April 2, 2014 § 8 Comments
“Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.”
To criticize the status quo is to invite volley after volley of personal criticism back in your own direction. I am sure this has likely been the case for a very long time, and I believe this may be partly due to the way in which humans learn through pattern recognition, as well as how the architecture of the human brain physically lays neural pathways to build understanding. Thus when an idea too astray from the usual is presented to the human mind, there is a high chance of a negative reaction because the new pattern is far too asymmetric for the current set of neural pathways to incorporate. That, or the derogator is a bored and obtuse malcontent with nothing better to do than shit all over other people on the internet.
I often write about the exploitation inherent in the model of civilization itself, and how this organizing framework which is dominant on the planet now is entirely unsustainable and will necessarily collapse catastrophically. This is some level nine stuff. By this I mean that if you have not been initiated, if you haven’t read about this topic or all of the feeder topics that lead to this conclusion, it would likely seem extreme. Thorough understanding of an issue requires prerequisite knowledge. We get to where we are by having been where we were, even philosophically and intellectually. Because my topics of critique often surround the civilization paradigm, its parts, and alternatives, I often receive flak from people which either demonstrates that they do not fully understand the gravity of the issues, or which merely indicts me as complicit in civilization’s crimes. The former generally comes in the form of people arguing that technology will remedy all of the converging crises faced and created by civilization. The latter is far more frustrating, as it is usually some pathetic attempt at a “got’chya!” moment where someone tries to defeat my greater thesis by pointing out my use of a computer or some other trapping of civilization. “Hypocrite!” they cry.
The hypocrisy claim is everywhere you find people critiquing any facet of the status quo. Antiwar activists who protested the Iraq war were called hypocrites for using gasoline. Occupy Wall Street participants were called hypocrites for using Apple products. My friends in forest defense have been called hypocrites for using paper. As an anti-civ anarchist I have been called a hypocrite for everything from having moved into a house during the winter, to having gone to the hospital when after forty hours of labor at home with a midwife, my partner was physically exhausted and wanted access to drugs so she could sleep. Every time these criticisms are leveled, it becomes a major energy suck to explain exactly how nonsensical they are. I would like to here dedicate this essay to shredding the “hypocrisy” argument once and for all, so it can forever be linked to by activists and social critics of all platforms and stripes, who neither have the time nor energy to swat at the many zombie hordes who become agitated when new ideas are presented to them which run counter to the comfortable patterns that they are used to, and who then proceed to scream “hypocrite!” in place of an actual counter argument.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people.” Despite my anti-civ analysis, I am no misanthrope. Civilization is a system of organization, a power arrangement in which a small few control the many. Using their power, these few exploit the lands and beings around them so they can grow their power and comfort at the expense of others. Industrial civilization takes this paradigm full tilt and is wiping out habitat and species at a mortifying rate. Understanding this does not cause me to hate my species, but rather to be eager to help them understand why we must pursue new organizational methods. Still, the uphill battle of convincing fellow humans, especially those who are net beneficiaries of this destructive and exploitative set of arrangements, can be at times an infuriating engagement. Of course, this is not because I need people to immediately agree with me, but if they don’t, I do prefer they focus on challenging the content of my statements as opposed to nit picking the content of my life.
In “The Fall,” Albert Camus wrote, “Everyone insists on his innocence, at all costs, even if it means accusing the rest of the human race and heaven itself.” I believe that it may be this personal insistence on one’s innocence which leads people to quickly cry “hypocrite!” at those who critique the status quo. Because we are all mired in this paradigm, when it is critiqued, some individuals feel that the critique is of them individually, likely due to a personal identification with the system. Thus critiques become personal attacks against which they must defend themselves. “If the system is guilty, then I am guilty, and I’m not guilty!”
The need for personal innocence runs deeper. If a critique against an overarching paradigm such as a government, capitalism, or civilization itself seems irrefutable, this can invoke in some a certain need to then utilize this new information as part of their own personal ethos. The problem here, is that this will mean that person will feel compelled to act accordingly with this information, and the actions required may seem difficult, uncomfortable, or frightening. For instance, if you’re told that capitalism is exploitative because employers retain the surplus labor value generated by their employees, and you happen to be a business owner, this new understanding will mean one of two things: either you rearrange the operating model of your business to fairly compensate your employees for their labor, effectively making them cooperative partners, or you change nothing but must go through life recognizing that you profit off of the exploitation of others. Here, your internal need to perceive yourself as innocent, or at least to believe yourself a good person, will run counter with your open acknowledgement that you exploit people for a living. What to do then to keep the ego intact?
If the action required to fall in line with the new ethos created by accepting new information is too hard, too uncomfortable, or you just don’t want to do it, you must justify inaction. Justifying inaction will be achieved possibly by denying the veracity of the new information. Like most capitalists in this scenario, you could convince yourself that your entrepreneurial and risk taking spirit give you the right to take the surplus labor value generated by the people you employ indefinitely. Of course, the justifications are endless.
In some cases though, if the new information received cannot be deflected through argument or justification, and the need to preserve one’s picture of their innocence is too great, then calling into question the character or behavior of the information’s purveyor can also suffice. For instance, if an activist is working to halt fossil fuel extraction for the myriad reasons that such a halting would be beneficial, it can be difficult to disagree with this activist on a purely argumentative level. How could you? Deny climate change? Deny ozone killing trees? Deny the death and destruction from Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Niger Delta? On an argumentative level, you’d be wrong every time. However, you could call into question the activist’s use of fossil fuels, thereby deflecting the conversation, and basically insinuating that, as Camus also wrote in The Fall, “We are all in the soup together.” Because hey, if we’re all guilty, then none of us are guilty, am I right?
In the fall of 2012, I was in Texas working with the Tar Sands Blockade using direct action tactics to shut down construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. On the side of a highway north of Nacogdoches, I sat with some friends as our comrades were perched on platforms fifty feet in the air with their support lines tied to heavy machinery, effectively making the machines unusable lest their operators not mind killing these young people. There were a surprising amount of supporters for rural east Texas, but of course, there were plenty of people who made sure we we aware of their disdain for us. One such person passed by, slowed down, and said “I bet you used a pick up truck to get that stuff out here.” In his mind, this was a real zinger. I replied, “Of course we did. Why wouldn’t we?”
There are a slew of reasons why this man’s comment contained zero validity as a critique of our action. For one, the gasoline we used did not come from that as of yet unfinished pipeline. Also, though I wouldn’t, I could claim to be against tar sands bitumen, but not conventional crude. But really the truth is that anti-extraction activists are making what economists would even defend as an intelligent bargain; using X amount of fossil fuels to prevent the extraction of a million times X. Of course I would use a tank of gasoline to prevent the daily extraction and transportation of hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen. Not only am I seeking a massive net gain for the ecology of the planet, I am also not using any more fossil fuels than I would have used had I gone to work that day anyway.
In the same vein, it is not hypocrisy to write a book about the ills of deforestation. Though it may be printed on paper, it has the potential to affect policy which will then lessen the total amount of deforestation. Not to mention, the loggers are going to log and the publishing company is going to publish. Using those resources to ultimately dismantle that destructive activity is actually the best use for them. So no, the person who posts on the internet about the ravages of mountain top removal coal mining or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas isn’t a hypocrite. They are cleverly utilizing the paradigm’s resources to expose its flaws to the light of scrutiny, in the hope that the consciences of people will be stirred to ultimately upend the paradigm itself. This is, in fact, the most ethical use of the resources generated by destructive industrial activity.
Using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house is to be encouraged.
It feels ridiculous to even have to lay this out, but the “hypocrisy” barb is flung far too often and dismantled far too little. What’s worse, is that hypocrisy in this regard isn’t even being understood correctly. According to wikipedia:
“Hypocrisy is the state of falsely claiming to possess virtuous characteristics that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.
Thus, an alcoholic’s advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of sobriety.”
This being understood, we can unequivocally state that a forest defense activist who prints pamphlets about saving tracts of woodland is not a hypocrite, unless they also claim to never use any forest products. Sure, there is a reasonable expectation that people who see a social ill will do their best to avoid adding to that ill, but sometimes the requirements of society horseshoe people into activity even they do not appreciate because the alternative options are worse or non-existent. Of course, this is where detractors will still claim that if an activist wants to save the forests, that they should cease using anything made from trees because consumer demand is behind all economic activity. Ignoring the obvious benefits of the trade off between printing five hundred pamphlets to save five hundred acres of woodlands, I think further disemboweling of this notion about consumer choice activism is also necessary.
Derrick Jensen writes about how he got in an argument with a man who accused him of being just as responsible for deforestation as Weyerhaeuser because he used toilet paper:
“Here, once again, is the real story. Our self-assessed culpability for participating in the deathly system called civilization masks (and is a toxic mimic of) our infinitely greater sin. Sure, I use toilet paper. So what? That doesn’t make me as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser, and to think it does grants a great gift to those in power by getting the focus off them and onto us.
For what, then, are we culpable? Well, for something far greater than one person’s work as a technical writer and another’s as a busboy. Something far greater than my work writing books to be made of the pulped flesh of trees. Something far greater than using toilet paper or driving cars or living in homes made of formaldehyde-laden plywood. For all of those things we can be forgiven, because we did not create the system, and because our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?). But we cannot and will not be forgiven for not breaking down the system that creates these problems, for not driving deforesters out of forests, for not driving polluters away from land and water and air, for not driving moneylenders from the temple that is our only home. We are culpable because we allow those in power to continue to destroy the planet. Yes, I know we are more or less constantly enjoined to use only inclusive rhetoric, but when will we all realize that war has already been declared upon the natural world, and upon all of us, and that this war has been declared by those in power? We must stop them with any means necessary. For not doing that we are infinitely more culpable than most of us—myself definitely included— will ever be able to comprehend.”
“To be clear: I am not culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper. I am culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper and I do not keep up my end of the predator-prey bargain. If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community. If I use toilet paper, or any other wood or paper products, it is my responsibility to use any means necessary to ensure the continued health of natural forest communities. It is my responsibility to use any means necessary to stop industrial forestry.”
I believe it is dangerous to convince people that their only power is in their purchasing decisions, because this relegates people to being mere consumers, not active citizens, let alone autonomous beings who define their own struggles, explore a diversity of tactics, and experiment to find new and effective measures for countering power. It also reduces all of society to nothing but customer transactions. Doing so ignores the power people have to protest, blockade, persuade, legislate, and sometimes, to overthrow. Would advocates of consumer choice activism stand by the idea that American revolutionaries should merely have boycotted tea, stamps and British products? Would they advocate that these revolutionaries should have instead of smashing windows, burning buildings, and fighting back against the crown have instead started their own competing tea trading companies? How about American slavery? Was the real solution that abolitionists and free blacks should have started competing fiber plantations in the north, hoping to push slave produced cotton out of business? Should we brand Captain John Brown a hypocrite for not wearing fair trade worker owned flax linen pants when he raided Harper’s Ferry seeking weapons with which to start a slave revolt? Preposterous!
Fighting against a behemoth industry that is interwoven into the state apparatus and has insulated itself as a central pillar of day to day operations is not something easily done. For one to claim they know exactly how to win such a fight is audacious. When it comes to the extraction industries, there is a large buffer where no matter how much the public cuts their consumption, the state will offset their financial losses through subsidies and purchases. The US government will happily buy discount oil for the fifth armored division after a civilian boycott lowers the price. Because of this, all forms of resistance are welcome and necessary, and it should be understood that attacking such a monolithic industry requires people hammering away, figuratively and literally, on every possible front. If it takes two million barrels of oil to power the cars and trucks necessary to organize the ten thousand strong blockade that cripples the refinery complex at the Port of Houston, well hell, oil well spent.
Those who demand lifestyle purity of anyone who ever raises a critique of any facet of the status quo are creating a double bind paradigm of hypocrites and extremists so to establish two camps into which they can then package critics in order to isolate and ignore them. The hypocrite camp is obvious. By misdiagnosing via a false definition someone who is against civilization as a hypocrite because they use electricity to write their thoughts online, these detractors can in their own minds, suggest there is no reason to take the critique seriously. But suppose the anti-civ critic did achieve lifestyle purity. Suppose that they lived in a wigwam in the woods that they constructed themselves from branches and deer hides. Imagine that this person walked to the center of town every weekend in haggard clothing they had pulled from thrift store dumpsters and then this person stood on a bench to shout about the ills of industry and hierarchy. Is it likely that this person would be taken seriously? Of course not! They would be labeled an extremist. Passersby would write this person off as insane before listening to argument one. There is no middle ground in this double bind, and that is the point. Those who would cry from the wilderness about the death and the misery that civilization brings will forever be stripping more and more from their lives in a futile effort to gain recognition, to be valid in the eyes of those who called them hypocrites, until one day they are branded as lunatics, if they are not unheard and unseen, exactly as their detractors want them to be.
On this, we should remember too, that there are people who have achieved this lifestyle purity. They are the tribal peoples around the world who never have been drawn into the net of civilization. They are the global poor who do not benefit from the burning of coal or the sinking of copper mines. And their voices consistently go unheard. In fact, their voices are almost ubiquitously silenced. What do the defenders of the status quo say to the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã peoples who are fighting the construction of the Belo Monte dam which threatens their survival? What do the defenders of the status quo say to the animals and plants who have been nothing but victims in the story of human progress? There is no inconsistency in their lives. No iPhone to scoff at, no power tool, no window fan. What is the excuse for denying their right to live? What is the excuse for exterminating them and pretending it isn’t happening? Why is it OK to deny their pleas?
Analysis and critique precede action. Without first understanding a system and describing its flaws, it will never be repaired or replaced. To assert that one must excise themselves from a system prior to criticizing it is asinine, especially so when the system being criticized is a global power structure with tentacles in almost every geographical region. Such assertions if considered legitimate would render critique impossible. They are also so implausible as to essentially be nothing more than a dismissal of critique, a backhanded way of saying “Shut up!” To be sure, the horrors of the dominant culture always have required a silencing of those it would make victims, so such behaviors amongst the denizens of civilization should come as no surprise, but they have never been and will never be intellectually or academically valid.
If you are in a prison, eating the food from the cafeteria does not mean you accept being a prisoner. Likewise, if you are a prisoner and you detest the prison and the system that put you there with every fiber of your being, you are not a hypocrite for allowing the prison doctor to treat you. Navigating life in a system of dominance, violence, and control is difficult and miserable, and if you have any designs to resist, whether to organize others on the inside with you to demand improvement of conditions, or to dig a tunnel and to escape, staying well fed and healthy in the mean time will be necessary for your success. While you fight, while you resist, use what you must to survive, especially in light of the fact that not doing so will not bring down the walls around you.
With the ever worsening issue of climate change, on top of the issues of political rot, net energy decline, and economic sclerosis, there will be more and more critique and analysis of exactly how societies are breaking down and what people should do in response. With this will come wave after wave of nonsense rebuttal to muddy the waters. At least when the defense of the status quo defers to indicting the behavior of the critics themselves, we can likely presume that their critiques are probably accurate, or at least that the status quo defender has no legitimate argument. For if the detractor had a legitimate counter analysis, they would present it. Attacking the messenger is behavior of the beaten. If I say “we need to abolish fossil fuels because they cause too much ecological damage” and someone responds “but you use gas in your chainsaw,” they have not displayed that my statement is untrue. In fact, there is a tacit admission that what I am saying is true, they just want to drag me down into the muck as if I’m not already standing in it.
Yes, I am knee deep in the shit of global industrial capitalist civilization. Yes, circumstances have me dancing from rock to rock, doing my best to avoid participating in the destructive protocols of the dominant culture and obliging to where it makes strategic sense to do so. Most people understand this. Most people understand the nuance between having and living an ethic in a complex world which leaves little to our individual control. Those who would deny this reality in order to deny your point are a nuisance at most. Hell is not other people, just other people in the comments section on the internet.
February 5, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last Friday, three women from Michigan were found guilty of felony “Resisting and Obstructing” of a police officer. They were all charged while participating in an action against the expansion of a tar sand pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge. In 2010 this pipeline, named Line 6B, burst. The resulting spill was the largest on-land oil spill in US history, with much of the bitumen pouring into the Kalamzaoo River. Tar sands bitumen being heavier than water, unlike conventional oil, this syn-crude sank to the bottom of the river making for a complex cleaning effort which residents claim is not satisfactory even now, almost four years later. When Barbara Carter, Lisa Leggio, and Vicci Hamlin – the MI-CATS Three – locked themselves to machinery at a Line 6B work site, they were fighting for their communities, their families, and for all of us.
Usually when an activist risks arrest by utilizing a blockade tactic such a s a lock down or an aerial device such as a monopod, their primary goal is the halting of whichever activity they are impeding. The arrest isn’t the point, but the unfortunate side effect. Not all lockdowns even end in arrest. If the police called to the scene are incapable of dismantling the device the activist uses, or like in the case of another Michigander fighting Enbridge, Felix, if the police have no idea how to fetch a blockader from an elevated position, they negotiate terms. When arrests are made, the charges can vary widely. In a young campaign, the first actions are often considered a minor nuisance, and simple trespass charges are filed, which can usually result in a sentence of time served after the defendant does their original day or so in jail. As a campaign progresses however, and as the corporation targeted becomes more and more frustrated with constant work shut downs, the charges activists face become more extreme, despite the actions often being nearly identical with those previously carried out. These enhanced criminal charges result in higher bail amounts levied, and more potential jail time for the participants. Obviously, the intent is to frighten people away from the campaign or to at least push them into less risky and less effective tactics.
In the case of the MI-CATS three, these women took no plea deals and instead faced the felony charges head on, likely believing not only in the necessity and ethical nature of their actions, but in the ability of their defense attorneys to demonstrate this to a Jury. Instead, after roughly ten hours of deliberation, the jury found in favor of the prosecution, and these three women now face upwards of two years in jail.
On the final day of the trial, I sat anxiously waiting for the verdict to be posted online by members of MI-CATS who were in attendance. I was crushed to read of their convictions. Everyone should be, because this guilty verdict is another shove in the chest against those who are willing to fight for the health of the planet, and it is a warning to even non-actvists that dissent will not be tolerated. This guilty verdict is more confirmation that the priority of the state apparatus is commerce, not the needs of the natural world or even the needs of human beings as a species. People have become redundant to capitalism, and people who even temporarily disrupt the machinations of the controllers of capital, even in a non-destructive way, will be dealt with summarily.
In Oklahoma City on December 13th of last year, four people were arrested for staging a protest at the Devon Tower, home to oil and gas companies involved in hydraulic fracturing and tar sands mining. Members of Cross Timbers Earth First! and Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, two of these activists locked themselves into a revolving door, while the other two had entered the building’s public atrium and then proceeded to unfurl a banner from the balcony. The red banner adorned in gold paint and glitter read, “The Odds are Never in Our Favor,” and in the center contained the image of a Mockingjay holding a monkey wrench in its mouth. The image and the phrase invoked the “Hunger Games” series as well as Earth First! iconography.
Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson were the two people who dropped the banner, and neither of them intended to be arrested that day. Both of them left the atrium of the Devon Tower when asked, and when Warner saw a janitor begin to sweep up glitter that had fallen from the banner, he apologized. Stephenson had homework to attend to that afternoon, so when she and Warner were both arrested and charged with “Criminal Trespass,” “Disorderly Conduct,” and “Terrorism Hoax,” it must have been quite an unwelcome shock. The “Terrorism Hoax” charge was justified by police with the claim that the glitter which fell from the banner was a “mysterious powder.” The maximum sentence for being found guilty is ten years in prison.
Calling activism “terrorism” is a disgusting mangling of language with so many shades of Kafka that it should make us all want to tear our hair out. It is also a cognitive transition that corporate and state entities have been consciously molding in the shadows.
In 2012, the Tar Sands Blockade campaign was launched, as Texans banded together with the help of friends from around the US to use direct action tactics to halt the construction of the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. The most grandiose action Tar Sands Blockade engaged in was the creation and occupation of a tree village on David Daniel’s twenty acre property in Winnsboro, Texas. This blockade effort including multiple tree platforms suspended eighty feet in the air which were connected by a series of traverse lines. The northern edge of the property was defended with a one hundred and twenty foot pine-pole wall which spanned the width of the pipeline easement. The arrival of work crews and their machinery was met with resistance on the ground as packs of camouflage donning defenders played cat and mouse with bulldozers and feller-bunchers, and a stream of volunteers willing to endure pepper spray and tasers locked themselves to these machines.
Their campaign lasted months and spanned the length of the southern portion of the pipeline, from Oklahoma to Houston. Up in Nebraska, the anti Keystone XL group BOLD filed an open records request in January of 2013 which uncovered a power point presentation that accompanied a briefing delivered by TransCanada employees to state police. This presentation detailed the entire Tar Sands Blockade campaign up to that point, and included a portion in which the corporation suggested to police and prosecutors potential charges that could be used against anti-pipeline activists. Notably, TransCanada was suggesting that law enforcement agencies look into state and federal terrorism charges.
Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance has regularly relied on the legal services of Douglas Parr when they have engaged in direct action tactics. Parr has found through open records requests that a GPTSR direct action training had been infiltrated by two Oklahoma police, and he further found that Oklahoma police had also been briefed by representatives from TransCanada. The “Terrorism Hoax” charges appear to be a result of the suggestions made to law enforcement by corporate representatives.
The anti Keystone XL campaign in Texas and Oklahoma resulted in numerous felony charges against activists who locked themselves to construction equipment or climbed trees in the path of the pipeline. Most of these charges were lowered to misdemeanors, but a handful of “conspiracy to commit organized crime” charges still await hearing against tree sitters. Many participants in this campaign also have been added to a “Known Gang Affiliate” list, and are finding this out when their names are run during simple traffic stops.
Giving a damn is becoming a risky proposition these days. In Colorado, Taylor Radig went undercover for the group Compassion Over Killing, and witnessed abuse to new born calves at a cattle ranch. When she securely left the job, she took footage of the abuse to the local Sheriff, who then arrested her for not “reporting the abuse in a timely manner,” essentially claiming that by not reporting the abuse immediately, that she was culpable for it.
Over in Illinois, animal rights activist Kevin Olliff has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “Possession of Burglary Tools.” The tools in question? Wire cutters. Kevin was pulled over with a friend, Tyler Lang, and arrested on the suspicion of having intent to free animals from a fur farm. Tyler has since been released on a plea deal.
If the corporations and their bought and paid for associates in government have their way, “Ag-Gag” laws will be passed in more an more states. These laws seek to make it a crime to film inside a slaughterhouse or at the site of a clear cut. Oregon’s state legislature has twice tried to criminalize “Interference with state forestland management.” The most recent attempt, HB 2595 would have made tree-sitting to blockade the logging of state forests a felony, had the bill not died in committee.
California is experiencing what could be it’s worst drought in centuries. Alaska is experiencing record high temperatures. Argentina and Australia, are experiencing record high temperatures. England is experiencing record wet conditions. Typhoon Haiyan leveled large regions in the Philippines in 2013, which was the warmest year on record – tied with 2003 – since record keeping began.
There are books and blogs and reports all keeping tabs on the accelerating pace at which human industrial activity is snuffing out life on Earth. I have listed in conversations and essays and articles the die offs and the creeping toxicity of water, air, and our blood. Well funded scientists, journalists, big name authors and even celebrities have rung alarm after alarm concerning the myriad ways in which industrial civilization is making the planet less and less inhabitable.
Yet here we are. The few who answer the call to rise up and defend our home are branded as criminals at best, and terrorists at worst. So I am at a loss. To be sure, I am not naive, and I understand that the way activism, even the so called “radical” direct action activism of participants in wealthier nations is essentially a game. In countries where the state is less compelled to pretend to give a flip about their citizenry, defenders of the land don’t sit on tripods and climb into half built pipelines. In Nigera, the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta fights to defend their land from foreign petroleum companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil. The Niger River Delta has been recklessly poisoned by the foreign corporations who are stealing the wealth of that land and leaving toxicity in their wake. In 2006 M.E.N.D. had this message for the oil companies in their country:
“It must be clear that the Nigerian government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it…. Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian government to export oil.”
In Brazil, the Munduruku people just last week dressed for war, and went to the site of an illegal gold mine in their territory. They told the miners to leave and to never come back, and then seized their equipment. The Brazilian government itself is attempting to build a dam on the Xingu River in the Amazon, which would negatively affect the lives of thousands of indigenous people who depend on the river for their livelihoods. Representatives from these tribes have said:
“If the Government decides to go ahead with the construction of Belo Monte, we Indians of the Xingu will commence a war.”
The stakes are high in the fight to defend the living world from the death machine of perpetual economic growth. There is no pretense about this in countries around the world where the violence of capitalist production is less of an academic theory, and more of a day to day reality. Across Latin America, anti-mining and anti-dam organizers are threatened and killed. Mariano Abarca Robiero was an anti-mining organizer in Chiapas, Mexico. He was shot to death in 2009, days after he filed charges against Blackfire employees who threatened to shoot him if he did not stop organizing resistance to the Canadian firm’s barium mine. In 2013, a Mexican anti-dam organizer was stoned to death before the opening of a gathering of people affected by dams. Noe Vazquez Ortiz‘s murder is suspected by some to have been orchestrated by the state. Gustavo Castro, member of Otros Mundos Chiapas (Friends of the Earth México) told Real World Radio that when told of the upcoming event, state authorities said they could not guarantee the safety of participants. In his words:
“The government is criminalizing any mobilization against mining, dams and other megaprojects”.
George Black for OnEarth researched the increasing amount of killings of environmental activists globally. He writes:
“A report last June by [a] group called Global Witness…summarizes some of the known facts. The report says that 106 environmental activists were killed in 2011, the highest number ever recorded, up from 96 the previous year; 711 deaths have been documented in the last decade, in 34 different countries. Many of these were targeted assassinations; others occurred in the violent suppression of protests.”
Black goes on to parse the data, and to explain the numbers of killed environmental activists are surely much higher than the report states for the basic reason that many countries where rapacious resource extraction occurs have little or no human rights reporting, if it is not outright banned. Black continues:
“In the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, a distinguished Ugandan magistrate named Margaret Sekaggya, suggests one reason why. In Mexico, she told the UN Human Rights Council last December, a journalist was killed after reporting critically on the activities of mining companies. In Central America, a number of environmental reporters were beaten, intimidated, and threatened, and one was murdered. In Iran, a reporter was charged with espionage. In Nigeria, a documentary maker covering land and environmental disputes was arbitrarily detained without access to a lawyer. And the perpetrators of abuse have literally gotten away with murder: even in Brazil, with its sophisticated monitoring system, fewer than 10 percent of cases involving the killing of activists ever make it to court, and barely 1 percent have led to a conviction.”
It is rare for an environmental activist to be killed in the US or Canada or Europe or Australia (Non-White activists face a much higher risk, to be sure.) In these “developed” nations, we play games where we place our lives and limbs in a precarious position until we are fetched or tortured into submission with pain compliance. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. There are forests that stand today because people took to living in their canopies. There are acres of land that have not been drilled for hydrocarbons because auctions have been disrupted and equipment blockaded. It would seem however, that corporate and state entities are interested in pushing the ratio of environmentalist victories to losses in their favor, and that the use of Draconian penalization up to and including Orwellian anti-terror statutes is their weapon of choice.
We have our games and they have theirs.
There is a case that seems to demonstrate an exception to the rule. In late August of 2012, someone snuck into a site where hydraulic fracturing was being practiced in the Loyalsock State Forest in Pennsylvania, and proceeded to not only block the access road with felled timber, but then used the drilling company’s own heavy moving equipment to trash the whole site. Brubacher Energy Services estimated the cost of the total damage to be $120,000. Work was halted for three months.
Who was the perpetrator of this glorious act of eco-defense? Tanner Long, a twenty-one year old plead guilty to the act and was sentenced to six months in a local county pre-release center. Never once was the word sabotage used. Never once was the word eco-terrorist thrown about. Long, in fact, never revealed a motivation for his act. The only clue available to the public to explain his action is that according to a local newspaper, Long had been working for natural gas companies in the area. The Judge who presided over the case told Long to “grow up.”
How is it that hanging a banner is terrorism, or locking yourself to a bulldozer is a felony, but using the bulldozer to roll other equipment on its side is vandalism? It would seem that in the eyes of the corporate state, intention is everything. If you act with love in your heart to defend the living world, you are an eco-terrorist who must be put away for years and a message must be sent to anyone who might possibly contemplate following in your footsteps. If you’re bored and angry at your boss, by all means, utterly demolish a work site and we’ll slap you on the wrist.
Not that I am complaining about Tanner Long’s jail sentence, I hope he is still bored and angry upon his release.
Truly, the fight to defend the ecology of the planet is the fight to save dignified human existence. It is the fight against a caged existence where we live too afraid to stand up for what is so clearly right because those who profit from wrong are so quick to move us from an existential to a physical prison. A cursory glance at local and national news allows us to see the future which will come if we do not fight; the state will grow more repressive, the climatic swings will bring more disaster, and the poor will suffer greater hunger and disease while a handful of wealthy elites will control all of the world’s resources. Speech and dissent will be far more dangerous, and the possibility of resistance will dwindle to zero as the full spectrum dominance of the national security apparatus will be complete. The web of life will continue it’s cascading collapse, and it will be a century, maybe decades until the planet is an unrecognizable wasteland not fit to support most currently living organisms, including human beings.
As it stands, self described “liberals” claim an ideological patent on environmental activism, yet they shackle it to passive tactics which hand our friends and comrades and what little wealth we have right over to the state. Unarguably, there is not just one working methodology of resistance, and there are many in radical circles who condone everything from simple awareness campaigns to outright sabotage, but there is a lack of solidarity amongst those who profess to want to defend the living planet, and when it comes time to take direct and radical action, those who engage in such tactics are abandoned by moderates. The truth is there are many “leftists” who still prioritize the needs of the economy over the needs of the ecology, and there are “leftists” who prioritize a certain ideological purity over the needs of the ecology. Both creates divisions which result in comrades left without the support they need to truly be effective in the fight to preserve life on Earth. It’s hard enough to fight the massive resources and advantages of the state and capital without being cast as expendable by supposed allies.
Of course, by making felonies and terrorism cases out of simple acts of civil disobedience, the state knows they are pushing activists towards more radical tactics. If everything from hanging a glittery banner to setting fire to a well site is terrorism, then why not just choose the latter? With sabotage, the set back to industry is greater and the odds of escaping with one’s freedom are too. Do corporate and state entities want an all out war on environmental activists? They must know that increasing the criminal penalties of common protest tactics will not extinguish passions, let alone alleviate the destruction wrought by industry, and thus that they will only be pushing environmental action further underground. Do they really believe they can win a war of attrition against clandestine saboteurs when they must defend thousand mile pipelines, a multi-thousand mile electric grid, and countless pieces of machinery left alone and unguarded on logging sites and oil and gas easements scattered across this rural continent? Perhaps to them it’s not so much about winning as it is about retroactively justifying their spying and the militarization of local police forces. Maybe if they can paint enough college students and grandparents as home grown eco-Al-Qaeda, they can shift away from themselves public blame for declining infrastructure, declining net energy returns, declining standards of living, and declining empire.
Or maybe they would rather just skip the games and shoot us. Honestly, who would stop them?