Now he is cleaning the forest floor. [laughter]…What’s that now infamous Merlo quote?
Judi Bari: It’s right there on my kitchen wall: “…I log to infinity because we need it all. It’s ours. It’s out there. And we need it all, now.”
Well, obviously this man is extremely selfish, and he believes that his family has reason to possess more than other beings. His Shangri-la in Cloverdale is on the banks of Lake Sonoma, and I hope we can do a boat landing one day and let him know that he is not as safe and protected by his money up there in the hills as he thinks, while he strips the rest of the hills around him. Harry Merlo is a disgusting person. And I don’t think we can tolerate that kind of selfishness and that kind of piousness from somebody who is absolutely destroying the earth so that he can hoard away more money.
Beth Bosk: It sounds like a chapter from one of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopias.
Judi Bari: In Ecotopia Emerging, the Greens spray a party of the rich and powerful with the same chemicals that the poor people have just been sprayed with, the 2,4-D they claimed was safe. The Ecotopians fly over the house of the manufacturer of this chemical and spray his lawn party. I certainly favor that type of action. People need to see what they are giving out. And I think whatever anyone can do against Charles Hurwitz and Harry Merlo is justified.
Beth Bosk: If this were in People Magazine the head would most likely read: “Earth First! Maid” to hint at your trickster-troubadour-with-old-timey union propensities. In the beginning, Earth First! was a small, cheeky, national alliance with pizzazzy ideas for attracting attention to the plight of wild places. My interview with Dave Foreman was done at that juncture where he was changing from “redneck for wilderness” into planetary warrior. The interview was very contemplative, and I missed that marvelous playfulness which is the tendon of Earth First!
Judi Bari: Playfulness was definitely something that attracted me to Earth First! because it is an aspect of my own being. The joy which Earth First! brings to demonstrations and actions is just as important as the actions themselves. The playfulness and joyfulness is a monkey wrench of this humorless system, in itself, and it is very hard for them to deal with it. When the congressman has to argue with someone in a bear mask, it really throws him off balance. Earth First! is a tribe, and it actually has a tribal organization. I’ve been in many political organizations of all different kinds of structures, and of course, there are problems with this totally decentralized structure, in that people who I don’t think represent those of us on the front lines, are speaking without accountability and they can say some appalling things—like their comments on AIDS, for example, which are diametrically opposed to the views of most of the people on the front lines.
Beth Bosk: These comments are…
Judi Bari: Some of the people of national Earth First wrote that AIDS was nature’s way of balancing the population, getting rid of too many humans. And after that they had the gall to ask AIDS victims to become ecokamikazes—if you’re going to die anyway, take something with you when you go.
The immigration comments were just as disgusting to me. Some of the national Earth First!ers have said—and continue to say—that the population problem should be solved by closing the borders and not letting Mexicans and Central Americans in—that they are tromping the desert as they cross it, that they just breed like rabbits—appallingly racist statements. So that’s the problem with the Earth First! structure, because most of the front-liners, I think, are politically progressive as well as environmentally.
Nevertheless, Earth First is a tribe…
Beth Bosk: Which means?
Judi Bari: Which means we are members of a family. I have a feeling towards the Earth First!ers that I haven’t had even when we tried in the anti-nuclear movement to form affinity groups. I never had the kind of affinity with my affinity group that I have with the Earth First!ers.
We are, in reality, a tribe. There is something about us that sets us apart, and part of it is that joy, and that sense of humor, and the absolute seriousness with which we approach our warrior role in defending the earth.
All other groups I have been in, like if they have a national convention, they will rent a hall. The Earth First! rendezvous are held out in the wilderness somewhere, and we come together as a tribe. We have camps where small groups will live, and then come together for circles.
You become an Earth First! leader or spokesperson, simply by saying what the Earth First!ers want to hear. There are no elections. And if you stop saying what the Earth First!ers want to hear, you stop being a spokesperson just organically. It’s an interesting way. And it has problems, and it has good aspects.
At the last rendezvous, some of the “leaders” were getting a little full of themselves, and what the Earth First!ers did about this was borrowed from an Indian tradition, a tribal tradition. They had what is called the mudhead kochina. People did parodies of the leaders as the leaders were giving their serious speeches. There’d be naked people with mud all over them sitting near the stage imitating their gestures.
Anytime anyone gets full of themselves, we have the tribe to enforce our equality. And we have the tribe with which we share that joyfulness. I think that is a lasting aspect of Earth First! It gives it a power other movements I’ve been in do not have.
Beth Bosk: Give me another example of ritual or mechanisms emerging in Earth First!.
Judi Bari: I’m also in the Wobblies. When there is an internal problem in the IWW, everybody submits constitutional amendments and has floor fights over it and debates. In Earth First! we just have power struggles. We get rid of all the pretensions about it.
Of course we had the well known one at the last rendezvous between those who chose to fly the American flag and those who were offended by the American flag. And there is this kind of traditional hippies-versus-therednecks in Earth First! about which Darryl wrote the song They Sure Don’t Make Hippies like they Used To. I feel that just by sheer numbers, the hippies are beginning to predominate. I was a Yippie twenty years ago, and there is an aspect of that in the joy and playfulness. Hippies, just by nature, are more like that than red necks. Foreman had this idea of Earth First! as red necks for wilderness. And who did they attract? It wasn’t the rednecks, it was the hippies. There is something cultural as well as political about it, and that has become part of our strength.
Beth Bosk: That original group of four men, Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, et. al . taught us how to “male bond”—men and women both. Certainly women have a taste for what is spoken of as “male bonding”—that type of camaraderie. I know I do.
Judi Bari: Male dominance has always been a problem in Earth First! It’s certainly been a problem for me, as a woman organizer. If I had been a man doing the same things I’ve been doing as a woman, I think I would have been given more recognition in Earth First! earlier.
They’re finally beginning to. It’s not a major problem for me, except when it involves somebody getting funding who isn’t doing anything, and me not getting any funding. I don’t believe in hierarchy, and I don’t believe in recognition from a little and closed group of males as a criteria for the worth of my work. The way that I deal with that is simply operating as a woman. I don’t male bond.
Beth Bosk: Let me roll it back. Paleolithic male bonding implied risk. Any hunt meant it could be the last day of a man’s life—whether it be in aggress of an animal or on another band of men. The necessity each had for the other was a part of the bond. The fun was secondary. Earth First! has been infiltrated by the government, with traps lain to get rid of a dynamic leadership who really might change the direction of this nation…There is this bit of trivia that always sticks in my mind: ten percent of the people who led the American Revolution survived their participation. When I look back at the 60s, the statistics got real close. So I see the value of people who have worked together for years toughening their barriers to permeation of new approaches by newcomers of any gender because of the real danger of plots promoted by the agent provocateur—as happened in Arizona. And as I read Earth First! the Radical Journal, I find women who have been in the “tribe” for years, like Doris LaChappelle; honored.
Judi Bari: My own experience is that in this clique that thinks of themselves as the national Earth First!, there is a tremendous male dominance, and if a woman is given honor, it’s only honor.
The grass roots of Earth First! is much further along politically than the somewhat ossified center. They live middle class styles in middle class surroundings with no apology offered. While we on the front lines are often trying to change our own lifestyles as well as try to change the lifestyles of others.
I used to work as a carpenter at California Yurts. I was putting old growth redwood on a rich man’s house in Boonville. It was a 2,500 square foot house, for one man—his country home which he would come to for weekends.
The wood came from the Salmon Creek clearcut up in Humboldt. I know this because Gary Ball was the bookkeeper. At the time I didn’t know about old growth redwood. I didn’t even know very much about the forest yet. But I was looking at this wood—it was twenty feet long and it had this tight grain without a knot in it. It was beautiful—and I said, “Gary, is this old growth redwood?”
He said, “Yes,” and told us it was a thousand years old.
I was appalled. I thought the house we were building was disgusting anyway. It was like a Playboy mansion, which offended me in the first place. And then to be using thousand year old trees on it!
I got a photo of the clearcut from which the redwood came, and I put it on the man’s living room wall. But that didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t make me feel enough better. This was in Boonville, and every day I had to drive over the Boonville grade to get to work and see the bee-line of trucks hauling redwood going the other way. The contradiction was too great. I felt a strong pull to do something for the forests.
I had recently met Darryl Cherney, and he urged me to work with Earth First! at first I felt the organization was too male dominated, but he pointed out to me two things: first, that Earth First! is so decentralized, each local group can absolutely stake out its own character. There is no charter, like with the Sierra Club, there is no constitution, like with the Wobblies. Each group can take on whatever character it wants to be.
The other thing Darryl said that was important to me, was that if you start a new group, you have to start from scratch, but if you call it Earth First! the timber companies will quake in their boots. He was right about both of those things.
As I got involved, I found this very decentralized, very tribal, very localized Earth First! I don’t think there really is that much of a center. It is misrepresented in the national media, and misperceived by the government. Earth First! is its front line activists, and the front line activists tend to be much more broad in their views and closer to the earth and egalitarian in their lifestyles than the bunch of red necks who started it.
Beth Bosk: Doing what where?
Judi Bari: We are every place. Let me give you an example: The Bowskers , Hurwitz and Merlo did this big timber pact a couple of weeks and everybody was very excited. Charles Hurwitz is giving this great this great concession that he won’t destroy Headwaters for two years. Of course it is all conditional and all bullshit. Earth First!ers found a brand new 30 foot wide road through Headwaters within two weeks of the pact.
Anyway, the three-headed lap dog, Bosco, Keene and Hauser met with Hurwitz and Harry Merlo, purportedly to work out a deal about what they are going to do about this problem we have in timber country. One of problems is Headwaters forest with 2,000 year old trees in it had become a national issue.
So they met and Charles Hurwitz agreed he wouldn’t cut Headwaters for two years, though he refused to withdraw his timber harvest plan, which he is still proceeding with, if we don’t challenge him on anything else he does, and he isn’t ready to slow down his rate of slaughter by one tree, just shift it around to less controversial groves. And of course, there were no environmentalists, and there were no loggers and no mill workers. There was no press. It was behind closed doors. There were no minutes. They scrawled on a bar napkin and said, “This is a deal.”
The whole deal was fraudulent—but I want to talk about Earth First! and what Earth First! had to do with this. The week before this “deal” was struck, Charles Hurwitz suffered four demonstrations. The first time he came to Sacramento, he was met by a group of Earth First!ers who were there to arrest him. They stepped in front of him and he was quickly shoved into the room by John Campbell, who is the head of Pacific Lumber and recognized the Earth First!ers. Later in the week, there was a demonstration at a logging deck in Carlotta with 250 people—not an Earth First! demonstration, but a lot of the same people and the same kind of spirit.
Then, in Rancho Mirage, in southern California, the home of the Ritz Carleton hotel, which is owned by Charles Hurwitz—that’s the one he is developing on Bighorn Sheep lambing grounds—there was a demonstration in the rich people’s neighborhood. A banner was hung from a cliff proclaiming, “The Ritz Rapes Redwoods.”
On Friday, Charles Hurwitz did a nearly-unannounced speech at Austin University in Texas, and Texas Earth First! showed up. Hurwitz was speaking to the MBA’s, and he was in there bragging about what he did to Pacific Lumber—how he went in and bought this resource-rich company with junk bonds, and then took the money out of it to buy Kaiser Aluminum instead of to pay back the junk bonds. Meanwhile, there were forty Earth First!ers in the lobby, chanting and pounding on the walls. They forced open the door and yelled in. Hurwitz was so visibly rattled, he ended his speech prematurely and ran out the back door.
But Earth First!ers were posted at every door, and five Earth First!ers literally chased Charles Hurwitz to his car. There is a photo of him diving into his car, and another of his chauffeur driving away at high speed.
Two days later, they announced this timber pact.
That aspect of Earth First!—that we are every place. We are doing things all over. In Washington State, four people climbed a crane, chained themselves to it, and shut down an export dock operation. Four people!
The week after the timber pact was announced we did two demonstrations in a row up. The first at the Bowskers offices-Bosco, Keene and Hauser’s offices. There was a roving demonstration; and as an example of the kind of playfulness for which we are justly renown, whereas many groups go to these offices and have their somber sit-ins, what Earth First! did (And none of this is planned. It’s all spontaneous. It’s just in the spirit of the people who participate)—somebody took the door off the hinges in Hauser’s office saying that we were instituting our own Open Door Policy.
The next day, we did what can only be described as an ambush of an old growth haul truck, because, of course, the slaughter continues in spite of the timber pact, which was what we wanted to demonstrate.
And everybody knew. The police knew. We had had an open meeting. And there were police parked all up and down the road and a whole mess of press in the parking lot of a little redneck cafe where the loggers were talking, “I’m going to get my chain saw. Earth First! is coming.” And in spite of all these people watching for us, we managed to ambush an old growth haul truck.
A van pulled out in the road in front of it, and when they got to the stop sign at Highway 101, five people ran out of the van and very quickly climbed the truck and chained themselves to the trees. Then people came out of the bushes and surrounded the truck.
It was a wonderful action. And it demonstrates another thing about Earth First! The people who climbed the truck, many of them were in their twenties. I’m in my forties, and a lot of people you find in other movements are older—we’re all left-over Vietnam era whatevers—the addition of the twenty-year-olds really gives a spirit and a boldness to Earth First! that is neat.
Beth Bosk: That sounds like a fun and light-hearted escapade. What happens, when it gets very deep seated and morose. I know of a man who stripped himself naked and threw boulders at a logging truck as it was coming down forested slopes above Covelo. His commitment cycled through both his bouts of depression and mania.
Earth First! also attracts people who identify so completely with the forests—or the rivers or a dune—that when ancient trees fall, they are willing to risk having their bodies fall with them as they perch on a tree to save it and bring the plight of its forest to public attention. I would like you to speak to that continuum of sanity, insanity and martyrdom that furls through a grassroots movement.
Judi Bari: We certainly have our share of crazies, and that is because it is an extreme situation and people who are feeling extreme associate. While we were doing the ambush I just told you of, someone let the air out of the tire of my car. They were laughing as we were changing the tire, and I said, “Hey, what goes around, comes around.” It wasn’t real upsetting to me.
There are two levels to Earth First!, and I think that it is really important in the demonstrations, that someone who is at a point of feeling really violent about it—and I sure understand that. I don’t want to take that away from anybody or say that it is not legitimate. What is being done to this Earth is extremely violent and I think that anything we do to defend it, anything effective, is justified—but I think that people who can’t feel that joyousness shouldn’t be working in the group situations.
There is a whole other side of Earth First! There are many things that can be done individually, and in private. Numbers of bulldozers are destroyed in the woods—all that is very important—and a very important part of the power of Earth First! is that we don’t discredit that.
Somebody like me, a known Earth First!er is really a fool to engage in sabotage—at all. I don’t do any of it, even the most minor of it—but I think it is wonderful that there are unknown people back in the woods doing those kinds of actions. I only hope that it continues and grows. I think if we do survive this, those people will be considered heroes in the future.
If somebody feels really hostile, they have a hard time working with us anyway, because the character of our public demonstrations is so playful and joyous. But there is a place in Earth First! for people of any level or anger, and if the place needs to be that you should work by yourself, it’s admirable, but, it is also important not to endanger other people.
What we do is certainly dangerous. I can cite the Whitethorn incident where Mem Hill’s nose was broken , and in Calpella, last June, a logger decked Greg King, even knocked him cold for a minute. Darryl and I were run off the road by a logging truck last August during National Tree Sit week, and I don’t think it was an accident.
Beth Bosk: Why don’t you retell that episode, more completely.
Judi Bari: We were doing National Tree Sit Week: two days earlier, we had had a demonstration in Whitethorn in which some loggers had gotten violent and a fifty year-old Earth First! woman, Mem Hill, had her nose broken by a logger. The police refused to intervene, refused to arrest the man, even though he was threatening us with a gun. It was a pretty outrageous situation.
So we had just come off of that…And basically, we were doing a demonstration-a-day in Mendocino County. The day following Whitethorn, we blockaded an L-P logging operation near Navarro on Highway 128, and the day after that, we were going to have a rally in Fort Bragg at the Georgia Pacific mill, which was going to be the culmination of Tree Sit Week. I was to be the main speaker, Darryl was going to be playing music.
Darryl and I, and Pam Davis, who is an Earth First! organizer from Sonoma county were all riding together to the demonstration, and We had four children with us, my two and Pam’s two. Our destination was quite known. What we look like is quite public.
So we were driving down the road, and when we got to Philo there were a lot of pedestrians, and I was slowed down. There was a logging truck following us—it was not tail-gating—and I was looking at the pedestrians, I wasn’t looking in my rear view mirror at the time—none of us were—when with no warning what-so-ever—there was no squeal of brakes, nothing-we were hit full force by a logging truck which fortunately was not loaded.
My car left the ground, sailed through air and hit another truck (Which was twice the size of my car) and pushed that truck up two steps and took out a post holding up the porch in front of a bar in Philo.
The people who owned the truck that was pushed up the porch were a Georgia Pacific employee and a Department of Forestry employee who were doing a spotted owl hunt on Georgia Pacific property. Except that they weren’t in the forest, they were there at a bar in Philo. The coincidences were pretty astounding—a group of Earth First!ers hit by a logging truck knocked into a truck carrying people doing a spotted owl search.
It was really terrifying. I haven’t gotten past it. I still flashback on that feeling. It is really a violent feeling, to be hit like that by that big piece of metal, and to leave the ground and to have no control at all of the car and know I was hitting into something else.
It was a pretty terrifying thing. And it knocked us out of commission. We all got concussions and we were all out of commission for a month after that. So we didn’t think real clearly about what to do about it. At the time we thought it was an accident, and that is what we said publicly. But afterwards, we saw a video of our demonstrations at Navarro, and we realized that the truck was from the same company we had blockaded the day before. Then we got a description of the driver, and it matched exactly the driver we had blockaded the day before.
Today, I am receiving some pictures in the mail that I believe are going to show conclusively that the truck that hit us was the very same one we blockaded the day before. I don’t think it was premeditated—I think it was impetuous—but I also think somebody tried to kill us.
It was a hard thing to realize—though I’ve kind of known it all along-and I had a difficult time deciding that I was going to go on after that. I have two children. And if it has gotten to this—if they are breaking our noses and running us off the road—I mean, is this worth the risk?
Well, I don’t think I can stop. For one thing, the risk of not doing it is the destruction of the earth …that’s part of it. But it was a man from the Wobblies who put things into perspective for me afterwards. He said, quoting Chairman Mao, “‘A revolution is not a dinner party.’ And if you are effective, they are going to use whatever means they can to stop you. The only time they stop is if you stop being effective.”
Realizing that, I also realized our best protection is our publicness. We need to go on, and we need to not let them get away with this stuff in the dark of the Age. If these pictures prove what I think they are going to prove, we’re going to go public with it and ask that he be charged with—at the very least—assault with a deadly weapon. I would like him to be investigated for attempted murder.
Beth Bosk: We started rather blithely with your plans for a Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods. In Mississippi, in the sixties, that included the murder of James Cheney, Andrew Schwerner and Michael Goodman…My eldest son is named after the very young minister who taught me the defensive postures of non-violent civil disobedience. He was crushed to death by a bulldozer operated by a white man so totally incapable of listening to Black people he could not hear their warning screams—that there was a man sitting on the ground behind his machine attempting to stop yet another segregated school from being built in Cleveland. That did it, alright. My son is also named after Medgar Evers, a civil rights leader gunned down in Mississippi the summer before. To stay sane, and wake up and return to your work the next morning, how do you, Judi, deal with threat and fear?
Judi Bari: When the man called from Oregon and threatened me, I have to confess that I was frightened at first. And I was frightened because I flashed back on how it felt to be run off the road by that truck. At first, I was upset. And then I sat back and thought about it more carefully and realized I was reacting to the truck more than I was reacting to the man, and that his threats probably weren’t that threatening. So I wrote him a letter, inviting him or anyone in the union to come to the conference and debate me on the issues. I told him to do that rather than calling me at my home late at night.
I have to sit down and tell myself to keep going, sometimes. But I don’t feel that the kind of whatever-it-is that drives me, leaves me the option of stopping. I feel I can’t let these forests go down. I can’t stand by idly. And to give it less than my all, so I wouldn’t be effective, so I that I wouldn’t be endangered, I couldn’t do that either.
I don’t know what each person’s purpose is here, but I have certain talents and certain privileges in this society…You know, I used to work as a factory organizer and the people I organized were almost exclusively Black. I was one of the few whites working in the plant. One time, long after we had pulled off a successful wildcat strike and won many demands, one of my comrades came up to me and said, “The only reason you get away with this is because you are white.”
I agreed with him. If we understand the injustices of society and we find ourselves in a position of privilege, and with things that we can give to the struggle to advance it, we should.
There’s this concept of “guilty liberals” and “guilt money”.
Well, what do you do about the fact that you’ve been born into a position in society where you have more privilege? I think that you give that privilege to those that don’t have it, and that includes the forest, as well as people of color, or workers.
Of course, being a woman instead of a man, I’m not at the very top of the privilege list, but being white and educated and middle class, I certainly have privileges I think I should give.
I know you have just interviewed David Katz. I’ve known David longer than any person in California. We’ve known each other for twenty years. We were friends back in college when we were all hippies. We just happened to hit the university at the perfect time. I hardly went to any classes, and eventually I dropped out; but I got the best education I think I could have. We got our education in the streets.
When I met David, a total hippie had been elected to the student government association, and he picked the most radical people he could to be in charge of the finances. There was like $100,000 in student funds to be allocated. Historically, it was the conservatives—the fraternity people—who allocated the money.
David and I were among the people chosen instead. We allocated money to rock concerts. We gave money to the student homophile association. We gave zero to the cheerleaders. We told the sports department to raise its own money. For the first time in the history of the university, the regents vetoed the budget.
That Yippie aspect, that playfulness that we still retain in Earth First!, that’s the context in which I met David Katz.
We had outrageous riots at the University of Maryland. We used to take over Route 1, which was the street that went right by our university straight to the capitol. Our standard rallying cry was, “Route 1!” We’d take it over, and the police would charge us swinging their clubs and throwing their tear gas, and people would lob the tear gas back.
We didn’t call them “affinity groups” at the time, but David and I were in what now would be termed an “affinity group” called “The Mad Dogs”. We’d be out in a riot together, somebody would yell, “Mad Dogs”, and we’d all assemble again.
I kind of met David throwing rocks at the police.
And that’s how I got my political feet wet, which may account for some of my radicalism today. What I learned at the University of Maryland was how shallow a veneer of civility this society has. That the rule of these corporations is enforced by the military, and it’s not that far beneath the surface. I don’t think it will be too long before we see it here.
Of course, being privileged middle class students, we didn’t get it anywhere near as bad as the Blacks who were shot at in their dormitories in Jackson State. But at one point, after this had gone on for awhile, the police grabbed a student leader—or at least they thought it was him; they actually grabbed his brother who looked almost exactly like him—but they grabbed who they thought was the student leader, and they literally bounced his head down the steps of the administration building causing permanent brain damage. I mean, it was real serious. It wasn’t just playfulness.
And yet, we had a sense of joyousness, that very joy of living that these corporations suppress. We used to call it life culture and death culture. We were the life culture; they were the death culture. I still feel that is true to this day...
But that is how I met David. Of the whole crowd we used to hang around with, most of them are yuppies now. They’ve cut their hair and gone back to their positions of privilege. David and I look almost exactly the same as when we met.
Beth Bosk: I am haunted by your story of the student mistaken for his brother. We were sitting in at the Board of Education building, my baby just beginning to bulge my belly. The woman next to me was yanked by her Afro from our line. She went limp and the policeman bounced her down the three flights of marble stairs. I’ll never forget the horror of it. It was almost as if inflicting concussion became the torture of choice of American cops.
Judi Bari: Yes, because they don’t kill you, so it doesn’t elicit the outrage that an outright killing gets. It’s actually worst because it is a continual reminder.
Beth Bosk: Earlier, you spoke—without using the word—of the “barriers” between men and women in the Earth First! movement. The gender barrier. I’d like you to talk now about men who are more truly our colleagues, become our lovers, and how intimacy is impacted by the life led by women who become life-long activists and leaders of their struggles.
Judi Bari: First I want to clarify that on a local level, I’ve had very little problems with sexism in Earth First! I haven’t had any problem as a woman leader of people resisting working with me because of my gender here. When we’re out there, we’re out there as equals and we respect each other as warriors, regardless of gender. This is more a problem between people who started Earth First!, basically, a small band of rednecks trying to promote the cowboy image. In the forest, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.
Beth Bosk: I want to you to reflect now on intimacy, how it enters your life, how it has been impacted by your activism.
Judi Bari: It’s a real pattern in my life, that men fall in love with me because of my activism and upfrontness, and then try to repress it as soon as they get into a relationship with me—like my daughter’s father tried to get me to just stay home and take care of kids and not do anything else, which I was never willing to do, though I certainly love my kids and do stay home and take care of them, but that’s not my whole life and never will be.
There are. people who call me a man-hater—particularly some of my exlovers. I’m a woman-lover more than I am a man-hater. I’m a strong feminist, and I believe not only in our equality, but I believe in men’s inability to understand what we as women experience—just the way they experience the world, the way they are treated in the streets is different than the way we are treated.
Just like I don’t think a white can really understand what it is like being Black, I don’t think a man can understand the way your ideas are not given as much credibility as a man’s, the way that you have to be so much more assertive to get the same recognition as a woman that a man gets just for being a man.
I’ve certainly had intimate relationships and long-term relationships with men. One I was married to and had two kids with. And before that, I lived with another man for seven years. And Darryl and I have had a somewhat loose romantic relationship for a couple of years.
But there is a barrier to how close I can get to a man. And that barrier is based on the fact that I have not met a man that in his very deepest gut can really see a woman as an equal. They can say all the words they want, they can mouth all the right phrases, but when it comes down to it, everyone of them resorts to the lowest kind of sexism in an argument, in a moment of anger, and that reveals to me that way deep down inside, of them, they don’t think that women should be as pushy as I am, they don’t think that women should be in the position that I am. It’s a threat to a man to be with a woman like me who is assertive, who is vocal, and who is doing things that are traditionally reserved for men.
I think we should all strive to be androgynous. I do “women’s” things as well as the “men’s”. I know lots of women who can do the “men’s” things, but I don’t really know many men who can do the women’s things. One of the reasons for that is that the society places more value on the men’s things. So for me to learn carpentry, was something that gave me more value in society, but for a man to nurture children is not something the society as a whole respects.
This whole problem between men and women is just so deep it interferes with my personal relationships. I’ve never felt the closeness with a man that I’m able to feel with a woman. My sexual orientation is heterosexual. I don’t think you can control your sexual orientation. You can’t decide: “I’m going to be a lesbian,” it’s something you’re born or not born, and though I love women in a way that I don’t love men, I’m sexually attracted to men—as there are men that I simply love as people—but there is a limitation on the level of intimacy I can have because of that way deep down difference between men and women.
It’s a very difficult thing to do, to survive as a single parent. It’s hard on the kids, and it’s hard on the parents. So how do we resolve this in our lives?
I have a theory of how to resolve this. I haven’t managed to put it into practice yet. The theory that I have come up is that we need to live collectively. This living with one single parent and two kids, like I live, is way too hard, and it’s not the way people were meant to live. It’s not good for the kids to only have one adult role model. It’s not fair to the adult to have two kids always wanting their attention. But I can’t live with men for a long time—I just can’t—and I think women need to live together.
For example, I have a friend Pam (she’s the one who was in the car with us when we were hit by the logging truck), and she also is a single mother with two kids. I think we need to share our living arrangements with other women with whom we have a bond. We can still have boyfriends. And the boy-friends can be as close to us as we want. But as far as who we consider our “life partner”, does our life partner have to be a man to whom we’re sexually attracted? Or can a life partner be a woman with whom we share fundamental values?
My happiest living arrangement was in group hippie houses. It was more tribal, and I think that is the way people should live. I’ve concluded that I can’t live with a man in a one-an-one single relationship any more. I think I’ve had it with trying to establish a primary relationship with a man with whom I’m sexually involved with and also live with.
Beth Bosk: You’re more monogamous when it comes to playing music? [laughter]
Judi Bari: Playing music is a whole different thing. I love playing music with anybody. You connect musically in a way you can’t connect verbally, and that’s certainly one of the ties that holds Darryl and me together. Sometimes when we can’t even speak to each other, we can play music with each other, connect on that level, and get through what we can’t get through verbally.
I had this experience with David Raitt when I was working with him on the yurts (he’s on a whole different level than I am musically, I’m an amateur compared to him), but one day, I did something wrong while building a house, and he was real mad at me. He was berating me, and I was so mad at him I wasn’t talking.
But we all happened to bring our instruments to lunch that day, and we started playing music together. And even though we were so mad at each other before lunch that we weren’t speaking, by the time we finished playing together, we were getting along again.
It’s a non-verbal method of communication—and also of expression. Music to me is very social. If you can only play by yourself without an audience, then you can’t play because music is sharing, it’s sharing with the other musicians and it’s sharing with the people who are listening.
Beth Bosk: My most favorite visual of you is when you were sandwiched between two loggers, each twice your size, at a demonstration in Arcata. You’re singing something pro-Earth First!, and they’re shouting something counter, but no matter what it is you are saying, all three of you are swaying in the same direction, obviously charged by each other. They’re glowing sensually. You’re glowing sensually. There’s something going on there. And it’s obvious you’re having a good time.
S.R. Kelly who plays bagpipes—and this refers more to music as a strategy—told me once that originally the bagpipe was a weapon of war. That as the bagpipers led the clans to battle, the strength of the sound and the combination of stomping and the blowing, set the breathing for the regimen that led to courage rather than fear.
Judi Bari: Music is both a weapon and a strategy. You can say things with music that you cannot say with words, and get away with it. You can speak to people with music who won’t listen to you when you speak with words. That is something Earth First! shares with the Civil Rights movement, and the Wobblies.
Beth Bosk: “Spike a Tree for Jesus”…
Judi Bari: [laughs] Not my favorite song. Though we do use song to provoke too. When we were in Whitethorn, there was a man (this was not David Lancaster the man who broke Mem’s nose), he was another man on the crew, and he got pretty angry at us because when we blockaded his truck, Darryl and I stood in front of it and started playing, “Here I sit all alone with a broken heart. / Well it took three bennies, and my semi won’t start.”
Sometimes it can be provocative. But mostly we use song to give spirit, and the courage we need, and to assist the formation of a unity on our side. And it diffuses tense situations, and enables us to reach people.
Another group that was real famous for that was the Wobblies—the “singing Wobblies” as they were known. They started singing because when they would try to organize, they’d go to street corners and to talk about the timber industry and try to get people to come and join the Wobblies and fight the timber barons, and the Salvation Army would come and drown them out. (They didn’t have bull horns in those days.) The Salvation Army would play hymns. They’d have a little band and play very loudly, and the Wobblies would get drowned out.
So the Wobblies came up with a strategy of rewriting the words to the hymns. The most famous was the theme song of the Salvation Army, “Revive Us Again”. To that tune, the Wobblies wrote one of their most famous songs, (Hallelujah, I’m a bum) they’d sing the same tune, only louder. There’s a quote I want to pass on—and if you change the names to Earth First! and the Sierra Club, you can see the analogy. “The AFL has seven million members, and the Wobblies have only 25,000 and yet the AFL has no great prose, no great poetry, and no great songs. Why is it that the Wobblies have so many? Because only great movements that change the course of history inspire great music.”
There was great music in the anti-Vietnam movement, but we had a problem there in that the technology stole the music from the people. We are resolving that in Earth First! It was a way we as a people were out of balance. We hadn’t yet figured out that technology was sucking our life away from us.
I get very upset with people who just listen to the radio. My daughter has played in her talent show every year in school. And the talent shows are disgusting. Most that anybody does in them is lip sync. People have lost the ability to make music. Yet making music is real important to our ability to resist, and to our ability to survive and find happiness.
What Earth First! has done is return music back to the people.
These are people with acoustic guitars and we’re playing songs that people can sing along. We borrow from the Civil Rights movement, “This monkey wrench of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” instead of, “This little light of mine…”—but it’s a great and long tradition. The Civil Rights movement borrowed it from the spirituals. The unions borrowed from the Salvation Army. Everybody borrows the same songs. It’s not stealing. It’s not a lack of originality. It’s a continuum, the links of chain be-tween the movements.
The Vietnam movement was a great movement also, many of us leftover from it were profoundly changed. And I have vivid memories of dancing in the streets in the middle of Route 1 while they were blasting on the record player, “Tear Down the Walls:.”—the power of the rock music at that time, became really great.
Beth Bosk: Became the power of the bagpipes…
Judi Bari: Right. And the corporations that produce music figured that out, and now they repress anything that is not bland. By and large the kind of power that was exhibited in the rock music during the Vietnam era is gone.
Beth Bosk: But now there is street rap—a very accessible music, one any kid with no wealth other than his own mind and body can make. Granted slap rap is horribly sexist, but the other consistent theme in street rap is that of the police as an army of invasion; and taking power back for the people. It’s what rock music was.
Judi Bari: That’s another thing about music, it is a lot harder to suppress it. There’s the famous story about the guitarist in Brazil: they cut off his fingers and he kept singing. I don’t think that music can be killed. It is a way we can transfer our spirit to each other. It can survive repression in ways that words can’t.
When I was a kid, I was forced against my will to take violin lessons and play classical music and practice an hour a day, reading the music stiffly, not feeling it at all. I’m glad now that my parents did that, although I’m trying to give the music to my children with: out the fascism. [laughs] But my parents gave me something important, that I carry with me through my life, and it is important to me to pass that on to my children.
Beth Bosk: Earliest song was a means by which people working or gathering separately in the high grass savannas could keep in touch with one another. The message was “Here I am, still safe,” as the music regulated the rhythms of the work. Which brings me back to my favorite visual of you sandwiched between those two burly timber workers at the demonstration in Arcata, they singing their own consignias to your sway… What hope is there—using the language of that conference you leave for tomorrow—for labor and the environment to bridge the gap?
Judi Bari: That is the less public half of my work. Most of the work I do with the timber workers is done behind the scenes. That demonstration you were referring to, you’re right, I was having a great time. We had gone to do a drum-in for the Cahto wilderness at the BLM in Arcata…
Beth Bosk: The Cahto wilderness…
Judi Bari: The Cahto wilderness is one of the last remaining, unspoiled areas in our county and it is on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of it, and what they want to do with it is allow logging. And when we heard they were going to log the Cahto wilderness, we just came there out of nowhere and blockaded for three days and succeeded in stopping the roading…
I had decided I would work in Earth First!, and simultaneously, Sequoia announced at a concert that there were many things that she does well, but that bringing people into the movement wasn’t one of them. She was hoping that somebody else would come forward and kind of be the coordinator of the Ukiah Earth First! She had even spoken to me and asked if I would want to do that.
So I called a meeting, to see where we were (we hardly ever have meetings in Earth First!—another nice aspect of it) but to see where we were and to see what kind of support we had. And Michael Huddleston and Steven Day—I don’t even know how they heard about it—came down to our meeting and told us about the Cahto wilderness and told how they had been fighting for it through the bureaucracy for ten years, and that they thought it was going to be logged in the Spring. They wanted to know if we would help them protect it.
The first thing we did was have a wilderness walk; we went there and we ate there. That is an important aspect of Earth First!, to feel connection to a place. We were just kind of leisurely approaching this, thing we had till the next Spring, when suddenly in the Fall we got word that there was a road-building crew on the way up to the old growth getting ready to cut it. And this was the same day we were supposed to go defend Sanctuary Forest, which had been organized for months.
There were close to 200 people for Sanctuary Forest, so Darryl, I and a couple of other people said, “We’re going to go to Cahto,” and we brought a bunch of people with us who had been planning on going to Sanctuary. I think we ended up with about 30 people, and about twenty locals heard that there were people on the road and they showed up. That’s when we met them. There we were and there they were.
We just sat down in the middle of the road. We didn’t really know what we were going to do. We knew of no legal means by which this could be saved. We only knew that we were going to block it, and we blocked it for three days. The first day, the logging crew came in and left. The second day, BLM and the police came up too and they ordered us to leave. It looks very orchestrated if you look at the video of it, but we really had no idea what we were doing. All we knew was that we had to stall.
They ordered us to leave. They said we had to disperse or be arrested, and on the spur of the moment we decided that instead of leaving and walking down the hill away, we would slowly walk up towards the logging site.
The day before—just because we were bored—we had built a big barricade in the middle of the road out of slash. It was a freshly cut logging road, so there was a lot of slash and boulders along the side of the road.
And during the early morning, some other people had gone ahead and built something like twenty-two barricades. Some of them were just a couple of rocks and some of them were a lot of brush and some of them were very elaborate. Everyone of them was different. And we started walking up this road, as slowly as we could, with them following us—each one person to a car in fifteen different cars—and every time they got to a barricade, no matter how small, they had to get out and move it. So we got way ahead of them, and started slipping off the side of the road and taking the river way back to the wilderness. They didn’t even know we weren’t in front of them anymore, and it took so long for them to remove these barricades, that the logging was essentially stopped. They only got a little bit in at the end of the day.
The next day, we did the same thing. Rebuilt the barricades. But by the third day, in addition to re-building the barricades, we had dug what they call a “tank track”—the police called it a “tank track”. The demonstrators had dug a trench in the logging road three feet deep and four feet wide that a car couldn’t go over. The police were shocked.
I wasn’t there, I had to go back to work that day, and I asked some of the people who were, “God, how did you do that?” They didn’t have any power equipment. (Of course they had to bring in big power equipment to fill it in.)
And the Earth First!er replied to me, “I think I was a small burrowing animal in a former life.”
The tank trap stopped them cold. It took them so long to get the big equipment in to fix it back up that that was the end of logging.
In the meantime, Michael Huddleston and Steven Day had contacted the Cahto Indian tribe who contacted Senator Cranston—anybody that they could to try to find a legal way to stop this. Michael and Steven had discovered that this logging operation violated a treaty with the Cahto Indians and it was halted.
We were ecstatic when we found this out. We had no idea how we were going to stop this. All we knew was that we were not going to let it happen.
One more digression—you can stick this any place you want. You were talking about how Earth First! at the beginning, as a national, was a small group. Well this was actually a strategy. They had what was called “nomadic action groups”. These were a small band of very dedicated people, willing to take serious risks, who would go from area to area and do outrageous actions.
That’s never been my strategy. I’ve always been a mass organizer. That’s what I do best, and what I think is the most effective strategy. And I actually, consciously changed the strategy in Mendocino county by building on what already exists.
There are watershed coalitions all over this county, people all over this country who are taking actions. And what I want to do is to link up Earth First! direct action with people like Michael and Steven who have been fighting the bureaucracy for years but who do not want their primary affiliation to be Earth First!—maybe because it will limit a lawsuit, or because it isn’t their style—but who certainly support the tactics and understand where they interact.
Beth Bosk: Their primary affiliation is with those mountains, that necklace of trees.
Judi Bari: Yes, whereas, we are more roving.
It doesn’t matter to me whether it is the Cahto Wilderness or Headwaters Forest. To me it’s the forest in general. And the plant your spear people like Michael and Steven, and the roving activists like ourselves—all need to interrelate.
Tree Sit Week was an example of that. We had a demonstration a day, and each was based on an existing watershed coalition providing support for it. Each demonstration had a very different character, and the reason was because we tried to base it, decentralized, on the already existing people there. All we were going to add was that little bold action that you’re going to get from Earth First! when they are taking a stand.
Back to where we were—we were in Arcata at a drum-in at the Bureau of Land Management, the administrators of the Cahto Wilderness. We had brought up people from the new Laytonville Earth First! and from Ukiah to join the Earth First!ers of Arcata. A drum-in is a real fun method of driving bureaucrats crazy. It’s an ancient, tribal method of sending a warning. And it really rattles them up in their little plastic offices to hear these pounding drums outside.
So, we were having our drum-in up there, and a group of timber workers came to counter-demonstrate. This group was from Eel River Saw Mills, and this wasn’t the first time we had run into them. A little while earlier, we had done something called “Day of the Living Dead Hurwitz’s” in Scotia, Scotia being the company town where the mill is where he is cutting down all the redwoods, the message being that Hurwitz is going to turn Scotia into a ghost town. We came to Scotia dressed as Hurwitz zombies, all of us in Hurwitz masks; and we were met by a mob of people in the middle of town.
They were very provocative. They were pushing and shoving and trying to start a fight. In that case, we didn’t have a fight, but we came very close. The police separated us and ordered us to leave, and didn’t order them to leave. And we said, “How come they get to stay and we don’t?”
And the police said, “Because they work here.”
Well, we were told later, by someone in the press that they didn’t work there at all, they worked for Eel River Saw Mills and Nolan Trucking; and they had formed a little protest group just like ours. They were roaming demonstrators. Everyplace we went, they went.
So the same group of people showed up in Arcata that we had run into in the middle of Scotia a month before. But there was something about that day—I’m not sure what it was about the difference in the attitude—but when they started chanting, chanting “No Earth First!,” trying to drown us out, we changed it to “No Exports!” We did the Wobbly technique of whatever their chant was, we did something that had the same rhythm, but had different words saying the opposite thing.
We were just trying to out-shout each other. And because we were acting in unison, because we had the same rhythm, because these drums were pounding in the background, we started swaying together, and the hostility was not there. It was comical what we were doing and we all saw the humor in it. And at one point in the demonstration they said, “Why don’t you get these drummers to be quiet so we can talk.”
And we said, “This is a drum-in. If you want to talk with us, we’d love to meet with you,” and we agreed at that demonstration to meet with some of them at a restaurant the following week.
And we did. We sat down with them—and these weren’t really rank and file workers, these were more company-type people—but we sat down with them and we drew up a list of “these are all the things we have in common, and these are the things we disagree on” and the list of the things we had in common was incredibly long. It was an education for both of us.
Beth Bosk: It included things such as?
Judi Bari: The belief that wood is wasted at a tremendous rate that we need to recycle wood that we need to reduce consumerism. They agreed that the tropical rainforest is being destroyed, but they didn’t want to admit that the temperate rainforest were being destroyed. They asked us a very funny first question. They said, “Are you communists?”
I answered, “No, I’m not a communist. I’m much more radical. Communists, they just want to change the social structure so a different class can exploit the Earth. We want a society whose basis is to live in harmony with the Earth rather than to exploit it.”
Beth Bosk: What were some of the things they said to you that you were able to attach yourself to with new empathy or understanding?
Judi Bari: I don’t remember that as an aspect, and I’ll tell you why: I come from a different background from a lot of environmentalists who come basically straight from the middle class. Growing up in the sixties, pretty much every white person was middle class, because we were in an economic boom time. My parents, as all Depression parents came out of a more working class background, but my mother was a university teacher, my father a small businesses owner. He was a craftsman, a diamond setter, and we were comfortable.
But somewhere along in college, after throwing those rocks at the police, I decided to throw my class privilege away, and I dropped out of college. I didn’t finish college, and I didn’t have a marketable skill by which I could exercise the privilege I was suppose to grow into. I got a job working in factories, and I did only manual labor jobs—basically semiskilled jobs. I’ve done manual labor jobs my entire adult life, including stints in factories.
As an Earth First! organizer, I found myself having equal empathy with the people in the trees and the people in the factories. I know what it is like to work in a factory and I know what it is like to turn your life over to a company the way these people have to do.
That’s one of the reasons you could see me and the loggers standing side by side and see the affinity. I’m not faking this affinity for them. It’s not that I think that we should be “nice to the loggers”; it’s that I really know what they are going through and where they are coming from. I’ve been there myself. And at the time we met, I was still a full time carpenter.
So the conditions of my life, my economic struggles and what I had to do with my life to survive economically—turning myself over to someone else as a wage slave—those conditions are shared in our lives. Some of that empathy, it’s not verbal. It’s something you can feel. I find that timber workers in particular, factory workers in general, they have a built-in bullshit detector that professionals don’t. It’s real hard to fake it with them.
Beth Bosk: I used to have the traditional bleeding heart attitude about men in the woods. And a large measure of respect for the work and the skill required to do it—until the cut on 409. G-P’s cut on 409 was a punitive cut, done in such a way as to get back at the man who tried to keep it from happening. The few trees that were left standing were selected so that they will probably fall on his roof after a big storm—wind fall happens often on 409 after a cut because of that particular onshore tunnel it has become.
Just before the logging is completed, I meet the crew boss at an art faire—how’s that for rupturing stereotypes? I know him because his stepson, also a logger, had his immune system collapsed by the Garlon spray at Juan Creek and I interviewed the whole family afterwards for New Settler. So I know that a decade before, this crew boss had refused to lead his men into sites that had been sprayed with phenoxy herbicide. The reason being: were there ever a fire, the residues released could have killed them before they got out. This was before the citizen initiative banning the aerial application of phenoxy herbicides in this county, which most timber workers silently supported and voted for in the privacy of the voting booth.
I’m glad to see him again. We’re talking and he’s telling me that it is his crew on 409 and yes, it is the shittiest job he has ever been party to, and yes, it is a punitive cut. And off the top of my head, I tell him I am going to gather 40 women and we are going to arrive bare-breasted and hug the remaining trees—that Amazon imagery—with no such intention…A couple of days later, his wife phoned, and I learned the crew got no work done the next morning. Every man arrived with a camera and they spent the morning running back and forth to the road to see if we were coming yet.
Judi Bari: [laughter] A perfect Earth First! action. You shut down the operation.
Beth Bosk: Without ever making a phone call myself…But this was a crew whose work I’d admired, and a crew boss who thought Don. Nelson’s union leadership a sellout, and here they were in there for the breasts. Two years later, GP got rid of them all.
Judi Bari: Sexism runs really deep. The culture by which they keep people doing the work of the corporation involves dividing us against each other; involves dividing the men against the women, the Blacks against the whites and the people against the trees.
I best heard this problem articulated by a mill worker. He said to me, “When people are kidnapped, they often take on the values of their kidnappers.”—like Patty Hearst. He said, “The timber workers are the victims of an economic kidnap. That’s why they are doing the bidding of the company. And our job as organizers is to break through this brain washing and deprogram people to start acting in their interests.”
Beth Bosk: These men knew they were trashing that forest. There was no delusion that these guys thought they were doing a good job.
Judi Bari: Yes. And you have to put your blinders on to do that. You have to dehumanize your opposition to do that—”dehumanize” isn’t really the word be-cause sometimes the opposition is wildlife—but the problem to me is that I have to decide: do I want to ally with somebody or do I not want to ally with somebody? What kind of attitude do I want to take towards them?
There are two contradictions. One is the contradictions among the people. This is straight from Chairman Mao. I used to be a Red Book-waving Maoist—I’m not anymore. There are some things that Mao said that are pretty appalling, like, “We’ve got to get rid of all these classes so we can get on with the business of exploiting the earth.” I totally disagree with that. But the man was brilliant not only at analyzing the situation, but also in explaining it to uneducated peasants. So I want to credit him with this idea:
There are two kinds of contradictions we encounter, one is the contradictions between the people and the enemy, or between the earth and the corporation, between the destroyers and the people who are trying to protect. That’s the primary contra-diction. That is the one we are fighting.
Then there is another contradiction we encounter, and that is contradictions among the people. That’s contradictions between men and women—we’re really on the same side—and between workers and environmentalists, whose interests are really the same, but are not perceived as that.
And those kind of contradictions are fermented by the real enemy, by the corporations, or the powers that be—the ruling class is what Mao called it-the bourgeois—-the “death culture” is what we used to call it—but whatever you want to name it, whatever you call that destructive force that is destroying the earth and its inhabitants, they ferment these divisions, and they enrage me.
I am enraged by people who will not treat me as an equal because I am a woman. I am enraged by people who degrade women and especially who promote violence against women. Look at the incident with me and Bruce Anderson, who is a great friend of mine, but when he printed sexist jokes that trivialize rape I took his papers because I don’t think that anyone has a right to do that.
But we have to make a distinction: is this a contradiction among the people, or is this a contradiction between the people and the enemy? And I see the contradiction, even between sexist loggers and environmentalists—even loggers that break our nose—I see those as contradictions among the people. Ultimately, the timber workers are not the beneficiaries of this deforestation, this stripping nude of the forest that is going on. And not only are the timber workers not the beneficiaries, they are even more the victims than we are because their lifeblood is being exploited to do this.
They aren’t paid what they are worth. They are not paid the value of their labor. The corporations make their profits so that Harry Merlo can have his Shangri-la and Charles Hurwitz can have his twenty million dollars. And those profits are made in two ways: they are made by extracting value from the workers (in other words, by not paying them the amount of value of what they produce), and it’s made by extracting value from the earth, by not replacing what we take from the earth.
Beth Bosk: Treating trees as if they were “assets” no different than cash that can be readily converted to dollars or yen. Trees are not assets.
Judi Bari: But people’s lives are also treated the same way. Timber workers, their labor is treated as an “asset”. Their life force is an asset. And to work at a job like this is grueling beyond imagination. I know this, because I used to work sixty hours a week in a factory. I would go to work, and I would work; and I would come home, and I would sleep; and I would wake up and go back to work. I lost all my contact with my non-work friends, and my life was subordinated to the will of this company.
That is what you have to do to have a job like that. They not only steal the life of the forest; they steal the life of the timber worker themselves.
And we’re equally to blame, by the way. The reason that the timber companies have been so successful in convincing workers that environmentalists, rather than the corporations, are their enemies, is because of our middle class arrogance, our dehumanizing of them. There have been as many Earth First!ers who say it is the loggers to blame as there are loggers who say it is the Earth First!ers to blame. We have fallen right into this timber company trap of setting us against each other, of creating a contradiction amongst the people, people who should be in alliance with each other. Our interests, even in the short term, are the same.
For example, clear cuts are capital intensive not labor-intensive. Clear cuts are a way of eliminating loggers jobs, as are feller bunchers, as are herbicide sprays—which also kill the loggers—as are computerized green chains, which have appalling accident rates because they are so dangerous.
And of course the company’s attitude towards the workers are no different than their attitude to-wards the trees. Look at Louisiana-Pacific when Fortunado Reyes was killed in the mill because he was told not to push the Emergency Stop. They callously said, “Well, what can we say? It’s a tragedy. It’s dangerous thing to work in these mills.” And then they got fined $1,200—Only 1,200!—for the loss of this man’s life, due to their disgusting policy.
They called this man a “chicken” in front of his colleagues. They said that he was a sissy because he pushed the Emergency Stop too often. And because of that the man was killed when he didn’t, and they were only fined $1,200. And they appealed it! What value does Louisiana-Pacific place on a man’s life?
We’re all resources. The trees aren’t just the resources. The workers are resources too…And it is hard to deal with sometimes. I’m not the kind of person who thinks you reach out and love somebody who is breaking your nose. If somebody takes a swing at me, I take a swing back at them. But I don’t consider these people my enemies. I consider them our potential friends.
And not only that, I don’t think we have a chance of beating the timber companies unless all of us—all aspects of our society who are being destroyed by this policy to taking everything—unite.
Beth Bosk: What is the strategy, Judi?
Judi Bari: Everything at once. The Mississippi Summer is part of the strategy.
Beth Bosk: I mean specifically with workers.
Judi Bari: I’d like to do it in general first: Both my reading of history and my personal experience is that they—the powers that be—only change when they have no other choice but to change. For example, they only ended the Vietnam War because they were losing control of the society, they were losing control of the army. They had to end the war to stop a revolution.
The same thing with the Welfare State during my parents’ day during the Depression during the Thirties. It really seemed as though there was going to be a revolution. The system had failed. The whole concept of Unemployment Insurance and Welfare, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, all those things were once platforms of the Communist Party, and you were considered a traitor if you mouthed radical concepts like “Unemployment Insurance”. Now they are trotted out as to why our system is so great. Well, the only reason the capitalists ever changed and adopted these things was because they had to or they would lose control.
I feel the same about the forests. They need to lose control. I think that if we don’t overthrow the capitalists, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically—because of what I said, because the very principal of capitalism is extracting value from the earth that they don’t pay for it. That’s how they make it—they don’t pay in that they don’t replace it, they don’t deal with the Earth in a respectful manner, they don’t give and take from the earth, they only take from the earth; That’s how they get their profits: they take from the earth and they take from the workers. And this is a principal of capitalism. I don’t think we can resolve this problem under capitalism.
So I think the elimination of capitalism is necessary, but not sufficient to save the world because you can continue to exploit the Earth under socialism. We’ve certainly seen that with Russia and the so-called existing “socialist states”, with Chairman Mao’s quote about eliminating classes so that we can continue to exploit the earth. But there is the possibility with socialism, because socialism is not based on the theory that profits be made by taking and not giving. It’s not a direct contradiction. I think it is possible to have an ecologically sound society under socialism. I do not think it possible under capitalism.
Beth Bosk: You use the word” overthrow”—maybe “overturn” …
Judi Bari: Overthrow is fine.
Beth Bosk: That sounds more direct than a society falling from the weight of its own burdening, as happened in most of Eastern Europe last year. Of course there were resistance movements provoking those revolutions all along. The Forum, the Pro-Democracy movements, risking imprisonment and their lives. Do you see it here as a necessary armed struggle or just as a system failing under the weight of its errors?
Judi Bari: I see it as both. I think that whatever we have to do to get rid of them before they destroy the earth is what we have to do, and I don’t think it immoral, to use violence if that’s what needs to be done to save the earth, to save inhabitants of all species.
But then we have this problem. People who are strong proponents of only using non-violence, they say, “but then you corrupt yourself and you become that creation.”
I don’t think that. I think we solve that by the way that we deal with ourselves. We build the shell of a new society in the way we deal with contradictions among the people. But the way we deal with contradictions between the people and the enemy is “anything that works”. Anything. Because we’re talking about the death of the planet.
We can argue as long as we want whether it is moral or immoral to use violence or to defend yourself against violence, but when the planet is gone, it is gone, and we are very close to that.
The ability of this planet to sustain life as we know it is very close to the end. I think we are reaching a breaking point. I am not arrogant enough to think that human beings can cause the destruction of all life—I think the planet can survive us—but it will survive us in a very different way than it is now.
And maybe that is what needs to happen, but I guess it’s a basic biological instinct, the survival instinct, and just as we mothers know we would kill to protect our children, I think I would do whatever I had to do to protect the earth. To me the limit is effectiveness.
And if it is not effective, it is not the time. Right now, the government controls all the arms. It would be really foolish of us to raise arms against them. It would be a real stupid thing. But I would never presume to tell the people of El Salvador not to pick up arms. They didn’t have any choice. And when it comes to that it comes to that. We can debate all we want whether or not it will be an armed struggle. I don’t think that decision is ours. I don’t think the debate is ours. If it needs to happen it will happen.
Right now, the stage we are up to is of non-violent civil disobedience. We are at the stage of public protest—and I hope, massive sabotage in the woods—that combination of public protest and private sabotage that is so wide-spread they don’t know who is doing it, The feller buncher being the perfect example.
The feller buncher is an automatic logging ma-chine. There was one in use in Elk. (They made the mistake of bringing it too far in.) That was Okerstrom Logging, the same company, a gyppo company working for Louisiana-Pacific, who sprayed the loggers at Juan Creek with Garlon. They assigned a crew to log in an aerial spray area without warning. This is a company that has showed no respect for the workers, has really endangered them.
They bought this half million dollar machine called a “feller buncher” that replaces the logger. It’s a logging-to-infinity machine. It doesn’t do old growth forest or big trees; it takes these little forests, which they shouldn’t even be in, (they have no business to be logging in these forests that are trying to recover from the last assault), they go on these lands and the machine grabs the tiny tree and snaps it off, and then stacks it up to be yarded out.
It’s quite a frightening machine, and it eliminates the job of the logger and the choker setter. It turns logging into a two-person job. Somebody to operate the machine, and somebody to stand guard.
When we found out this machine was operating in Elk, we planned to do nonviolent civil disobedience. We had two older men who were going to chain themselves to the feller buncher and we were building up the local support. We were doing our recon, getting our base camp together. We spent quite a bit of time around this and we were all ready to go.
A couple days from the demonstration, we called up one of the neighbors and said, “Okay, the demonstration is next Tuesday.”
He said, “No it’s not. I saw them pulling that machine out this morning. It was torched.”
We couldn’t believe it! So we asked as many neighbors as we could, and we found three separate people who had seen the same thing. The machine had been hauled out of there because it had been completely torched.
The company, at first denied that anything had happened to it. Then they changed the story to, “Well, there was a fire, but it wasn’t the feller buncher.”
Then they said, “Well it was the feller buncher, but it wasn’t sabotage. It was ‘electrical’.”
In reality, the whole cab was burnt out.
I’m sure it was deliberate. It had been really dry, and if anybody had tried to torch the machine before then, it would have set the whole woods on fire. Then it rained four inches, it was like the first rain of the year; and the very day that it stopped raining, that a fire would have not destroyed the forest, that’s the day the feller buncher went.
So it was obviously someone who cared for the forest and cared for the earth. And it could have been a logger. We heard that loggers had been bragging in the bars that they were going to take that machine out. The loggers certainly had every reason, as much as Earth First!ers, to take that machine out.
So when you start getting a situation where sabotage is wide-spread, and they don’t know where it’s coming from, that’s where the momentum picks up. And the company couldn’t claim it was sabotage, they’d never be able to get insurance on their other feller buncher. So our announcement was things like, “Well, one down and one to go,” and we put out an all points bulletin for the location of the second one.
And if we find it, we’ll do our civil disobedience demonstration. That’s the way we work, publicly; and the people who are working privately in the woods, we don’t know them, and we don’t want to know them, but we’re real glad that they’re there.
Society has to fall apart: They have to lose control of the society before they change. Whether they’ll stop destroying the forest before they are completely overthrown, I don’t know. Maybe they will if they think it is the only way they can keep control.
But the only way they will get to that point is if the opposition encompasses all aspects of the community. Not just the, hippies, not just the middle class, certainly, not just those who consider them-selves culturally superior to those “dumb rednecks”. It has to be everybody and it has to include the workers.
The workers are in much better position than we are to do something about it, because they have their hands on the machinery and if they don’t work, the trees don’t go. We don’t have that power.
The workers have much more power than we do, and that’s why the companies put so much more effort into brainwashing them than they do the public in general. The subjugation that they have to face to work there is enormous. When you start working for Louisiana-Pacific, you’re given a manual—these are the rules—and it says, “Entrance on the property will be deemed acceptance of this policy.” Their drug policy is that the company can, without cause, require you to take an on-the-spot urine test, can search your locker, can search your car, and can search your person for drugs at any time. All democracy stops at the plant gates. Forget the Bill of Rights. And the reason they have to have this complete fascist control over their workers is because the workers have so much power.
And that is the reason for us to allay with the workers.
Besides the fact that I’m not just a forest activist, that’s the other reason I work with the workers. I spent seven years as a union organizer and I’ve only been a forest organizer for two years. So, much of my heart goes out to the conditions they have to face—that same amount of heart that goes out for the forest. I have torn loyalties in working for the two, and that is why I do.
So we’ve started this IWW local number 1. IWW is the Wobblies. And the Wobblies have much in common with Earth First! They were the Earth First! of the labor movement, and, they were the first union to organize the timber workers when the AFL wouldn’t touch it and the conditions were even more appalling than they are now.
The Wobblies came in with Earth First!-type actions and Earth First! type of spirit, including the endorsement of sabotage, in fact, the Wobblies in-vented tree spiking as a way to stop the strike breakers.
They organized the timber workers in the nine-teen-teens, and they met with incredible repression. People were tarred and feathered, made to run gauntlets, had sticks rammed up their ass. The police would break up demonstrations, throw the Wobblies in jail, spray them with hoses in the winter and leave them to freeze.
There was a big demonstration—this was in the Seattle area—to show that everybody thought this was appalling. People were coming from Seattle to Everett, Washington, which is where the demonstration was going to be. There was a whole boat full of people, the boat was called the Verona. All the liberals of the day were arriving on the boat to come and show solidarity with the workers, and when the boat came into the dock, the police hollered out, “Who are your leaders? And they answered, “We’re all leaders!”
At which point the police opened fire. They shot at people in the boat. They shot them into the water. And they kept shooting until the ones in the water died. They shot completely randomly. This would be like us going down to San Francisco to have a demonstration in support of Dolores Huerta and be met with shot guns.
Then they passed laws called The Criminal Syndicalism Laws, which ironically—or not so ironically—are being used on Earth First!ers now. They are very repressive laws. Syndicalism means unionism. They made it a crime to be a Wobbly. It allows hear-say evidence in court, and it removes your Fifth Amendment rights.
They suppressed the Wobblies in this manner, and the unions you see today are the result of the military suppression of the real unions. That’s what Don Nelson and the AF of L are. They identify more with the company than they do with the worker.
Beth Bosk: How is Earth First! going to avoid the same fate?
Judi Bari: That beset the Wobblies? I wish I knew…When I first joined Earth First! the first thing I noticed was the anti-worker, anti-logger attitude—and these were real good kids, real activists, but without a lot of experience. I found a lot of people blaming the loggers. And I felt this is so ironic! Because the loggers in the Pacific Northwest invented the style of protest that Earth First! is now doing.
So I decided to teach a seminar on Wobbly history at the Earth First! rendezvous. That is the first Earth First! action that I took. And when I put out a public announcement of the workshop, Wobblies started calling me from all over the country, including Utah Phillips, who said such wonderful things as, “The Earth isn’t dying, it’s being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.”
Tons of people came to the workshop, and the Wobblies sent a couple organizers to help me. One was this wonderful man, Gary Cox, from Colorado. We got through the history, and the question in everybody’s mind was, “What kind of lessons do you think that we of Earth First! can learn?”
Basically what Gary Cox said was, “You just have to realize the levels that they are going to go through to repress you. This isn’t polite. You give up your privilege when you really challenge their power. That’s what to learn from the Wobblies.”
And that is what Earth First! does. We challenge their power. We challenge it by not acknowledging them, by dressing up in animal costumes, by taking their doors off the hinges, by having fun. We challenge their power by not respecting their authority, as well as We challenge their power by physically stopping them from doing what they are doing.
So I don’t know what to do about it. It’s obviously something I’m facing, having been run off the road by that logging truck. And my conclusion as to what I have to do with it, is that I have to be as public as possible.
And I’m taking lessons from the women who organized in the nineteen-teens. Emma Goldman also stumped for the Wobblies as did Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The women were constantly threatened, and the way they dealt with it was by, number one, not using bodyguards because it is against working class macho to beat up an unprotected woman; and by being completely public, and inviting those people to debate them and join them on the stage.
And what we can do about the FBI infiltrating us is what the Yippies did. Mike Roselle worded this very well. He said, “You couldn’t infiltrate the Yippies. It was like infiltrating a marshmallow.” There was nothing defined. It was a movement with a way of being and a feeling. And our extreme decentralization makes it difficult for the FBI to even understand us, much less infiltrate us.
In fact—and I don’t want to be too arrogant about it, because we could be next—but those who were infiltrated by the FBI were the ones who still stick to a hierarchic, male-dominated culture. Us hippie Earth First!ers, we have such a strong, unspoken, cultural bond between us, it’s really hard for an agent to fake that. You can spot them. I’ve never seen a police agent who could do a good job of pulling off being one of us.
As far as the beatings, as far as the violence…I can go to the Civil Rights movement and try to use successful strategies for Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods, knowing full well that the result of that was the shooting of two of the organizers, But I don’t know what else we can do other than keep fighting—and of course, keep perfectly clean.
We organizers, we don’t cheat on our taxes. If somebody hands me a contribution, I’m going to declare it. We don’t do sabotage. I don’t even do civil disobedience because I don’t want to hand myself over to Susan Massini and the “Justice System” in this county. They would love to get a hold of me. They put Mike Roselle in jail for four months for a minor civil disobedience.
So, we need to stay as clean as we can. We need to be as open and as public as we can. And we need to try to build broad, public support.
I guess this is one difference I see between the Wobblies and Earth First!—that is the Wobblies were fighting for the right of one class, the working class, to have a decent life. But Earth First! is fighting for the entire planet.
We need to understand that we are part of a long and proud tradition of resistance. We need to understand that we are connected to the Left, we are not separate from, above, or better. They are our elders. We need to respect that and learn from the Left, from the whole resistance movement.
But the thing that is different about the Ecology movement is that it cuts across all classes, all sexes, all races and all species—the entire Earth is being destroyed. And I guess that is my hope why we may succeed where the Wobblies failed. Because our interest is everybody’s interest. Our interest isn’t the interest of a particular class. Even Charles Hurwitz, even Harry Merlo, they are going to be as dead. They don’t recognize that, and I don’t expect them to recognize that, but that is a power we have that the Wobblies didn’t.
But we need to recognize class interests also, and we need to have respect for the people who produce the things we use in our disgustingly, consumptive lifestyles. There is a kind of snobbery among people who consider themselves to be “environmentally sensitive”. It was perfectly exemplified on a radio show on KZYX when they were talking about economic futures, how we were all going to have these wonderful futures where our children can all have “fulfilling jobs”—working behind computers, or being counselors—being “professionals”—as if what’s wrong with setting choker and what’s wrong with working in a mill?
Of course the way society is arranged now, these jobs are not set up in a way that they are fulfilling. We need to have a society that can provide for our life-needs without destroying either the earth or ourselves, the workers. We need to get rid of superfluous “jobs” like a lot of these professional jobs are—consultants for this and consultants for that. A lot of this is just superfluous bullshit, and it uses too much paper; it’s not something that needs to be done.
The Wobblies favor the four-hour day. That’s a great idea. If everybody worked at things that needed to be done, and not at things that don’t need to be done, none of us would have to work very much, and we could work in a manner that didn’t destroy the earth—which, of course, is much more labor-intensive than ways that do destroy the earth.
That’s the kind of future we need to be envisioning, not envisioning futures where we just pretend the people who are picking the grapes for our wine don’t exist. We need to have it so picking grapes for wine was something a yuppie wouldn’t feel they were too good to stoop to do. We need to devote our energies towards living in harmony with the earth—instead of taking from the earth and enslaving workers to the extent that we ruin their lives and beat them down so they won’t revolt.
There is one thing I haven’t talked about that I really want to get to. I want to talk about what I did in the factory back East because I feel it is so relevant to what we are doing with the workers here.
I did two separate union struggles, one in the retail clerks’ union, which is now called The United (Food and) Commercial Workers. The other was at a Post Office factory, a bulk mail center. We didn’t do letters there, we just did the big stuff; and the conditions in that factory was very similar to the mills. We had the same situation of having corrupt unions that identified with the company rather than with the workers.
There are two theories as to how you do union work. One is called boring from within. This is all parallel to the Environment movement: like, do you go to the Sierra Club and try to reform it from within? Or do you start a new movement—Earth First!—along side of it, and ignore the Sierra Club? Those are the two theories of unionism, and I had already tried boring from within without success in the retail clerks’ union. We’d had a strike and just been smashed down, so I consciously decided to try dual unionism.
This was fifteen years before Earth First!, but we basically did an Earth First!-type movement in this factory, and it was based on direct action on the workroom floor. We ignored the grievance procedure. We didn’t go to the union meetings. We didn’t bother with the existing structure and we won our demands. The demands we had were demands the union wouldn’t touch.
They primarily had to do with forced overtime—we were working sixty hours a week—and appalling safety conditions, which of course, eventually resulted in somebody being sucked into a machine and killed. Everybody knew that was coming. It was very clear that was what it was going to.
What we did was, we had slow-downs. We had sick-outs. We had a walk-in (We weren’t allowed to walk out; it’s illegal to strike if you work for the government, so the two shifts met in between shifts and we walked into the manager’s office.)Now you have to realize of the fear of this The workers are mostly Black and the management is all white, so we had that little Mau Mauing aspect that scared them to death. We had a trash-in one time. We caused wrecks of the machinery. We sabbed the machinery—exactly the Earth First! tactics.
We put out a paper. This could be an Earth First! newspaper, the whole tone of it. The Postal Service’s was called Postal Life, ours was called Postal Strife. The first article was “Whatever happened to the Eight-Hour Day?” I mean, these are the feds we’re working for! We had big back-page cartoons. We had a “postal buzzard”, which looked just like the postal eagle, but it was a buzzard instead, smoking a joint . We had slogans like “You mail them, we maul them.” People started sneaking in cameras and taking pictures of this messed up mail.
And between this newspaper, an irreverent attitude, and direct action on the workroom floor, we broke their power.
And that is what we are trying to convey to the mill workers we work with now. That there are no saviors. Nobody from outside. Not the Wobblies. Not Earth First! Nobody is going to come in from outside and save you. Certainly not Barry Keene. It’s a question of taking direct action on the workroom floor. Of doing it yourself. The only justice is the justice you make yourself.
Beth Bosk: So you have become a mentor. No mill would hire you.
Judi Bari: And I wish they would. God, it would be so great to work in a mill. I’ve never seen a work place I couldn’t take out on a strike given enough time. [laughs]…Even little wildcats. I used to work in the wineries in the bottling lines. Two major strikes and several minor strikes, I’d have to say I led. I’ve never seen a place I couldn’t do from the inside, but doing it from the outside is infinitely harder. I really wish I could get a job in the mill, but there is no way any would hire me.
Beth Bosk: You’re speaking with such joy as you tell your story.
Judi Bari: Life is great fun. I enjoy mine because I love turning the tables on them. They have oppressed us for our whole lives. They have us coming to work and slaving for them. If you look at the old people who work in the factories, they are physically bent over. They are defeated. Their spirit is gone.
What we get by coming together, and learning that we have our own power, is that they don’t control us unless we agree to let them us. There’s nothing in my life that gives me more pleasure than doing that, that’s to see people become empowered—to empower themselves—and to break the power of the oppressor, to break the death culture with our life culture.
Whether it is in the factory, whether it is on Route 1 at the University of Maryland, or whether it is in the forest, it is the same struggle to me, it’s the same movement, and it’s the same joy.
Beth Bosk: What do you want for your daughters?
Judi Bari: I want them to grow up in a world that’s a decent place to live in and there’s not that much left. And I want them to grow up with a love and a respect for nature, which is one of the reasons I am moving further into the hills and closer to nature, without electricity, trying to have a more basic existence. I want them to learn the basic of respect for the earth. And I want to give them music, and I want to give them humor, and I want to give them joy. And I want continue the fight. Ultimately, that is what reproduction is all about.
Beth Bosk: The year after I moved to Mendocino, PG&E made public their intent to build a nuclear power plant at Point Arena, virtually straddling the San Andreas fault where it exits into the ocean. I was handing out information leaflets in front of Gallery Faire with my three-year old son, Ari, when I noticed him trying to hand a paper to this really huge man. The man says to him, gruffly, “Get out of my face, kid.” And my son looked this guy right in the eye and he retorted, “I hope you’re one of the ones who die.” [laughter] Until that moment, I wasn’t sure my son knew what we were doing there. And I think I understood then how strong a man he would be-come…You were talking about “Miss Anthropy” when you were speaking about the Earth First! piece on AIDS…
Judi Bari: …which is not the pseudonym of a her, but a him. He’s written a book which he’s letting Penthouse Magazine excerpt.
Beth Bosk: The point I would like to pursue is this: about two years ago, Earth First! the Journal of Environmental Radicalism, began an attempt to not only report environmental activism, and inspire more of it, but also to help the intuitively deep ecology activists understand this planet scientifically—understand what this planet is in its mechanisms. Before the exportation of quinine about 150 years ago, one out of every four people who died on this planet died of malaria. African peoples who had developed immunity to malaria carried sickle cell anemia, a blood disease that killed them before they were reproductive at about the same ration 1 in 4. It would seem like the planet had this interlocking culling mechanism in terms of its human population. The discovery and exportation of quinine from this continent by Europeans, enabled the exploitation and distress of the inner-Africa and sub-Indian continent, at the same time it allowed for an explosion of human populations.
The theory offered by the person writing as Miss Anthropy, If I remember it, is that approximately three generations ago, AIDS was transmitted to humans from an equatorial monkey (but was not mordant in that monkey, which hadn’t become an over-populating species), and did not become mordant to the small human groups it was first transmitted to as long as they remained in remote and stable clans regulated by limited-contact sexual mores. The virus spread rapidly and became deadly only when those tribal people were forced to leave their villages into the cities of central Africa. It was then the AIDS viruses, as a population control mechanism, spread world-wide, and the fact that the first western “population” to die in great numbers were homosexual men was a fluke of the times. The first peoples to die were heterosexuals pushed out of lifestyles harmonized with nature, and to propagate this particular theory is not homophobic, it’s more trying to understand the planet’s own checks and balances.
Judi Bari: And I think it is presumptuous of us to say that this is what AIDS is. I don’t think Chris Manes or anybody else really knows that. For all we know AIDS is just as likely to have been an army experiment in biological warfare that got out of control. And the fact that it ended up in gay populations that were already doing their part to control population, that’s the perfect example of why we don’t know what AIDS is. To endorse AIDS as a population control device of the planet, and suggest we let it run its course is absurd.
Why not endorse Lyme’s Disease? Lyme’s Disease is much better. It keeps people out of the forest. Any disease can be seen that way.
Beth Bosk: Maybe it is…
Judi Bari: And I’m not saying that it isn’t. And I’m not even saying that AIDS isn’t. But we don’t know that, and it is presumptuous of us to say, most especially because of the political way in which AIDS is used to continue the oppression of already oppressed populations.
If AIDS became centered in rich Republican conclaves, it would be treated quite differently than it is with Haitian and gay people. I feel endorsing AIDS—as this theory does—is not only arrogant but politically charged, and it shows a lack of compassion.
I saw a parallel thing with the man in Cloverdale who got hit by the spike. It was not an Earth First! spike, but in reacting to it, Earth First!ers did not show compassion towards this man. I feel for the forest as well as for the man, but I felt for the man too. And he from his hospital bed said, “I’m against tree spiking, but I’m against clear cutting too.” And Earth First! didn’t reach out. They just arrogantly grumbled, “We’re going to keep tree spiking, but we didn’t do that particular spike.” I felt that wasn’t taking responsibility, because we do endorse tree spiking—I personally don’t endorse tree spiking, by the way. I think the danger to mill workers is real, and I think the number of mill workers who would be on our side otherwise, who we alienate, exceeds the number of trees that we save.
Beth Bosk: Actually, the response from the local Earth First! that time was sympathetic, and underreported—just as this mill worker’s complaints about safety conditions at that plant, where he lay the blame, were unreported.
Judi Bari: That’s part of the problem, of the press recognizing the national spokespeople rather than the local ones. But I feel we had the same problem with these flippant statements about AIDS from people who probably don’t know anyone with AIDS, and are not close with anyone with AIDS as many of us here are. And I think this lack of compassion, with the lack of understanding of the social context of this disease, that’s what’s lacking. I find it presumptuous of us to say what’s the Earth’s defense and what is not the Earth’s defense.
Beth Bosk: What about permitting the discussion? It is absolutely necessary for us to come up with and press our own science. That we understand geophysiology and deep ecology and are fluent in its language. But to build a science, you have to have a place to talk about your guesses, your hypothesis. I applauded when I began seeing these dialogues in the Earth First! Journal. Do animals think? What is “consciousness” ? Do rivers have opinion?…Do you feel, in any way, part of this planet’s defense mechanisms? Where do you think you fit in?
Judi Bari: People like us, who are in the Resistance, I think we are part of the defense mechanism. We are also a part of the problem a lot of times too with our own consumption. I’m trying to reduce my own. I’m moving to a smaller place without electricity—but I do think we are in effect anti-bodies to the corporations, and the whole destructive manner in which human beings have lived.
What my truest and deepest belief is, though, is that this thing is too big for us. I don’t think we can save the earth ourselves, I think the earth is going to have to save us from ourselves,. My gut level feeling is that destructiveness in this society is so entrenched, we may be able to save some here and save some there, and educate people here and there, but I don’t think the society will really change until the earth will no longer—refuses to any longer—support this human life. That would be some kind of ecological catastrophe, whether it was ostensibly human-caused or ostensibly natural-whether it was a climate collapse, or a nuclear war…
Beth Bosk: I’m rooting for an early Ice Age…
Judi Bari: Whatever it is, I truly in my deepest heart of heart believe that we don’t have the power to stop this, and that the earth is going to have to save us from ourselves.
But I don’t know this for sure, and I’m not going to sit back and wait for the earth to do some-thing without taking any steps. I think anything we can save in the meantime is worth saving, and I also think that if humans are to survive—and I don’t know if we will or not; I don’t know if we should or not—but if humans are to survive, we need to learn a new way of living; and we need to have the seeds of that planted now, so that if a catastrophe does occur that makes this society no longer work, and we have to reorganize, we do not repeat the same mistakes that we made before, that we learn our lessons. That’s one of the purposes I see of the movement, that of re-educating.
Then again, maybe I’m entirely wrong and there won’t be a major catastrophe. Maybe it will be like Africa, and over hundreds of years, we’ll gradually become a desert. Instead of a cataclysmic change—which would be more likely to educate—maybe we’ll just have a gradual degrading, and because I don’t know the answer, because I don’t know what is going to happen, I feel like we have to fight.
And I think we have to fight, also, because it is a moral issue. I don’t think this is right. I don’t think any species has the right to cause the extinction of other species. I don’t think any human has the right to exploit the life of another human—whether that be worker and boss, man and woman, white and Black, trees and people—I believe all life is equal. That is my strongest moral conviction, that all life is equal. And I act on that.